President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday lauded the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) during the Armed Forces Day parade in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, “for the peace we enjoy”.
“We dare not fail to appreciate how the peace we enjoy lives alongside the constant vigilance and readiness that enables you to keep us as safe as we are. You are opening incredible opportunities for young people in both the public and private sectors,” said the president in his Armed Forces Day address.
He said at an interfaith service he attended on Sunday, he “saw in our armed forces a reflection of the South Africa we are constantly seeking to build. I saw the diversity of our country enveloped in your uniforms.
“I saw – just as I witness today – black and white South Africans, young and old, men and women, together. I saw discipline, commitment and professionalism. And I saw the warmth of our national character shining through.”
Ramaphosa said the participation of all faiths in the Sunday event was a reminder of the inclusive society “we are building”.
“It was heartening to see the wonderful, creative talent of men and women in uniform on display.
“On Sunday, it was our men and women in uniform who lifted the spirit of our nation through the soaring voices of soloists, trumpeters, saxophonists and the vibrant defence force choir.
“So when we look at our armed forces, we see a manifestation of the South Africa that belongs to all of us, black and white, which our Constitution directs us to build.”
The president said the Armed Forces Day was a reminder that “our soldiers are an integral part of us, not an external force. You are bedrock of our communities. You are our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbours”.
Ramaphosa said the SANDF is opening incredible opportunities for young people in both the public and private sectors.
He also said South Africa’s defence technology was globally sought after.
“Much of our technological capability shows that we are well positioned, through our armed forces, to participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This has established our defence sector as an important contributor to innovation in our economy.
“It has made defence a sector where young people can exercise, not just their physical capabilities, but their creativity and exercise skills across a broad range of endeavours – from catering, to intelligence gathering, to engineering and project management.”
A decision was taken in 2012 to proclaim the 21st of February as Armed Forces Day. It commemorated the day in 1917 when the SS Mendi was sunk in World War I. The SS Mendi was transporting 823 members of the 5th Battalion, the South African Native Labour Corps to France, when it was struck by the SS Darro. More than 600 black troops died in the disaster.
“It is a day on which we remember the bravery of soldiers prepared to fight in a war that was not theirs. It is recorded that as the SS Mendi sank, the soldiers chose to die with dignity and honour,” Ramaphosa said.
It was this tragedy that SEK Mqhayi recalled in his poem, ‘Ukutshona kukaMendi’.
“This day has become a day that allows us to remember all men and women who have paid the ultimate price in defence of freedom, peace and justice. It reminds us that blood was spilled by many of our people to guarantee us our freedom and dignity,” said the president.
“They are even more significant because they occur in a year when South Africa commemorates the centenary year of our icon and first Commander-in-Chief, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. It is this SANDF that President Mandela envisaged as a non-partisan unifier and defender of all South Africans.”
“We applaud the major role that the Department of Defence is playing in actively promoting our Defence Force as a career of choice.”
During the past year, the South African Navy continued to lead the Department of Defence’s participation in Operation Phakisa. Through Operation Phakisa, the SANDF aims to enhance ship-building.
During this year, the SANDF will lead the rejuvenation of the Naval Dockyard in Simon’s Town. It will commence with the building of patrol and survey vessels for the South African Navy to rejuvenate the national ship building industry. This project will create 570 high technical jobs and 4,500 indirect jobs over the next five years.
Ramaphosa was accompanied by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula and other senior government officials including Secretary for Defence Dr. Sam Makhudu Gulube and Chief of the South African National Defence Force General Solly Shoke.
– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Lindiz van Zilla
The poem ‘Ukutshona kukaMendiIn by SEK Mqhayi
Could we have sacrificed anything more precious?
What did it mean to sacrifice a village?
Was it not giving the bull calves of your homestead?
Sending those very ones who loved you as a nation?
We’re talking deep now; we have added our voice,
Proudly we are part of those opening the road to freedom.
In the way Abel was the sacrifice of the earth?
In the way the Messiah was the sacrifice of heaven?
Be consoled, all you orphans!
Be consoled, all you young widows!
Somebody has to die, so that something can be built;
Somebody has to serve, so that others can live…