The activities leading up to Armed Forces Day on 21 February started with a bang on Friday the 14th when the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) hosted an action-packed mini-war as part of its opening ceremony at the Polokwane Cricket Club.
Four Hawks from 85 Combat Flying School took part in the opening activityes along with Oryx, Rooivalk and A109 helicopters as part of a simulated integrated attack, with soldiers rappelling from the Oryx. On the ground, troops from 7 South African Infantry Battalion marched to the beat of the SA Army Band Limpopo.
Hundreds of military personnel from all four branches of service along with students and local residents gathered to witness the beginning of Armed Forces Day celebrations and the opening of the Fan Park. The event on Friday was presided over by the Chief of Staff of the SANDF, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam.
“In October 2018, when the decision was made to move Armed Forces Day celebration to Cape Town, the Chief of the SA National Defence Force made a promise to the gathering of stakeholders and friends here in Polokwane, that the military will do everything in its power to ensure that Armed Forces Day comes to the people of Limpopo, sooner than one could ever imagine,” Yam said.
“This year, the SA National Defence Force has stayed true to its promise and is here with its full complement of capabilities including land, air, maritime and military healthcare service to honour its commitment to the great people of this province.”
Armed Forces Day marks the centenary commemoration of one of the worst maritime tragedies in South African military history when hundreds of South African soldiers, including 607 troops from the SA Native Labour Corps, died during the sinking of the SS Mendi during the First World War on 21 February 1917.
At the Polokwane Cricket Club there is a static display of military equipment and career exhibition that runs from 14 to 19 February. This also includes an Arena Events programme, which sees South African Army parachutists land in the arena, precision drills, motorcycle stunts, bridge laying, gun runs, mini-war demonstration and more. With the recruitment drive for the Military Skills Development System ongoing, eligible youth are invited to grab the opportunity to complete and submit application forms for the military’s 2021 intake at the Career Village.
Other activities over the weekend saw a 5 km and 10 km fun walk and run on 15 February and an inter-faith service on Sunday 16 February. South African Army Chaplain (Reverend) Sebataolo Loate sounded the SS Mendi ship’s bell during the service after it was unveiled in the Ngoako Ramatlhodi Hall. The bell was handed over by President Cyril Ramaphosa to SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, during Armed Forces Day 2019 after it was recovered in the United Kingdom and sent to South Africa.
On 17 February, at the Roodewal bombing range outside Polokwane, a rehearsal is being held for the capability demonstration, which will see invited guests witness the SANDF in action on the 18th, with all arms of service showcasing their battle readiness and capabilities.
A Military Music Concert will be held at Ngoako Ramatihodi Hall on 17 February at 18:30 for 19:00 and this will be live streamed at Seshego Stadium for public viewing. There will be parade rehearsals in the streets of Polokwane on 18 and 19 February ahead of the main event on 21 February, which will see the President and Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force, Cyril Ramaphosa, officiate at his 3rd Armed Forces Parade. Ramaphosa is expected to also lay a wreath in honour of the 607 men who died aboard the SS Mendi. The Armed Forces Day Parade starts at 9:00 for 10:00 at Suid Street, Polokwane.
Armed Forces Day celebrations continue until 22 February when military personnel from outside Limpopo are expected to depart the province.