Armed Forces Day 2024 unlikely to happen

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It does not appear that South Africans will see their national defence force up close and personal this week as Armed Forces Day (AFD) and its attendant events most likely won’t happen, with financial considerations seemingly the nail in the coffin.

The annual event in commemoration of the worst naval tragedy in South African military history – the loss of the troopship SS Mendi in the English Channel on 21 February, 1917 – grew into a showcase of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in terms of equipment, personnel and recruitment. Fittingly the Tshwane metro, widely acknowledged as South Africa’s military capital, hosted the first Armed Forces Day in Thaba Tshwane in 2010.

Last year’s event in Richards Bay marked the start of the second provincial “tour”. This is in line with giving as many South Africans as possible an opportunity to see the SANDF.

A defenceWeb inquiry in January was told the “process” [for AFD 2024] “is underway” and “once finalised” will be “communicated accordingly”. A second inquiry in late January remains unanswered with – most recently – the SANDF saying “there is no AFD until further notice”.

This is according to Colonel Selinah Rawlins, Acting Director at the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communications (DCC).

Explaining the lack of funds to host Armed Forces Day 2024, Darren Olivier, African Defence Review Director, said that “in simple terms, the SANDF is not given enough money to do all the things that government demands that it does. That means that some things have to be prioritised and other things, even if they’re useful or necessary, have to be cut back, stopped entirely, or abandoned.

“There’s only so much you can do with greater efficiency and anti-corruption measures. At this point the gap between mandate, missions, and funding is so vast that only a doubling of the defence budget or a halving of commitments and mandate can provide a sustainable solution,” he said.

While some have criticised Armed Forces Day for wasting taxpayer money, a number of defence experts have argued that it provides good logistics experience and training for the SANDF. The SA Army practices convoy planning and control, the SA Air Force gets to fly, and the Navy has another chance to go to sea. At the same time, the public gets to know the SANDF better and understand what roles and missions it carriers out.