Armed Forces Day and its satellite events currently underway in Cape Town have been labelled “a vanity project” and an “abuse of South Africa’s military might”.
These strong words come from Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) parliamentarian Narend Singh who is the KwaZulu-Natal headquartered party’s spokesman on environmental matters.
He takes the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and its political leadership (Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula) to task in no uncertain terms for the week-long event.
Singh will be asking the Minister what the total cost of Armed Forces Day is and how many “active SANDF members” were deployed to the Western Cape provincial capital for this project.
An answer to a Parliamentary question by Mapisa-Nqakula showed Armed Forces Day 2017 in Durban cost R24.7 million with the 2016 event in Port Elizabeth costing R20.6 million. Figures for last year’s event in Kimberley were not available at the time of publication.
The Minister told opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais in March 2017 the SANDF did not have an allocated budget for the annual Armed Forces Day event.
“The host service budgets for corporate costs while all participating services (SA Air Force, SA Army, SA Military Health Service and SA Navy) and divisions budget for participating members’ subsistence and travel costs,” she said.
The answer to the number of soldiers participating is in the public domain and was provided by SA Navy deputy chief, Rear Admiral Guy Jamieson during a media briefing ahead of the event. He said more than 8 500 troops and hundreds of vehicles and aircraft would move to Cape Town for Armed Forces Day. This is seen as a valuable logistic exercise for the South African military machine.
“Armed Forces Day forces us in the national defence force to test our ability to deploy and move forces around the country,” Jamieson said.
The IFP MP is of the opinion the country’s soldiers would be “better placed along our porous borders to combat the illicit flow of trade, goods and people”.
South Africa, Singh maintains is “bleeding money” because of poor border management which benefits organised crime syndicates.
“The uncontrolled flow of people into the country is burden on services, infrastructure and national security – that should be the main priority of our defence force outside of peace keeping missions and war,” he said in a statement which also called for an immediate cessation of “this military exercise”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will, as Commander-in-Chief of the South African Armed Forces, host the 2019 Armed Forces Day in Cape Town on 21 February.
Armed Forces Day celebrates and honours members of the South African Defence Force and gives members of the public an opportunity to witness the human and technological capability of the armed forces.
Armed Forces Day was first observed in 2012.
Armed Forces Day activities have been taking place at various locations around Cape Town and have included military displays and a career exhibition at Mandela Stadium in Khayelitsha; a gala music evening at Cape Town City Hall; a night shoot demonstration at Sunrise Beach, Muizenberg, and tomorrow’s military parade and capability demonstration and the Military Parade at Bloubergstrand.
Tomorrow, President Ramaphosa will commence Armed Forces Day with a wreath laying at the SS Mendi Memorial on the Lower Campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT).
The President will pay his respects to the South African soldiers who died when the military steamship SS Mendi sank in 21 February 1917. The SS Mendi sank in dense fog in the English Channel where it was struck by SS Darro, a larger cargo ship. A total of 616 South Africans and 30 British crew members died in the disaster.
The SS Mendi was transporting members of the of the 5th Battalion, or South African Natives Labour Corps, to France in early 1917.
Before boarding the SS Mendi the troops were encamped at what was then the Rosebank Showgrounds Oval, currently a playing field forming part of the UCT Fitness Centre, and is the site of the memorial.
The Mendi sailed from Cape Town to Plymouth and was en route to Le Havre, France, when disaster struck.
For the next part of Armed Forces Day, President Ramaphosa will proceed to the military parade at Bloubergstrand where he will present medals to SANDF members who had delivered outstanding performance in various military operations. The President will also take a salute from the SANDF.