What is happening to SANDF public events and community relations?


The decision to scrap the annual Navy Festival for this year seems strange given the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) oft-stated commitment to taking the country’s military to the people.

The Simon’s Town showcase of the maritime service’s abilities, capabilities and equipment has for more than a decade been a popular attraction for both naval enthusiasts and Mr and Mrs John Citizen. Granted the location and surrounds of the base are not at the top of the user friendly list, but attendance has been good and many have commented positively on topics as diverse as morale, base cleanliness, the appearance and condition of the SA Navy’s compact fleet and just “how nice it is to see a sailor”.

That’s off the list for this year and given how other events have been handled by the SANDF, it does not appear likely there will be a Navy Festival in 2019.

It is unlikely the overall lack of funding in the SANDF is the reason for the cancellation. Although Armed Forces Day uses up a lot of money, estimated at over R50 million, funds for events such as the Navy Festival generally come out of  training budgets. It seems health and safety issues, poor planning and bad management are largely to blame.

Last year saw the SA Army Air Defence Artillery Formation mark its centenary in proper military fashion with a parade through the streets of Kimberley and associated military events. Sadly some years earlier the SA Army did not even mark its centenary. Indications were it was “supposed” to have been part of Armed Forces Day staged that year at the Mendi Memorial in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, but nothing came of it and the 100th anniversary of the SANDF’s oldest component was not officially commemorated.

Then there was SAAF 95 two years ago. It rated a mention at the Air Force Prestige Day (formerly Air Force Day) parade and a logo emblazoned coffee mug given to guests at the SAAF Prestige Awards event. That was it, no flypasts, no parades, nothing!

On the other side of the equation, the air force went to great lengths to stage an aviation awareness and youth career expo at a school in one of Johannesburg’s south western suburbs last August. Displays were flown by the Silver Falcons as well as Gripen and Hawk.

Later in the year the SANDF took part in another school event. This was Pretoria’s Waterkloof primary School derby day and career exhibition.

According to the official SANDF publication, SA Soldier, it was part of efforts to strengthen community relations.

There doesn’t appear to be any logic when it comes to decisions to put the SANDF in the public eye. It seems to be OK to go to enormous effort (and expense) to display at schools, but not to keep flying the flag at events where some sort of continuity has been established, such as the Navy Festival, or simply ignoring important anniversaries.

Then there is also the complete lack of publicity given to the SAAF Silver Falcons 50th anniversary late last year. In other countries, air forces would have rolled out the red carpet for a half century anniversary of an aerobatic team. In South Africa, it was a closed event (followed admittedly, a week later by an airshow) with social media – and defenceWeb to a lesser extent – the only media involvement in the milestone anniversary