The announcement that February 21 will from now on officially be Armed Forces Day is a welcome one.
When the first “official” Armed Forces Day was held on December 16, 2010, there were murmurings of unhappiness among the wider military fraternity. This was mainly because it is the founding date of Umkhonto we Sizwe and was seen to favour the ANC’s armed wing ahead of other elements in what is today the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
Among suggestions put forward for an Armed Forces Day commemoration was for it to be on the founding date of the SANDF – April 27. This is Freedom Day and is an official public holiday marking the country’s transition to democracy in 1994.
February 21 has enduring significance to the South African military fraternity as it marks the single biggest loss of life in the country’s naval history.
The sinking of the SS Mendi with the loss of 616 lives in the English Channel on the way to France in 1917 is widely regarded as one of South Africa’s worst military disasters.
That this date has been chosen as Armed Forces Day will be met with widespread approval.
There cannot be any political connotations to it and it will be viewed positively as a suitable day not only to remember the contribution of previous incarnations of the South African military machine but also what it’s contribution currently is and will be in future.