Two South Africans are among the 125 soldiers, police and civilians who today were posthumously awarded the Dag Hammarskjold medal at UN headquarters in New York, part of commemorating the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
Riflemen Ashwin Ashrick Zass and Zongezile Victor Nkohla died last year while serving with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Douglas Coffman of the world body’s strategic communications division said.
All told 3,358 soldiers, police and civilians have died while doing UN peacekeeping duty as the result of acts of violence, accidents and disease. The first UN peacekeeper to be killed on duty was Norwegian Ole Bakke, gunned down in Palestine in July 1948. Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, UN Mediator in Palestine, was the second – assassinated two months later.
The UN’s leadership was cut down in 1961, when Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, along with 15 others, died in a plane crash in the Congo while seeking peace.
Three decades later, the growing number and scale of UN peacekeeping missions put many more at risk. More lives were lost during the 1990s than in the previous four decades combined.
In the last decade, the UN itself became a target: its premises attacked in Baghdad in 2003, Algiers in 2007 and Kabul in 2009.
While the SANDF is not marking the day in country, South African soldiers deployed as part of continental peacekeeping and peace support missions will take part in commemorative events in the DRC and Sudan.
On Sunday Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria will host a joint memorial service for SANDF soldiers who died in service.
SAnews reports the SANDF Wall of Remembrance memorial service was inaugurated on October 25, 2009 and a decision taken to hold the service on the Sunday closest to May 31.
There are currently 2,489 names on the Wall of Remembrance. The newest additions – 29 – were put onto the Wall after meeting the qualifying circumstances for the period 1961 to 1994.
Representatives of the SA National Military Veterans’ Association (SANMVA), APLA Military Veterans’ Association (MVA), AZANLA MVA, BDF MVA, the (ex-SANDF) Council of Military Veterans’ Organizations (CMVO) and MK MVA, together with one representative each from the SANDF and the Department of Military Veterans, will conduct a joint wreath laying ceremony at Freedom Park and at Voortrekker Monument on the day.
After the wreath laying ceremony at Freedom Park, guests will depart to the SANDF Wall of Remembrance at the Voortrekker Monument Heritage Site using the reconciliation road which was officially opened by President Jacob Zuma in 2011 according to the official government news agency.