SA War Vets Hold Ministers Hostage, 56 Arrested

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SOUTH AFRICA’S elite task force rescued two cabinet ministers and a deputy after they were held hostage by war veterans demanding reparations for their role in the fight against white minority rule.

The Liberation Struggle War Veterans, from the disbanded ANC military wing, are demanding a one-off payment of $280,000 (£203,000) for housing and medical insurance for their families.

They met Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, Defence Minister Thandi Modise, and her deputy Thabang Makwetla to negotiate their demands at a hotel in the capital Pretoria last night.

The government officials were held hostage after those talks collapsed. Later, more than 50 people were arrested after attempts to negotiate for the release of the hostages failed.

The special task force, whose members wear military uniform and are trained in counter-terrorism and hostage situations, had to be called in.

Gungubele said that the incident was “untenable” and “legally unacceptable”:

In the past, military veterans said they felt betrayed by the ANC government because they were never compensated for their contribution in fighting against the brutal apartheid government.

However, military veterans are given a monthly state-funded pension.

Earlier this week the group demonstrated outside the headquarters of the governing ANC, leading to an evacuation.

Meanwhile, South African police said Friday they have arrested 56 people who will likely face charges of kidnapping the ministers.

Three of the people who were arrested were sent for medical checkups, police said. Of the 56 arrested, seven were women.

In a statement, the South African government conceded its discussions with the veterans’ groups had been “difficult” but “there was no reason for this group to act in an unlawful manner.”

The military veterans’ groups say they’ve been ignored by the ruling African National Congress party in South Africa despite their role in helping to overthrow the apartheid government and end white minority rule, paving the way for the ANC to win the first democratic elections in 1994. The ANC has been in government since then.

But the veterans’ groups have faced criticism themselves, for allegedly being infiltrated by some who were not involved in the fight for democracy and for demanding rewards not available to ordinary South Africans who also fought against apartheid.

Numerous callers to a radio talk show Friday said that it was popular uprisings like the Sharpeville protests of 1960 and the Soweto student demonstrations of 1976 that focused the world’s attention on the brutalities of the apartheid system and helped end it.

They said it was often ordinary men, women, and even children who defied security forces and put themselves in deadly danger to protest.