Thandi Modise

Thandi Modise. Photo: Flickr/GCIS

Ministers held hostage: Gungubele and Modise recount the ‘movie last night’

Ministers Thandi Modise and Mondli Gungubele said the state was not embarrassed by the ‘unacceptable’ hostage situation that unfolded on Thursday.

Thandi Modise

Thandi Modise. Photo: Flickr/GCIS

The government called a press conference in Pretoria on Friday, 15 October, to address the challenges faced by military veterans after two cabinet ministers and a deputy minister were held hostage by members of the Liberation Struggle War Veterans (LSWV) in Gauteng on Thursday night.

MODISE AND CO. HOLD MEETING AFTER HOSTAGE SITUATION

The meeting was led by Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele  Defence Minister Thandi Modise and her deputy Thabang Makwetla – the same ministers held hostage by the veterans’ group at the St George Hotel on Thursday night.

Gungubele said the LSWV has not registered itself with the Department of Military Veterans and is not an officially recognised veterans’ association. Despite this, the government has engaged with the group over the last 11 months via the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans (PTT), which is led by Deputy President David Mabuza.

According to Gungubele, the PTT’s work has proceeded well thus far and a draft bill to amend the Veterans Act is in the works. The bill deals with, among other things, the provision of medical benefits to veterans, housing, social relief of distress and education for the children of veterans.

The state claims that the veterans were consulted at every step. The draft bill has already been presented to the PTT and will soon be available for public comment.

‘NOT EMBARRASSED’

The South African Police Service (SAPS) said it rescued the ministers and arrested 56 people, who will be charged with at least three counts of kidnapping.

The veterans, however, deny that they held the ministers hostage and claim there was a stalemate in negotiations before the authorities arrived and took control of the situation. In a video on Thursday night, Gungubele explicitly said the veterans blocked the doors as the ministers attempted to leave the negotiation venue “and at that point that [they] were held hostage.”

The Minister in the Presidency said they were held captive from 19:00 until just before 22:00. He said that the ministers instructed their bodyguards not to do anything in order to avoid conflict.

When questioned about the hostage situation, Gungubele said the state was not embarrassed by the events that unfolded but said it was unacceptable and added that being held captive was not a failure of state intelligence, in the view of the ministers.

“Were we not embarrassed? Is it not embarrassing? Maybe one can say it was unacceptable.

“In my view, we are dealing with a maturing democracy. We listen to our people, not on the basis of paranoia or suspicion.

“We are not meeting these people for the first time. They have not done this before. We have no basis to expect what they did,” said the Minister in the Presidency.

Gungubele light-heartedly described the hostage situation as “the movie last night” and said a stalemate was reached when the veterans demanded the presence of President Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza.

“It would be unfair to say they beat us. We were there against our will but it was not a violent affair.”

MINISTER OF DEFENCE STILL OPEN TO MEETING

Defence Minister Thandi Modise said she wanted to meet with LSWV at the department but attended the meeting at St George Hotel at the request of the PTT.

Modise said she would still like to have a meeting with the unrecognised veterans and added that she hopes they will register for official recognition as has been requested.

Modise also held the view that the hostage situation was not necessarily a bad look for the state. In fact, she sees it as a moment to proud of, as the state was not heavy-handed with its use of force.

“I am sure people think that the state is weak but no we are very proud to sit with our veterans without fears that they would kill us.

“No, we were not ashamed, we were not threatened we were just uncomfortable with being held against our will,” said Modise.

Modise also said that she does not believe the ministers deserve more protection in the wake of the incident. Instead, they would be more careful to “ensure that we are not held hostage again.”

The Defence Minister said veterans should be better off than they are now but added that the state simply cannot afford to pay each of them a gratuity package of R4 million, which is one of the demands made by the LSWV.

MODISE: NO INTENT TO DROP THE CHARGES

The police said the 56 suspects would most likely be charged with kidnapping. When asked if there are any plans to drop the charges against the veterans, Modise said: “Not from this table. We can’t do that. There was a violation.”

“We do not want to set a precedent where the law can be broken and set aside,” added the Minister.

Modise was loath to confirm whether the police used stun grenades during the rescue but said she was certain that no shots were fired.

“I’ve been long enough in MK to say that no bullet was fired,” said Modise.