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   Article by Cpl Tebogo Kekana, Ad Astra Magazine

21 February, each year, is dedicated to celebrating the Armed Forces Day. This year, the day started with the community of New Brighton coming out in numbers to honour those who perished in the fateful sinking of the SS Mendi vessel along the English Channel on the same day in 1917.

The sinking of SS Mendi resulted in the death of approximately 600 black soldiers who had enlisted as a labour corps in the First World War. They were treated with disdain while their role and contribution were not valued at all by the racist colonialists of the time. Next year, 2017, will mark the centenary of the sinking on the SS Mendi, a huge milestone in the military, as it remembers its fallen heroes. In this regard, on Armed Forces Day, history as well as the future of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is recognized.

During the past two weeks, members of the public in Port Elizabeth have witnessed a public display in the form of navy ships, military static display, night shooting demonstrations, capability demonstrations and the community musical concerts by the SANDF. All the above activities were aimed at educating and creating awareness to the public about the SANDF’s role, function and capabilities. More than one thousand SANDF members and over a hundred vehicles and aircraft participated in the celebrations.

President Jacob Zuma, who officiated the Armed Forces Day Parade said, “I am informed that the first day of viewing the Navy vessels which was open to the public, saw a massive crowd of Nelson Mandela Bay, with citizens coming out in droves to see their vessel alongside the Port Elizabeth harbour.
This is indeed good to realise that our people have a keen interest to know more about the SANDF. Indeed, the citizens of this country have always been proud of their Defence Force since 1994. South Africans know that their defence force does not only protect the borders of our country. Our people have seen their defence force assisting communities in times of disasters such as floods”.

The celebration of Armed Forces Day also enabled ordinary citizens to know more about their defence force. This was resembled in a mini warzone, where SAAF aircraft were swooping low, maneouving and demonstrating the Air Force capability, and other three arms of service the biggest display of capability that left the audience awestruck and proud. That was evident in their ululations, whistles and applauses, some even shed a tear and expressed how proud they were to be South Africans.

The Commander-in-Chief expressed that, “This annual celebration reflects the confidence that we as a nation and a country have in the South African SANDF. This occasion is also a platform that enables the SANDF to showcase its latest military equipment and technologies that are used to protect the Republic.

Our military also uses this day to demonstrate the military combat readiness of the SANDF against any threats to the sovereignty of the Republic of South Africa. It also opens up the Defence Force to our youth, so that they can find out about careers that are available in their country’s Defence Force, and help us build the military of the future. We trust that the people of Nelson Mandela Bay and surroundings have used the opportunity in the past two weeks to know more about the SANDF”.

Mr Boitshoko Senne, who works at Armscor couldn’t help but express how impressed he was with the dedication and zeal that the members who were involved in the event showed. “We have seen them tending to the sick in hospitals where there is a shortage and emergencies, we have seen them providing water or using the various technical skills in the military to build bridges and other needed infrastructure in rural areas.
We have also seen the Defence Force assisting the police in those rare occasions that require a maximum response to crime, for example during Operation Fiela”.
The President gave a thumbs up to the legacy programme that was spearheaded by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and opined, “Right here in Nelson Mandela Bay, our soldiers have demonstrated their respect to the senior citizens of our country. They renovated three old age homes here in Port Elizabeth, the Ekuphumuleni Old age home, Bethelsdorp and Gelvan Park Home villages. We trust that our senior citizens appreciate the gesture from their grandsons and granddaughters in the South African National Defence Force.

In 2014, in Bloemfontein on the same event, I challenged both the Secretary for Defence and the Chief of the SANDF to open up the Defence Force and inform our people about the work of the Defence Force.
That challenge still stands. I would like to see more and more interaction between the SANDF and our people. It should not just end here and today. The SANDF belongs to the people of South Africa. It serves our people, and they need to know more about their Defence Force”.

Amaza Bomvana from Zwide, an elderly woman who has been at the home for the past 2 years expressed how grateful they were that the Minister thought of them in her busy schedule. She said that the fire that caught their home nearly damaged everything and that they were almost left destitude. She remembered that fateful day like it was yesterday, she said: they were grateful to the Defence Force and the Department of Social Development for dedicating a day to spend with them. “We hope that God can grant you more light and strength as you continue to go above and beyond the call of duty. Our children have made a commitment to go and visit your stalls at the fan park and we hope they will also become soldiers and reduce the responsibilities that we carry”.

After explaining the primary objective of the Defence Force, which is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force, the President emphasized that, “Members of the SANDF, must at all times remain absolutely loyal to the imperative to defend the law and the Constitution, serving as a professional force as required by our Constitution. This is what we require of our soldiers.

They must be ready to defend their compatriots and the sovereignty of this land, and committed to the mission of maintaining peace and stability in their country and promoting peace in the region, Africa and the world at large.

“The mandate of the Defence Force by the Constitution requires our Armed Forces to be imbued with the highest level of discipline in the execution of their duties. Our soldiers must be skilled, healthy, fit and highly disciplined military professionals. They must possess a high level of morale and sense of duty. That is the character of a soldier we are building in the SANDF. In return, our soldiers shall earn the respect and gratitude of the people of South Africa who remain the solid pillars of support behind our Armed Forces”.

The newly completed Defence Review 2014, which is now ready for implementation speaks to a modern defence force, with a modern soldier and maps out the direction defence will be taking for the next 30 years.
Our soldiers have continued to perform exceptionally well in these peace missions and have done the country proud”.

He singled out one of the key demonstrations of the success of South Africa’s participation in peacekeeping missions, as the recent appointment by the United Nations (UN), Lieutenant-General Derrick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi as the Force Commander of the twenty thousand strong United Nations Mission in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, called MONUSCO.

The President said, “This is the largest United Nations Peace Support Operation in the world and on the continent. The appointment of General Mgwebi is a clear indication of the confidence that the UN has in South Africa and the role and contribution we have made in peacekeeping in the continent and beyond. The appointment is a further recognition of his leadership qualities in many missions that he has led abroad. It is a major gain for the UN to have such a decorated and operationally experienced officer in charge of MONUSCO. This appointment is therefore not only an honour to General Mgwebi personally, but also to South Africa as a whole.

As we celebrate Armed Forces Day today, we should pause as a nation to remember our men and women who have fallen in the line of duty.
On behalf of the South African Government and all the people of our country, I express my deepest condolences to the families and friends of our departed soldiers either on the home front or in far-away lands on peace-keeping missions. May their souls rest in peace! Let us celebrate and acknowledge our soldiers who keep our land, sea and air safe from any intruder”.

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