Address by Commander-In-Chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa, on the occasion of Armed Forces Day 2020, Polokwane, Limpopo, 21 February 2020.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula,
Premier of Limpopo Province, Mr Stanley Mathabatha,
Ministers of Defence from fraternal countries,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Mayor of Polokwane and Councillors,
Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube,
Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Solly Shoke,
Members of the Military Command Council,
Generals, Admirals, Officers and Officials,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Soldiers on Parade,
Fellow South Africans,
As the Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force, it is my privilege to be here today to honour our women and men in uniform.
Armed Forces Day is commemorated annually to pay tribute to the soldiers who perished in the English Channel in 1917 on board the SS Mendi during the First World War.
We honour the women and men who protect our borders, and those who have gone before who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our nation.
We are proud of the progress we have made in ensuring that from the disparate apartheid-era armed forces a single, united, uniquely South African National Defence Force has emerged.
The SANDF is an enduring symbol of our rainbow nation, and includes in its ranks black and white, men and women.
Through loyalty and discipline, in defending our territorial integrity and sovereignty, though your involvement in conflict resolution and peacemaking efforts on the continent, and through your heroic roles during natural disasters both at home and in our neighboring countries, the SANDF indeed makes us proud to be South African.
Only ten days ago, we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the release of the SANDF’s first Commander-in-Chief, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
We should not forget that historic day, which dramatically changed our country’s political trajectory and led to the peaceful transition to democracy and which brought the SANDF into existence.
We mark Armed Forces Day this year at a time when South Africa has assumed the chairship of the African Union for 2020.
This is a great responsibility to lead our continent towards the peace, unity and prosperity envisaged many years ago by our forebears like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Thomas Sankara and Kenneth Kaunda.
In May this year, South Africa will host the Extra-Ordinary Summit of the AU on ‘Silencing the Guns’, one of the pillars of the AU’s Agenda 2063.
This Summit will provide an opportunity to assess the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap, and at the same time respond to emerging developments on the African peace and security landscape.
As a continent, we have set milestones towards the attainment of a better and safer continent for all Africans, but our progress remains mixed.
Conflict continues in several African countries, undermining our collective efforts to achieve peace and security.
South Africa looks to the SANDF to assist us to meet our obligations with regards to supporting continental peace and security.
On this 2020 Armed Forces Day, we remember all the heroes and heroines in the SANDF who serve us without any expectation of reward, and who put their lives on the line to serve their country and their continent.
In our quest to Silence the Guns, we acknowledge the enduring challenges of armed conflict in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, in North Africa, in the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa and in the Great Lakes region.
We count on the SANDF as an organ mandated by the AU and the UN respectively to discharge the important responsibility of promoting peace.
I commend our soldiers for staying true to this cause despite the many challenges they face.
On this Armed Forces Day, we show appreciation for the service rendered by our soldiers, who despite limited numbers, ensure that the 4,800 kilometres of our vast border is patrolled.
The companies deployed along the South Africa border with Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique continue to make great strides in curtailing illegal actions in their areas of responsibility.
These men and women do remarkable work in safeguarding our borders and in assisting the South African Police Service with crime prevention.
We commend them, knowing that the vast stretch of our border requires far more resources on the ground.
As a nation, we owe a great debt of appreciation to our National Defence Force for being not just a fighting force, but a developmental force.
Across our country, we have seen the SANDF render essential services through the deployment of health professionals at public health facilities that are in crisis.
We have seen our men and women in uniform repair sewage infrastructure along the Vaal River and in the North West.
Our forces have built bridges in rural areas to give isolated communities access to places and services they would not be able to reach otherwise.
And our forces are active in fire-fighting as well as mountain and maritime search-and-rescue operations.
In undertaking these diverse programmes, the South African National Defence Force draws on the talents and energy of young South Africans.
The Military Skills Development System is an important front in our nation’s battle against youth unemployment.
I am therefore pleased that the programme for the 2020 Armed Forces Day included a military careers showcase.
I hope that young people who wish to develop themselves and grow South Africa will embrace these opportunities through which they will make an important contribution to the security and sustainability of our nation.
We recognise that we have come a long way in the past 25 years.
We have to continue growing our defence industry, especially as it makes a significant contribution in the country’s economy.
To strengthen the relationship between the defence industry and the armed forces, we have launched the National Defence Industry Council.
This development aims to support the defence industry with export opportunities while also meeting the SANDF’s material needs.
We have also launched the Defence Industry Fund, with the objective of growing the local defence industry and servicing the SANDF and external clients.
We are starting to see the fruits of this intervention in our military.
Our Armaments Corporation, Armscor, is also integrally involved in these processes and continues to provide major acquisition and project management capabilities.
South Africans should be proud that their military is providing opportunities to small businesses and contributing to the stimulation of local economies where bases are situated.
This we have done through Project Koba-Tlala.
To this effect, the SANDF has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Small Business Development to raise the department’s spend on small and medium enterprises from 30% to 50%, and create a lifeline for start-ups and budding entrepreneurs.
I challenge you to ensure that women-owned businesses access a significant chunk of this procurement in line with the call by the AU for the allocation of at least 25% of public procurement to women-owned businesses, instead of the current 1%.
I want to commend Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for establishing the Ministerial Task Team against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the military.
The Task Team is currently hard at work to rid our military of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse, which go against the grain of our military ethos and character, and which violate the very principles on which our democracy is founded.
These are steps in the right direction to address the disgraceful behaviour of a few men and which will give weight to our efforts to end violence against women on our continent.
During our tenure as African Union chair, we will make the adoption of the AU Convention on Violence Against Women a priority, and urge member states to ratify international protocols that outlaw gender discrimination.
The global climate crisis threatens our continent more than most, contributing to resource scarcity and instability.
It has the potential to aggravate security issues.
As Chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, I will ensure that South Africa prioritises mitigation, adaptation and support.
As Commander-in-Chief, I will keenly follow the initiative that the Defence Minister took with the campaign to ‘Plant Trees Not Bombs’ in Durban in November 2019.
The UN Under-Secretary-General, Fabrizio Drummond, was also part of this initiative and urged UN members to plant 75 million trees as part of mitigating climate change, also in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN.
I urge the SANDF to expand this initiative in partnership with other government entities.
As I conclude, I wish to pay tribute to one of our own, the late Chief of the South African Army, Lt-Gen Thabiso Mokhosi, who we laid to rest in December 2019.
He would have been with us today.
In his memory, let us continue serving this country loyally, and redouble our efforts to ensure that South Africans feel safe and remain safe.
I thank you.