Better late than never seems to be the thinking of the senior command cadre of the South Africa Army in relation to its centenary.
The single largest component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) last year reached this important milestone in its history but “circumstances beyond our control” saw the planned official celebration event being scrapped.
Army Senior Staff Officer: Media, Colonel Sidney Zeeman, said the centenary was part of year planning and was originally set down to coincide with what was supposed to be an Armed Forces Day celebration on February 21 last year. It would have coincided with the 95th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi – every year the Navy holds a commemorative parade and service at the Mendi memorial in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria.
“Various factors beyond the Army’s control unfortunately meant there was no centenary parade last year but the plan is now to properly mark the centenary this year,” he said, adding while it was “undoubtedly an important event, the Army is driven by the tasks it is assigned and this means work takes priority”.
Last February’s event would have been the SANDF’s second Armed Forces Day. The first was held in the country’s military capital Thaba Tshwane on December 16, 2010, amid speculation it would become an annual event on the national military calendar.
Someone who feels an occasion has been missed is David Williams, author of a number of South African military books including “On the Border”, “Seven Battles that shaped South Africa” with Greg Mills, “Toughest of Them All” with Grant Harding and “Springboks, Troepies and Cadres – Stories of the SA Army 1912 to 2012”.
With two medal parades held last year for MK veterans he maintains it is “ironic” that MK’s 50th anniversary is marked, even though it is officially non-existent, while the SA Army, en entity that is “alive” has not marked its centenary milestone.
“It is sad this important milestone was not properly commemorated,” he said.
Both the SA Air Force and SA Navy mark their respective anniversaries each year. The Air Force Day parade takes place on the first Friday in February at AFB Swartkop in Centurion with the maritime arm of the SANDF using the April Navy Festival in Simon’s town as its anniversary celebration.