Next year marks the end of the first provincial cycle of Armed Forces Day events with Mpumalanga set to host the February event – national state of disaster government edicts and regulations permitting.
That’s the official line from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) corporate communication directorate. defenceWeb was told the event 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 (sic)”.
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 in the township. Since then it was grown into a showcase of the national defence force and its capabilities as well as becoming the single largest logistic exercise involving the all services and divisions comprising the about 89 000 strong SANDF.
While the official response is much as expected, unofficial sources have it SANDF officers, particularly those tasked with logistics and transport, are hard at work planning movement of equipment and personnel to Mbombela, the Mpumalanga provincial capital.
Back in 2013, the Atteridgeville Armed Forces Day 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 of them 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 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.
The event is not always well received with criticism for spending unnecessarily from a constantly shrinking defence budget. Others, including top defence analyst Helmoed Heitman, maintain the logistic planning and execution are invaluable in terms of force preparation.
Armed Forces Day 2020 was staged in the 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.