Mpumalanga ready to host South African Armed Forces Day amid restrictions
The celebrations of Armed Forces Day have once again been limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. The day, commemorated annually, is aimed at showcasing the capabilities of South African Defence Forces and pays tribute to the bravery and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform.
However, with current challenges, which include budgetary constraints and an internal focus on civil unrest, the festivities traditionally scheduled for a week, have been restricted to just three days.
Armed Forces Day in South Africa is celebrated annually on the 21st of February. It is inspired by the worst naval tragedy in the country’s history, the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi in the English Channel, on that date in 1917.
Over 600 SA Native Labour Corps troops drowned when the troopship was struck by the SS Darro on its way to France to participate as an ally in the First World War. Brigadier-General R King recites the story of the SS Mendi.
“The 616 South African souls that were lost aboard the ship that day perished in support of a military effort. The commemoration of the tragedy of the SS Mendi has permeated through South African culture. It has contributed to our understanding of our heritage, our history and our identity as South Africans. During Armed Forces Day, the SANDF honours the memory of the fallen soldiers in various ways to make sure that their legacy is not forgotten Armed Forces Day was made official by former president, Jacob Zuma in 2012.
The event was first hosted in the military suburb of Thaba Tshwane, south of Pretoria. The day sees the showcasing of the weaponry, machinery, military hardware and personnel of the various corps that make up the South African National Defence Force.
However, the last two years have seen much-restrained celebrations, according to the head of the army, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha.
“Armed forces have been celebrated around South Africa since 2013 on a rotational basis allowing each service an opportunity to interact with the SANDF. Thus far eight provinces have been afforded the opportunity to host for Armed Forces Day. Mpumalanga province will be the 9th. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the SANDF has been unable to hold a full Armed Forces Day week for the last two years.”
Notably, Sunday saw an Inter-faith service held by the SANDF, and on Monday Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces President, Cyril Ramaphosa will lay a wreath at the World War Memorial in Barberton, before travelling to the provincial capital to address the military parade of armed forces at the Mbombela Stadium.
Outside the COVID-19 pandemic, budgetary constraints and civil unrest in the country have also conspired to hamstring the SANDF in its mission according to Mbatha.
“The financial constraints that are reflected by the frequent budget cuts experienced by the Department of Defence are well documented. However, what is not discussed in much detail is the corresponding loss in capabilities; its negative impact on the defence force to carry out its mandate; the emerging security threats have had the effect of rendering the SANDF focus within the republic of South Africa in quelling the civil unrest that from time to time emerge.”
Those attending the festivities will be treated to a dazzling spectacle, which will include a flypast of various South African Airforce planes. The South African Military Health Service and Navy will also showcase their moves in the parade.
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