Message by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Commander-In-Chief of the South African National Defence Force, on the occasion of Armed Forces Day 21 February 2021.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula,
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla,
Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Solly Shoke,
The Military Command,
Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On National Armed Forces Day we commemorate those who lost their lives when the SS Mendi sank in the English Channel during the First World War.
Today marks 104 years since those brave soldiers met their demise in the line of duty.
As we remember them, we also recognise and celebrate the contribution of our men and women in uniform to building a better life for the South African people and for the people of the African continent.
As we mark this day, the highest ideal for which the soldiers on the SS Mendi lived and died remains as true as ever.
You who have the honour of being members of our armed forces, must pick up the spears of these fallen heroes and heroines in our effort to give our people lasting peace, security and stability.
Today, National Armed Forces Day is not taking place as before.
This time last year we marked Armed Forces Day in Polokwane, just a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic broke out in our country.
The South African National Defence Force has been essential to our national effort to confront the virus.
Through the invaluable work you have done – and continue to do – during this pandemic, you have demonstrated that the SANDF can be relied on in good times and in bad; in times of peace and times of war; in times of stability and prosperity, and in times of crisis.
By virtue of your calling and allegiance to the Constitution you acted when your country needed you most.
It was our soldiers who helped to maintain law and order in the early days of the lockdown.
The landward force deployed no less than 33 companies in under 72 hours.
The SANDF undertook mercy missions to repatriate our citizens abroad who were fearful and wanted to be reunited with their families.
The SA Army Engineers Corps helped deliver clean drinking water to vulnerable communities.
The SA Air Force and the Logistics Division managed the distribution of much needed supplies to deployed forces.
The South African Military Health Service deployed its personnel in all provinces, where they worked in hotspots, and helped set up field hospitals and quarantine sites.
But what perhaps touched us as the nation most was the sight of SANDF members helping the elderly carry their groceries, walking alongside young people making their way home, and many other instances that showed our armed forces at their best.
We know the SANDF to be a disciplined force.
We know that the Defence Forces will not accept any actions by its members that violate the laws of our country or the rights of our people.
We know that where there are transgressions, it will against those responsible.
As the men and women of our armed forces, you continue your work to build our country.
You are engaged in disaster rescue missions, in building bridges to improve the lives of communities, and rehabilitating rivers from the effects of spillages.
You are not just armed forces that exist to defend our nation; you are foremost forces of development and progress.
We salute the soldiers who have succumbed to COVID-19; they are heroes who died in the line of duty.
We owe them a debt of gratitude and convey our deepest condolences to their loved ones.
We honour these men and women in uniform who continue to put their lives on the line to defend our nation and to contribute to peacekeeping and peacebuilding on our continent.
Men and women of the SANDF, we thank you for the work you have done to protect our country at this most difficult of times, where you spared neither strength nor courage.
On this National Armed Forces Day all the people of South Africa wish you well.
We have no doubt that as we begin the immense task of rebuilding and recovery, that we can count on you, as we always have and forever shall.
I thank you.