‘It shows how far people can go’: Civil groups weigh in on hostage drama

The Right2Know Campaign said government’s “go-slow” on the investigation and criminal prosecutions of those responsible for July unrest paved the way for the ministers’ hostage drama.

The St George’s hotel where Defence Minister Thandi Modise, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele and Deputy Minister of Defence Thabang Makwetla  were held hostage by former liberation combatants on 14 October 2021. Picture: Veronica Mokhoali/Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG/CAPE TOWN - Civil organisations in South Africa have weighed in on the hostage drama that unfolded at St George's Hotel in Centurion, where disgruntled military veterans held two government ministers and a deputy against their will on Thursday night.

Defence Minister Thandi Modise, her deputy Thabang Makwetla and Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele were meeting with liberation struggle war veterans - a formation of members of various armed groups who fought during apartheid.

Talks during a fractious meeting broke down, leading to a hostile standoff and the arrest of at least 56 people.

The South African Human Rights Commission’s Chris Nissan said they were concerned that a group of struggle veterans ended up barricading themselves in a room with the politicians to have their grievances heard.

Nissan said the military veterans’ response of holding government ministers against their will had tipped the scales.

“This is now showing how far people can go. There are other ways to resolve issues in the country, we cannot use our grievances to violate other people’s rights and, in this case, the executive of this country.”

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At the same time, the Right2Know Campaign said government’s “go-slow” on the investigation and criminal prosecutions of those responsible for July unrest paved the way for the ministers’ hostage drama.

The organization’s Thami Nkosi said: “Have we become a country that, in essence, has internal threats to national security to this level because we’re unable to detect crime before it happens? Our intelligence is weak, our security agency is weak and even high-ranking officials of government can’t stay in a conversation with their comrades.”

The group has claimed the government failed its liberation fighters and has demanded a pay-out of over R4 million per member as well as a housing allowance, medical aid and education bursaries for their children.

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Modise on Friday said they would be more careful next time they met with military veterans.

Modise and Gungubele have commended VIP security for remaining calm during the tense hostage drama.

The ministers have briefed the media on the matter, and they’ve outlined plans to assist destitute military veterans.

Modise said they did not believe their lives were in danger when military veterans held them against their will on Thursday night.

WATCH: Minister Gungubele: We found ourselves in a legally unacceptable situation

Modise said they would be more cautious in future: “But I must say that we will be more careful when we meet, and we will make sure we are not taken hostage again.”

She said the 56 military veterans arrested would not get a free pass because they were veterans.

“We do not want to set a precedent that I can commit any violation and then the law will be put aside because it is me and I’m a military vet.”

Meanwhile, Police Minister Bheki Cele has applauded members of the special task force for what he's described as swift action in that situation.

“We send negotiators to go and negotiate with those people and they do criminality by keeping ministers hostage and threatening them.”

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