South African police have arrested at least 56 military veterans for allegedly holding hostage two ministers and a deputy on Thursday evening.
The Minister of Defence Thandie Modise, her deputy Thabang Makwetla and the Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele were rescued by an elite task force at St George's Hotel and Conference Centre in Irene, Pretoria where they had been held after a meeting with the Liberation Struggle War Veterans (LSWV) hit a stalemate.
The disgruntled ex-combatants were presenting their demands including anti-apartheid fighting compensation of $272,000 each, among other benefits.
“After attempts to negotiate with the hostage-takers to release the hostages had failed, police resorted to a tactical approach and successfully rescued the hostages. We have since arrested 56 people including seven women,” said police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo.
“There were no shots fired during the rescue but while processing the suspects, we have taken three of them for medical treatment because they were complaining of pains while one was complaining of injury. We are not yet sure how the injury was sustained.”
Stun grenades were also said to have been used by the special forces to immobilise the hostage-takers and gain entry into the hotel to rescue the ministers.
Deputy President David Mabuza is reported to have had promised to attend the meeting but he did now show up in what is said to have angered the military veterans.
Minister Gungubele slammed the hostage as “unacceptable” as he narrated how they were blocked from leaving the hotel.
“We found ourselves in a situation which we consider legally unacceptable where we thought we were in a meeting whose intention was to attend to the problems that affect military veterans,” Mr Gungubele said.
“We could not agree on how the meeting should take place. We reached a point where I thought we should adjourn. As we were leaving the meeting, proceeding to the doors, they closed the doors.
“It is at that point we realised we were being held hostage. It is a situation that was averted by the security forces very effectively and successfully.
“We want to thank Minister Bheki Cele and all other security forces and whatever branch was involved for prompt and timeous intervention and success in the manner it seems to have been. We expect the law to follow its course in dealing with the behaviour of this nature.”
Earlier this week, the struggle veterans staged a sit-in protest at the ANC Luthuli House headquarters in central Johannesburg.
The building had to be evacuated following a security breach by the ex-combatants.
Apart from the compensation, the war veterans are also demanding bursaries for their children and a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
LSWV is a coalition of organisations of freedom fighters including the African National Congress (ANC) military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla), Azanian People’s Organisation’s (Azapo), and Azanian National Liberation Army (Azanla).