International Day of Peacekeepers – 29 May

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The UN marks the International Day of Peacekeepers, colloquially the “blue helmets” annually on 29 May. As the designated day this year is a Saturday it was commemorated on Thursday at the New York headquarters of the world body.

South Africa is a contributor to UN peacekeeping and peace support operations in Africa and previously marked Peacekeepers Day with a parade at the SA Army’s De Brug mobilisation centre in Free State. This year there will be no event, presumably because of today’s (Friday) change of command parade for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). Outgoing chief Solly Shoke is handing command to former Joint Operations Division chief Rudzani Maphwanya who becomes the sole general in the SANDF.

South Africa is number 19 on the list of military and police personnel contributors to UN operations. There are currently, according to the world body, more than a thousand South Africans in its missions, with by far the largest number in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of MONUSCO and its force intervention brigade (FIB).

One of those is Charlie Company, 1 Parachute Regiment, parabat Phelisa Miya.

She told UN News her deployment in the central African country was an opportunity to utilise the skills taught during training adding she continuously has to push harder “because I’m a woman”.

“I always give it my all, especially when interacting with Congolese women and girls. They always welcome me because women have their ways and it’s important to win the hearts and minds of locals,” she said.

Of her six months to date in the FIB Miya said the reaction force has to be constantly alert because dangerous situations happen “quickly, very quickly”.

A hundred and twenty-nine peacekeepers died in the year under review with a single South African among them. He was Steven Potgieter, a civilian serving with UNISFYA in Abyei. The UN does not make public information on civilian peacekeeping deaths.