Showcasing South Africa’s military to the public is a major part of the annual Armed Forces Day celebration which has seen close to R50 million spent on the event this year in Durban and last year in Port Elizabeth.
This was revealed by Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, in response to a Parliamentary question asked by Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence minister, Kobus Marais. He wanted to know the cost of the event and its objectives taking into account the budgetary constraints faced by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
The first Armed Forces Day event was held in a wet Thaba Tshwane in 2010 on December 16. It then disappeared from the South African calendar of military events before resurfacing in 2013 again in the greater Pretoria area, this time Atteridgeville at the Mendi Memorial site on February 21, to tie in with the commemoration of South Africa’s biggest naval tragedy ever – the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi in the English Channel in 1917.
Since then it has by presidential proclamation become an annual event. It is hosted each year by a different service of the SANDF and each of the country’s nine provinces will host the event on a rotational basis.
The 2016 event saw Armed Forces Day grow into a week of military events and activities with Port Elizabeth selected as the venue and the SA Navy as the host service.
The 2017 event, with the added lustre of coinciding with the centenary of the SS Mendi sinking, was held in Durban last month with the SA Army the host service.
According to Mapisa-Nqakula the Port Elizabeth event cost R20,6 million and this year’s Durban festivities saw R24,7 million spent.
In her reply to Marais, the Minister pointed out that the SANDF does not have an allocated budget for Armed Forces Day.
“The host service budgets for corporate costs while all participating services (SA Air Force, SA Army, SA Military Health Service and SA Navy) and divisions budget for participating members’ subsistence and travel costs,” she said.
Apart from showcasing the country’s military assets, in terms of both equipment and people, Armed Forces Day honours the men and women serving in the SANDF and affirms South Africa’s support and gratitude to them for upholding the Constitution, defending the nation’s territorial integrity and protecting its people. It has also grown into a showcase for the varied careers on offer in the SANDF.
The five major objectives of Armed Forces Day are, according to the SANDF, to unite all South Africans behind the country’s defence force; to allow the defence force to interact with communities; to raise public awareness of the military and its purpose; to showcase SANDF capabilities in terms of equipment and technology and to celebrate the defence force’s achievements in both internal and external missions.
Potchefstroom in North West hosted Armed Forces Day in 2015 with Free State capital, Bloemfontein, hosting the 2014 event. The venue for Armed Forces Day 2018 has not yet been announced.