Armed Forces Day 2023 to be the biggest yet – SANDF

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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is aiming to make this year’s Armed Forces Day commemorations, in Richard’s Bay, the largest and most successful to date. Over 8 000 troops will be involved in what is also being used as a large-scale force deployment exercise.

This is according to Brigadier General Andries Mahapa, Director Defence Corporate Communication, when briefing the media aboard the frigate SAS Mendi in Richard’s Bay on Tuesday.

The South African Navy is organising this year’s event, which is centred around Richard’s Bay and the uMhlathuze municipality (the other cities considered for Armed Forces Day 2023 were East London and Saldanha).

The Chief of the SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya, said Armed Forces Day (AFD) started out a decade ago with the purpose of bringing the SANDF to the people, and has grown since the first edition was held in Atteridgeville when a single company’s worth of soldiers took part. Now, a brigade size force is involved this year, with over 8 000 personnel deployed along with four Navy ships, dozens of aircraft, and hundreds of vehicles.

“Why spend all this money?” Mahapa asked. He explained that it is the SANDF’s constitutional mandate to safeguard against threats and this ability must be tested through the deployment and sustainment of those deployed forces. “Armed Forces Day functions as a large-scale force deployment exercise and people can see what’s happening with their tax money.”

Maphwanya said that in spite of the harsh budget cuts which the SANDF is grappling, the SANDF is trying to use its funds smartly. For Armed Forces Day, it has diverted some force preparation funds to cover the event because AFD “is part of force preparation”. He added that, “we feel the pinch but it’s for good use.”

SANDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Fhurani Michael Ramantswana said that “from a military point of view, deployment is part of training…The ability to win wars is based on training for high morale and agility of mind. We need that. We can’t sit back while there is budgetary constraints.”

The SANDF, with Armed Forces Day, purports to, among other things honour serving members and pay tribute to soldiers who paid the ultimate price and lost their lives in the line of duty, such as Corporal Tebogo Edwin Radebe, killed in Mozambique while serving with SAMIM, and more recently, Flight Sergeant Vusi Mabena, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Armed Forces Day has continued to grow over the years, with capability demonstrations and night shoots being added as well as gala concerts, sports clinics, interfaith services and community projects. Foreign militaries and the diplomatic corps are also now invited.

The first Armed Forces Day 2023 events began on 6 February with SA Military Health Service community outreach projects that are seeing the provision of free healthcare services. These continue until 17 February.

Armed Forces Week celebrations start today (15 February) with the opening of a fan park at the uMhlathuze Sports ground. Then Fan Park will remain open from 15–19 Feb, wherein military hardware will be on display, and career awareness and military demonstrations conducted. Buses roving over a 150 km radius will bring 3 600 children a day to the fan park.

Sports clinics will be held between 15 and 19 February from 8:00-16:00 and will focus on rugby, soccer, cricket and other sports. The SANDF will also bus grade 5 and 6 learners in for these events at the Umfolozi College Sports Grounds.

The SA Military Health Service will host recruitment drives at the University of Zululand and the University of KwaZulu–Natal from 15 to 17 February at the KwaDlangezwa and Richard’s Bay campuses. Students who are interested in following medical careers in the SANDF are invited to attend the career drives. A mini capability demonstration will also take place at Unizulu Sports Field whereby SAMHS will demonstrate their capabilities, such as medical evacuation.

From 16 to 19 February, four navy ships (the frigate SAS Mendi, hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea, inshore patrol vessel SAS King Sekhukhune I and inshore patrol craft SAS Tekwane) will be open to the public, from 9-15:00.

A gala concert will be held on 17 February at the University of Zululand, from 18-21:00.The public will be invited to attend.

A capability demonstration at Naval Island in Richard’s Bay harbour will take place on 17 and 18 February, with members of the public invited to attend on 17 February and VIPs and invited guests on the 18th.

On the 18th, a Chief SANDF5 km fun run and walk will be held at the uMhlathuze Sports Complex from 7:00-9:00, while an interfaith service will take place at King Bhekizulu Hall at 9:00 on the 19th.

A night shoot at Alkantstrand Beach will be open to the public between 17:00 and 19:00 on 19 February while VIPs will attend a night shoot on 20 February.

Armed Forces Day events will culminate with President Cyril Ramaphosa laying a wreath at the Empangeni Civic Centre at 10:00 on 21 February, a date commemorating the sinking of the SAS Mendi in 1917 with the loss of 614 SA Native Labour Corps members and 33 crew. This will be followed by the main military parade along Bullion Boulevard, followed by a Presidential address.

Mahapa acknowledged that AFD 2023 will “bring Richards Bay to a standstill, but the people will be rewarded through local spending.” He said the SANDF is using local contractors wherever possible, and has booked out almost all the accommodation available in the areas.

To say thank you to the locals for hosting the SANDF, an appreciation concert will be held at the uMhlathuze Sports Complex on 21 February 17:00. Military bands and other artists will take part.

The last item on the Armed Forces Day calendar is a VIP Golf Day on 22 February with the Chief of the SANDF.