Tomorrow (Friday, 29 May) is the International Day of UN Peacekeepers and the world body will again honour the Blue Helmets, albeit in somewhat different form due to the coronavirus pandemic.
South Africa, where a national state of disaster is currently in force, will not mark the day notwithstanding the deaths of local two soldiers while deployed to UN duties as part of the world body’s largest peace mission – MONUSCO in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They were corporals Beon Coetzee and Petrus Lekgoathi.
In South Africa the International Day of UN Peacekeepers is usually commemorated at the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) De Brug mobilisation centre in Free State. A wall of remembrance is the centre point of the parade with wreaths laid by senior officers including SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke.
South Africa is, according to the UN, the 17th largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peace operations. It currently contributes more than 1 100 military and police personnel, including 188 women, to MONUSCO.
The word from Joint Operations is the day will not be marked in South Africa “due to coronavirus”.
In New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will lay a wreath to honour UN peacekeepers who died since 1948. He will also preside over a ceremony at which the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal will posthumously be awarded to 83 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who died while on service last year.
In a video message to mark Peacekeepers Day, Guterres said: “Today we honour more than a million men and women who served as UN peacekeepers and the more than 3 900 who lost their lives in the line of duty. We also express our gratitude to the 95 000 civilian, police and military personnel currently deployed around the world. They are facing one of the greatest challenges ever: delivering on their peace and security mandates while helping countries to address the COVID-19 pandemic”.