As with many military traditions, the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) Goodwill Project had humble beginnings and is today a national effort which brings Christmas cheer to men and women in uniform who cannot be with family while deployed.
It started 16 years ago when the then Sergeant Major of the SANDF “Jakes” Jacobs (who, in today’s rank structure, would have been a Master Chief Warrant Officer) asked all the senior NCOs in the defence force to lighten their pockets by R1. The money raised would be used to bring some festive season spirit to soldiers deployed away from home bases as well as to their families.
As is the custom with senior NCOs a target was set by Jacobs and when it was surpassed he found himself with R25 000 in the kitty. This went to the purchase of food parcels for every South African soldier deployed in Burundi at that time.
A statement issued by SANDF corporate communications has it that “this small investment was a personal show of goodwill by sergeants major to troops on the ground – an investment no one at the time thought would grow to touch as many lives as it does today and generate not just the funds amassed over the years but also the interest of many large South African corporates”.
What has become the SANDF Goodwill Parcel Project currently has 14 corporate sponsors alongside four Service sponsors and has raised a total of R65.4 million in its existence to date.
The 2017 edition of the project was launched on September 1 with a gala dinner in Pretoria which saw R2.4 million pledged. This will be utilised to provide gifts for soldiers deployed continentally in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of MONUSCO as well as soldiers deployed internally, including the over 2 700 doing border protection duty as part of Operation Corona. Their families will receive Christmas parcels which, as in previous years, will be delivered to their houses.
Speaking at the function SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, said: “South African business and other generous sponsors help the defence force reach out and say thank you to our soldiers who continue making a supreme sacrifice and to their families, who play a pivotal support role allowing our soldiers to safeguard our borders and promote peace and stability on the continent”.
The goodwill parcels are distributed by high-ranking SANDF officers, accompanied by representatives of the major sponsors allowing them to see the conditions soldiers live in and work under executing tasks assigned by South African political leadership.