COVID-19 puts paid to Armed Forces Day 2021


There will be no Armed Forces Day/Week event this year.

The event is the single largest internal SA National Defence Force (SANDF) one annually and centres around 21 February, the day SS Mendi sank in the English Channel in 1917.

SANDF Director: Corporate Communications, Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, confirmed to defenceWeb this year’s event, originally scheduled for Mpumalanga capital Mbombela, was off.

“There will be no Armed Forces Day event this year,” he told defenceWeb telephonically, adding 21 February would “still be marked” with a decision yet to come on exactly how and where.

His comments are in line with what this publication was told in November last year. Armed Forces Day 2021 is dependent on the status of COVID-19 prevalence and determination by government on where the country stands with regards to health protocols regarding large events the SANDF said then. Subsequently government’s National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) extended the national state of disaster on the month-by-month basis with the level of lockdown regulations currently again at three. This prohibits public gatherings.

The event, declared a national one by former president Jacob Zuma, started as a low-key one in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, in 2013 at the Mendi Memorial there. Since then it has grown into a showcase of the national defence force and its capabilities as well as becoming the single largest logistic exercise involving all services and divisions comprising the about 89 000 strong SANDF.

In 2013, the Atteridgeville Armed Forces Day event was essentially a parade and wreath laying ceremony at the Mendi Memorial to mark what is still South Africa’s worst maritime disaster – the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi in the English Channel on 21 February 1917. She was carrying a contingent of SA Native Labour Corps (SANLC) troops to France. More than 600 drowned along with seven crew. The loss of the Mendi was the single largest loss of life of non-combatants during World War One.

Since then the commemoration, marked annually on 21 February with a brigade parade and marchpast as well as an address by the President in his capacity as SANDF Commander-in-Chief, has grown into a week-long event. It features comprehensive career guidance for all four services – air force, army, military health and navy – as well as a variety of military skills demonstrations.

Armed Forces Day 2020 was staged in Limpopo capital Polokwane from 16 to 22 February. Previous Armed Forces Days/Weeks were in Western Cape (Cape Town) 2019, Northern Cape (Kimberley) 2018, KwaZulu-Natal (Durban) 2017, Eastern Cape (Port Elizabeth) 2016, North West (Potchefstroom) 2015 and Free State (Bloemfontein) 2014.