Soldiers paid ultimate price for freedom, peace

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the day in which the SS Mendi sank, is a day that allows the country to remember all the 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. It is a reminder that honourable and courageous men and women continue to put their lives on the line to secure our peace and defend our Constitution,” President Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.

Speaking at this year’s Armed Forces Day celebration held in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, President Ramaphosa said this year, the celebrations carry a profound and special meaning for the nation.

“They occur at a time when our defence force has once again demonstrated the deep roots of our Constitutional dispensation. 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.”

He said this day is a reminder that the country’s soldiers are an integral part of South Africa, not an external force.

“You are the bedrock of our communities. You are our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbours. 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,” the President said.

Operation Phakisa

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.

President Ramaphosa said this year, the South African National Defence Force (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,” President Ramaphosa said.

Career opportunities

The President applauded the major role that the department is playing in actively promoting the Defence Force as a career of choice.

“You are opening incredible opportunities for young people in both the public and private sectors.

“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,” he said.

SANDF’s Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi told SAnews that the SANDF decided to rotate the hosting of the Armed Forces celebrations to give people in the provinces an opportunity to know more about the SANDF.

“We want our people to know more about their defence force and that they are various career opportunities for young people,” he said.

The local communities in and around Kimberley came in their numbers to witness this year’s Armed Forces Day celebrations.

The various formations of the SANDF conducted a military parade in the streets of Kimberley.

Ian Salman, from Coleville in Kimberley told SAnews that they were pleased that this year’s celebration was held in their province. “We are happy that all this happening in our town,” he said, appealing to the SANDF to bring more events to their town.

For Isaaih Monageng, it was an eye opener as he was impressed with how much he learnt about the SANDF. “Our young people must take opportunity to learn more about the defence force and the various career opportunities available in the Defence Force,” he said.

Men, women in uniform honoured

This year’s event was held to honour the SANDF men and women in uniform for their patriotic service to the nation and to pay homage to all those who died in the line of duty.

According to the SANDF, the Armed Forces Day celebrations provides an opportunity to bring the SANDF closer to the people, expose society to the SANDF and for the youth to learn more about careers in the SANDF.

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.

Over 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. 

The 2017 Armed Forces Day was held in Durban and marked the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi.

It is estimated that more than 10 000 people per day visited the Fan Park at AR Absa Stadium in Kimberley from 15 to 21 February 2018. –