President Cyril Ramaphosa used a downscaled Armed Forces Day parade at the Castle of Good Hope on 21 February to stress the important contribution of South Africa’s men and women in uniform in “confronting” the COVID-19 pandemic.
He told the parade at South Africa’s oldest building on Sunday SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel “can be relied on in good times and in bad; in times of peace and times of war; in times of stability and prosperity, and in times of crisis”.
“It was our soldiers who helped to maintain law and order in the early days of the lockdown,” Ramaphosa, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, said.
“The landward force deployed 33 companies in under 72 hours.
“The SANDF undertook mercy missions to repatriate our citizens abroad who were fearful and wanted to be reunited with their families.
“The SA Army Engineer Corps helped deliver clean drinking water to vulnerable communities.
“The SA Air Force (SAAF) and the Logistics Division managed distribution of much needed supplies to deployed forces.
“The SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) deployed its personnel in all provinces where they worked in hotspots and helped set up field hospitals and quarantine sites.
“What perhaps touched us as a nation most was the sight of SANDF members helping the elderly carry their groceries, walking alongside young people making their way home and many other instances that showed our armed forces at their best.
“We know the SANDF to be a disciplined force.
“We know the national defence force will not accept any actions by its members that violate the laws of our country or the rights of our people.
“As the men and women of our armed forces, you continue your work to build our country.
“You are engaged in disaster rescue missions, in building bridges to improve the lives of communities and rehabilitating rivers from the effects of spillages.
“You are not just armed forces that exist to defend our nation; you are foremost forces of development and progress.
“We salute the soldiers who succumbed to COVID-19; they are heroes who died in the line of duty,” Ramaphosa said.
Armed Forces Day commemorations and memorial services on 21 February marked the loss of lives when the SS Mendi sank in the English Channel in 1917. “As we remember them, we also recognise and celebrate the contribution of our men and women in uniform to building a better life for the South African people and for the people of the African continent,” Ramaphosa said.