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Zuma commends SANDF during Armed Forces Day celebrations

Zuma hands out medals during Armed Forces Day 2015.President Jacob Zuma handed out Mandela medals to South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members and celebrated the role of the military during the third annual Armed Force Day celebrations in Potchefstroom on Saturday.

As Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, Zuma presented specially designed and minted medals to a further 34 SANDF members involved in the care of and funeral arrangements for Nelson Mandela, adding to the 84 such medals presented last year.

“The success of our Defence Force means safety and security for our people as the South African National Defence Force exists to protect our people and our borders,” Zuma said in his address. “In only 20 years, our defence force has become a force for peace and a force of great pride in the country and the continent because of the hard work, dedication and commitment of our soldiers.

“At home, our men and women in uniform continue to inspire our nation through providing much needed assistance and support in communities that are faced by natural disasters…Early this year the SANDF was also involved in the operation to assist the people of Mozambique in disaster relief after the floods that threatened the survival and lives of the people of Mozambique.

“We also recognise the contribution of our soldiers in the fight against crime in support of the police. We commend the members of the South African National Defence Force who have worked with the police to develop the Rural Safety Strategy which is being implemented at 117 police stations countrywide, to promote safety and security in rural areas and in particular farming areas.”

Zuma highlighted the success of the border safeguarding Operation Corona, whose “success is visible through the illegal weapons seized and the recovery of stolen vehicles and livestock.” In the first seven weeks of this year, SANDF troops on the border apprehended 3 200 undocumented foreigners, recovered 35 stolen vehicles, confiscated dagga with a street value of R9 million and arrested 55 suspected criminals.

Based on the roll-out plan, the SANDF deployed thirteen sub-units to execute Operation Corona in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West Provinces.

“We are also happy that our soldiers are always ready to respond to calls to promote and support peace and stability on the African continent,” Zuma said. “The South African National Defence Force has continued to participate in the United Nations Peace Support Operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the United Nations/African Union Hybrid mission in Sudan. Our soldiers also continue to provide Military Training Assistance to other Armed Forces in the continent.

“Recently the SANDF became part of the newly established African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis, which is an interim mechanism to assist in peace and security in the continent until such time that the African Standby Force is ready. South Africa has pledged a Battalion which is being prepared and almost ready and can be deployed if so required by the African Union. The standby force is a very important initiative by the continent because it enables us to provide African solutions to African problems.”

Zuma also recognised the importance of the South African Police Service (SAPS), which has also participated in peacekeeping missions on the continent. These include the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the African Union Mission in Somalia. The SAPS also supports the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security and has been involved in various Election Observer Missions on the continent.

Regarding skills and training, Zuma noted that the SANDF is investing in youth development through promoting recruitment and careers in the defence force. “That is why every year, the Department of Defence recruits matriculants into the force, as part of the two-year Military Skills Development System. More than thirty six thousand young people have gone through the programme since its inception in 2013.

“We are also using our Defence Force to teach our youth discipline. The Defence Force has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform under the programme called National Rural Youth Service Corps run by Rural Development and Land Reform. Candidates are brought to the Defence Force for six weeks with the intention to develop a South African youth that is conscious of the requirements of a responsible citizen imbued with the values that the nation holds dear,” Zuma said.

Zuma briefly touched on the Defence Review, saying it has outlined what needs to be done to further enhance the capability of the defence force. “The implementation of the Review will give our defence force the resources to fulfil the mandate domestically and beyond our shores.” However, he did not give an indication of when the Review would be implemented.

After presenting the medals and delivering his speech, Zuma and assembled guests witnessed 1 200 troops from different units march past Potchefstroom’s Tlokwe Municipality buildings, followed by a flypast of 25 aircraft and a parade of more than 80 vehicles. A significant portion of the South African Air Force took part in the display, including the President’s Boeing Business Jet (accompanied by Gripen fighters), a white painted Rooivalk and Oryx used on behalf of the United Nations, Hawk Lead-In Fighter-Trainers, A109 and Oryx transport helicopters, Pilatus PC-12, Cessna Caravan and Lockheed C-130 transports and the Silver Falcons aerobatic team.

Almost every type of vehicle in the SANDF inventory drove through the streets of Potchefstroom before heading out to the surrounding townships, from Ratel missile carriers and Olifant main battle tanks to bulldozers and Gecko 8x8 tactical vehicles.

21 February was chosen as Armed Forces Day as it is the anniversary of the fateful sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917, which killed more than 600 black soldiers who had enlisted as a labour corps in the First World War.

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