President Cyril Ramaphosa used the platform provided by Armed Forces Day to bring home to South Africans at least nine occasions when the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) “more than lived up to the task of defending and protecting the country”.
Speaking in the Mpumalanga provincial capital Mbombela, Ramaphosa said he was proud of the country’s airmen and women, military medics, sailors and soldiers, especially as he is Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF.
“Over the past year, under conditions that were difficult, demanding and unprecedented in our democratic history, the men and women of the South African National Defence Force have served this country with the utmost distinction,” he said.
Among taskings Ramaphosa singled out during his address at the Mbombela Stadium were the SANDF contribution to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Operation Notlela and a vaccination campaign; the response to last July’s violent unrest and looting; the fire at Parliament with firefighters from Air Force Base (AFB) Ysterplaat among the first responders; the involvement of South African military elements in Mozambique; the work done by the SA Army Engineer Formation in cleaning up the Vaal River and the same formation’s construction of much-needed bridges in rural areas.
With regard to external deployments, Ramaphosa mentioned the insurgency in Mozambique, which “poses a threat to the security and stability of the entire region. The SANDF was there, deployed as part of the SADC Mission in Mozambique. I had the privilege of meeting with the troops earlier this month, when I attended National Heroes Day celebrations in Mozambique. These brave men and women are there to restore stability and prevent a spill-over of the conflict into other countries.
“Last month we welcomed back the members of 15 SA Infantry Battalion from their deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2001, members of the SANDF have been part of peacekeeping operations under the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, known as MONUSCO. At all these moments of uncertainty, crisis and very real danger for our country, for our neighbours and for our continent Africa, the SANDF has been there,” Ramaphosa said.
“According to our Constitution, the primary objective of the armed forces is to defend and protect the Republic. The SANDF has more than lived up to this task, particularly over the past year, when our country endured great tribulations,” he told those attending Armed Forces Day celebrations.
“As a people, we are reassured that no matter the circumstances our nation faces the SANDF will always be there. The SANDF is one of the last lines of defence to restore order, maintain calm, support our people and defend the territorial integrity of our Republic,” Ramaphosa said adding “at a moment of great crisis, the sight of a uniformed SANDF member keeping us safe, restoring calm, gave reassurance at a time when many were fearful”.
“Their presence reminded us once more we have honourable armed forces who took an oath to serve and protect and to never dishonour the cause of freedom,” part of his tribute to the four services of the national defence force went. “It is heroes in uniform – fallen and still standing – who make sure South Africans are able to retire in peace at night knowing the country is safe.”
On the challenges facing the SANDF, Ramaphosa said: “The military, like every other organ of state, has had to conduct its substantial operations in the face of extremely limited resources and a growing catalogue of commitments”.
“I commend the leadership of our military and all members of our armed forces for fulfilling their responsibilities even as we grapple with funding challenges that affect various defence programmes and development activities.
“We are looking within these constraints, at ways to better resource our defence force with the tools they need to fulfil their mandate,” Ramaphosa said.
Armed Forces Day is used to remember the more than 600 servicemen of the South African Native Labour Corps who perished during the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel on 21 February 1917.
“We honour all the men and women in uniform who have lost their lives in the line of duty, at home and on external operations,” Ramaphosa said. “Today, we pay homage to Corporal Tebogo Radebe, who was killed in Cabo Delgado late last year during a deployment as part of the SADC Mission in Mozambique. The entire country owes a debt of gratitude to his family for having selflessly shared him with us so that he could fulfil his patriotic duty to serve the country of his forebears.”
Ramaphosa also paid tribute to soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan, “in the cause of peace and freedom for Africa.”
“Their deaths remind us that our freedom, our way of life and the peace that we enjoy as a country comes at a price. We are also grateful to our soldiers conducting border safeguarding operations. Our troops put their lives on the line to ensure that peace and stability prevails in South Africa and outside our borders. They do so in pursuance of our international obligations towards continental peace and security.”