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Submissions

Type ADDRESS TO THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION BY THE CHIEF OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL DEFENCE FORCE, GENERAL G.L. MEIRING, SSAS, SD, SM, MMM

Names GENERAL G.L. MEIRING

Your Grace, Ladies and Gentlemen

Today I stand before you having myself requested this opportunity to address the Commission - not as a member of the SADF, but as Chief of the SANDF the South African National Defence Force. I requested this in line with a spirit of reconciliation that can promote a sense of common purpose, the very reason for which we believe this Commission was called into being by the Government of the Republic of South Africa.

It might be said that what I am going to talk about has little to do with that period which the Commission is investigating. This, in my view, is not the case, because what lam about to submit has its roots in and is based upon the legacy of the period with which you are concerned.

In order to assist the TRC to meet its responsibilities in accordance with the Constitution, as well as with the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995, I established a Nodal Point to facilitate access to any information needed for this purpose. In this regard it has already facilitated the compilation of a submission in respect of the former SADF from available documentation of that period and from discussions with ex-SADF members. The Nodal Point will be presenting it later today, but I want to stress that it does not form part of my submission on behalf of the SANDF. The Nodal Point will continue to be at the disposal of the TRC to facilitate any questions that may arise.

Your Grace, soldiers are often perceived as men who only pursue conflict. This is not the case if one takes cognisance of all the peace keeping and peace making operations over the past years in many parts of the world. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English describes reconciliation as "to make peace between" and "to make friendly again". This definition, I would like to submit, more closely describes the true mission of military forces, namely to restore peace so that former adversaries can become friendly again. Soldiering is not a selfish profession, as a true soldier is prepared to lay down his life for his fellow citizens and for his country. This definition of reconciliation also provides a very simple, but fine perspective on the ultimate mission of this Commission - to make peace between South Africans and to make them friendly towards one another again. In this regard we as South Africans ought not to be selfish but to make peace and become friends for the sake of our fellow citizens and our country.

It is important to note that the submissions by the various political parties to the TRC, although they differ in approach, all stress the fact that a war situation existed. It is called by different names, for example a revolutionary war, an irregular war, a liberation struggle, a people's war and a total war, but in essence it was a war.

We regret the loss of life, personal grief and suffering of those affected on all sides. I have sincere appreciation for the deep scars left on our society by the conflict of the past and the ensuing animosity, fear, mistrust, suspicion, insensitivity and even hatred. I also fully realize that, to forgive, to forget and to become friends again, will take time. I do not, however, believe that we should wait in docility for a miracle to make this happen. We should not allow time to become an excuse for continued animosity. I am convinced that we must and that we can, with honest intention and effort, and the grace of Almighty God, make this happen in our lifetime.

I say this with the conviction of my experience in the SANDF over the period since 1993, when the top echelons of the SADF and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) came face to face in the search for a new dispensation which could bring hope, peace and prosperity to our beloved country. Their combined vision of a new unified National Defence Force was instrumental in creating such a force for the Republic of South Africa in a mere two years. It is true that, as an organization, the SANDF still faces many challenges in many respects, but it is also a fact that the new National Defence Force as a proven and trustworthy instrument of state power has become a reality.

All this did not come about by chance. It emerged from a vision and a sense of mission which motivated former adversaries to commit themselves in a joint planning process which would shape a unified force for the new dispensation. This process required fighters who were previously adversaries to deny all other feelings but unflinching loyalty towards the future of South Africa. Of course this did not always mean calm waters! Many heated moments ensued, but always in the unrelenting pursuit of this vision. True to a soldier's nature, the loyalty to his force, not himself, at times caused disputes which seemed of sufficient magnitude to upset the apple cart. But the future mattered most as is proven by the many terms and concepts, which are commonly used today. For example, the idea of a Service Brigade, aimed at preparing former military men to be absorbed into civilian life again, was devised and conceived in the process. A new post was created - the Chief Director Equal Opportunities and is at present filled by Maj Gen Masondo, an ex-MK member. Nothing was left to chance. A sense of purpose and urgency directed energies right onto crucial issues such as the return of externally based personnel, the establishment of assembly areas, the creation of models for integration, control over weaponry and transitional arrangements in respect of Defence.

Although there were earlier and lesser known but nevertheless also important contacts, the historical initial formal meeting between MK and the SADF took place in March 1993. By the end of April 1993, sufficient consensus was reached for a working group at staff level to commence with detailed work. On 11 January 1994, six of the forces that existed at the time were unified in the first meeting of the JMCC. The JMCC supervised a strategic planning process which scrutinized issues such as an environmental analysis, the future mission of a unified Defence Force, criteria for and finally a force design, which would dictate the size and shape of the new Defence Force, standards to be adhered to and international advice and arbitration. Professionalism, diligent planning and goodwill enabled the relatively painless process with which the six forces, joined shortly after the elections by APLA as the seventh, unified in the National Defence Force on the eve of the national democratic elections in April 1994.

The new military dispensation thus created, despite a lack of homogeneity at the time, undeniably played a crucial role in creating a stable environment before, during and after the elections and in safeguarding the democratic process which most of the citizens of South Africa support. The current and future role of the SANDF, not only with regard to its primary role - the protection of our country's sovereignty and territorial integrity against external aggression but also relating to its secondary role - the protection of life, health and property - is clearly reflected in the latest White Paper on Defence, as well as the current Defence Review.

Chairperson and Commissioners, my humble submission today is that the South African National Defence Force, in the way that it was established, and is now developing, perhaps sets an example for reconciliation. The SANDF was not paralyzed by the prospect of change. Its members, many of them long-time adversaries, rose above the past to shape the future in the interest of our country and our nation. In order to do so they made peace and became friends.

I want to conclude with an appeal to you that, in judging the past, we should be wary not to be so harsh as to make reconciliation difficult. The classic Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz pointed out that it is difficult, even impossible, to judge the actions of a person without being influenced by the knowledge of subsequent events which were not known to the person who so acted. What is sometimes subjectively perceived to be the truth, may, when seen in perspective, not be the true picture at all.

South Africans need never, and should never, forget the past, as the past serves as a compass for the future. However, in the greater interest of national security, which is the basis of out future prosperity, we must learn to forgive. We must make peace and become friends again.

Therefore we in the SANDF fully associate ourselves with what is set out in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1993 (Act No 200 of 1993) and which is also reflected in the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act (Act No 34 of 1995). I quote:

"The pursuit of national unity, the well-being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society;

"There is a need of understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization".

"In order to advance such reconciliation and reconstruction amnesty shall be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives committed in the course of the conflicts of the past."

Unquote.

We as the ex-members of the constituent entities pledge ourselves for a united, reconciled Defence Force, a force of soldiers of which the RSA can be justly proud.

I thank you.

 
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