The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is preparing to host the ninth annual Armed Forces Day (AFD) in Polokwane, Limpopo, with activities to run from 14 to 21 February.
The SANDF is celebrating 25 years of defence in democracy and held a media launch on 29 January for AFD 2020 at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane to announce the planned events, which will include a capability demonstration at the Roodewal Bomb Range, a fan park with sports clinics, an inter-faith religious service, a gala evening, a wreath laying, a concert and a large parade in the host city Polokwane.
The media launch concluded with the ceremonial firing of a GV1 85 mm artillery gun by Acting Chief of the SA Army, Major General “Mannetjies” de Goede, a Gripen flypast over the stadium and two football matches. The first football match was between the SANDF and Baroka FC with Baroka FC winning five goals to none. The second football match was between the SANDF Limpopo Province and Polokwane City with Polokwane City winning six goals to none.
The SANDF has been in discussions with the premiere’s office and local government since 2019 about opening a fan park that will include static displays and sports clinics. The fan park will be opening on 14 February and run until 19 February at the Polokwane Cricket Club. A fun run/walk is scheduled for Saturday 15 February at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium. The fan park will give the public an opportunity to interact with the SANDF as well as develop an interest for the SANDF in South African youths. Brigadier General H J Stroebel, who gave the media launch presentation, stated, “We will concentrate, mainly, on showcasing the hardware of the defence force but there will be a huge drive for recruitment.”
On 16 February the General Chaplain’s office will invite family members of those who went down with the SS Mendi to the Ngoaka Ramatlhodi Sport Complex.
At the same sports complex, on 17 February, the SANDF will host a gala event to thank sponsors and partners of Armed Forces Day. More notably on the 17th, the SA Army and Air Force (SAAF) will host a capability demonstration. The demonstration will be held at the Roodewal Weapons Test Range, 36 km north-east of Polokwane. As the range is only 7.6 km long, the Army will be limited in what they are capable of demonstrating. However, due to Roodewal being a SAAF test range, Stroebel stated the demonstration will be SAAF-heavy. Another demonstration will take place on 18 February for the Chief of the SA Army and his invited guests.
A legacy project will also take place on 17 February, headed by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Stroebel could not give much detail on the event that will be finalised on 10 February but did say it involves Sekuputu Old Age Home in Zebediela, south of Polokwane.
The Chief of the SANDF, General Sholly Shoke, will host a function and golf day at the Polokwane Golf Club on 20 February.
The main event of the Armed Forces Day celebrations will be held at Thabo Mbeki Street in Polokwane, with the SANDF scheduled to take salute from the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Cyril Ramaphosa. As part of the day’s programme on 21 February, there will be a national and SANDF flags fly-past, and various landward, air and sea elements on display during the parade. The day will kick off with a wreath-laying ceremony when the Commander-in-Chief commemorates and honours those who perished during the sinking of the SS Mendi. The wreath-laying will take place at a memorial site directly opposite The Irish House, Polokwane Museum.
The SANDF said the parade will consist of a ceremonial segment with the National Ceremonial Guard marching towards the podium and awaiting the arrival of the President. It will then present arms and salute the Commander-in-Chief. The 21-gun salute, an aircraft flypast, an inspection of the parade by the Commander-in-Chief and awarding of medals completes the first segment of proceedings.
The second part of the parade is the march-past of around 800 soldiers, airmen and sailors representing all four arms of service of the SANDF. The last and third segment of the parade comprises a drive-past of a mechanised column that includes military combat vehicles and vessels. After the parade, a firepower capability demonstration will be conducted by various assets.
The SANDF see AFD and the surrounding events as an opportunity for the public to interact, understand and support the SANDF. As de Goede stated, “the budget for this event is priceless because we bring the South African National Defence Force…to the people of Polokwane this year in order for them to see how well is their money spent or not.”
The day will conclude with a music event featuring the SANDF and local and South African artists. The SANDF have interest in hosting this event at the Peter Mokaba Stadium. However, Stroebel said a football match on the day is in contention for the venue.
The first official Armed Forces Day was held at Atteridgeville, Pretoria, in Gauteng in 2013. This venue was selected because it is home to an SAS Mendi memorial. The sinking of the troopship in the English Channel on 21 February 1917 is still the single largest naval tragedy in South Africa’s military history and was selected as the commemorative day for the South African military to mark both the tragedy and show South Africans “their” defence force.
Since then Armed Forces Day has grown to a week-long event with fan parks, career exhibitions, sports and other events alongside displays of military equipment and parades representing the four services – air force, army, military health and navy.
The 2014 event took place in the Free State capital Bloemfontein, with Potchefstroom’s North West hosting it in 2015. Eastern Cape provincial capital, Port Elizabeth, was host in 2016 with Durban in KwaZulu-Natal next up in 2017 followed by Northern Cape provincial capital Kimberley in 2018. Cape Town hosted the event in 2019.