Pressure from home and abroad has forced the United Kingdom (UK) government to agree to make reparations to thousands of soldiers, including Malawians, who fought for the British crown in the Second World War (WWII).
In the programme, which will be administered through the Department for International Development (DfID), the UK government will provide regular cash transfers and not lump sum payouts to war veterans; their widows and widowers in Malawi and over 30 other countries.
British High Commission communication officer Benson Linje said in an interview yesterday apart from 440 veterans from Malawi, the programme will also benefit ex-service men and women from other Commonwealth countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Swaziland.
Said Linje in an e-mailed response: “In Malawi, 440 veterans and their surviving spouses will be supported through this programme. From this month [April], these veterans and surviving spouses will be receiving the equivalent of two meals a day in cash transfers.”
“The programme is run by the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League and its affiliate in Malawi who provide support to Commonwealth veterans and their surviving spouses who served with the British Armed Forces before their country’s independence and are now struggling to meet their basic needs.”
Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League is a charity which was designed to support veterans that served the British crown over the past century.
The Guardian newspaper of the UK in February this year reported that opposition Labour parliamentarians had asked the Conservative government in London to compensate and apologise to last surviving African WWII veterans who fought for Britain during the war between 1939 and 1945.
This was after revelations by the paper and Aljazeera television that the UK government had paid white war veterans who fought in the same war three times what it had paid their black counterparts.
More voices to pay compensation to African war veterans have recently come from former British Army chief General Lord Dannatt who was quoted by The Guardian as having described treatment of African soldiers as ‘hugely inequitable and wrong’.
If the programme succeeds, it will be a way of addressing a long-standing issue following several court battles in some countries such as Kenya over the past decades where veterans have pressed for reparations for taking part in the war on behalf of the British government.
But Secretary for Defence Chauncy Simwaka said while the move was commendable, the ministry was still looking at how it could raise funds to help the former soldiers who are living in deplorable conditions.
“We are aware that the British Parliament agreed that their government should address the problems faced by veterans for WWII. This will in a way help alleviate the suffering of our ex combatants. But as you know that their needs are many and that the funds provided will not fully address all the challenges. That is why we are looking for additional funds not only for WWII veterans but other ex-soldiers as well most of whom are in their villages,” he said.
A total of 14 000 veterans were recorded as living across the Commonwealth, with 7 000 of the veterans and their widows in need of support to meet their basic needs.