The first of a series of medal parades to honour military and civilian personnel involved in the care of and funeral arrangements for Nelson Mandela saw 84 specially designed and minted medals awarded by President Jacob Zuma at AFB Waterkloof on Sunday.
Among the recipients were 76 serving and 14 retired members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) the majority of them SA Military Health Service members, and 30 private medical doctors.
Zuma told those on parade at the Centurion air force base they were there to honour “those men and women in uniform who took care of our gallant leader when he was ill”.
“The awards are also bestowed to soldiers who participated in the burial preparations, the laying in state at the Union Buildings and those who ensured our beloved leader was accorded a befitting State funeral,” the SANDF Commander-in-Chief said.
Marking the first anniversary of Mandela’s death Zuma paid tribute to him saying he ensured the SANDF became a single entity reflective of South African society as it is today.
“He built the national defence for from seven disparate forces to what it is today. He inspired a calibre of soldiers who are committed to defending our Constitutional democracy.
“Men and women who were sworn enemies in the battles that shaped our route to democracy now stand side by side before us here as patriots in a free and democratic South Africa.
“Today the SANDF is a beacon of hope and a torch-bearer of peace and stability in the African continent.
“Our soldiers are highly regarded with regards to peacekeeping and post-conflict reconciliation missions under the auspices of the UN, the AU and the SADC.
“We have made an indelible mark in the field of peace support operations and have become a key role player,” Zuma said adding South African soldiers “played a meaningful role in bringing peace and democracy in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Indeed, the SANDF must take credit for the work done in Burundi to bring peace and stability.”
This was part of the Madiba legacy that will live on “because the people of Burundi are today living in a peaceful and secure environment because of his foresight”.
SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, received the first gold Nelson Mandela medal an honour also accorded his arms of service chiefs (Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, Rear Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane and Lieutenant General Aubrey Sedibe) and Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi. SANDF Chief of Corporate Staff Lieutenant General Vejay Ramlakan was also a gold class recipient as was Chaplain General, Brigadier General Monwabisi Jamangile.
President Zuma also thanked members of the SA Police Service who worked diligently and professionally to look after Mandela until the end.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said she was happy all those who took care of Mandela and worked during the period of his death were recognised for the work they did.
“This is something I have been looking forward to from the beginning of the year. I really wanted these people to be given the awards they deserve. They worked extremely hard, we will forever be indebted to them,” she said.
More Mandela medal parades will be held between January and June next year.