C-in-C Ramaphosa lauds SANDF on Armed Forces Day

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President Cyril Ramaphosa used the platform provided by Armed Forces Day (AFD) on 21 February to remind South Africans the national defence force was more than a military.

He told those at the parade in Richards Bay the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) – “our armed forces” – are always on guard to defend the country’s sovereignty and constitutional democratic order, adding “they do much more than that”.

Parts of the “that” according to the Commander-in-Chief, are active contributions to economic and social development.

“They are to be found on rescue missions in times of disaster, building bridges where a need exists and rehabilitating rivers from the effects of pollution. They have time and time again shown they are a force for good and an integral part of all progressive humanity,” he said at the final event of this year’s AFD.

In an obvious reference to the use of military personnel during civil unrest, such as in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in mid-2021 following the brief incarceration of Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa paid tribute to all in the SANDF who “at great risk to their own lives, work tirelessly to help maintain law and order in times of crisis”.

“By virtue of their calling and allegiance to the constitution, they act without hesitation whenever called on to do so, when their country needs them most,” he told the parade, adding he saluted all “who carry out tasks in times of disaster that literally stand between life and death”.

“We commend the exemplary selflessness, self-sacrifice and patriotism of our armed forces who, even in the face of great danger, always put the interests of the country first.”

Ramaphosa made specific mention of SANDF efforts, across the four services and divisions making up the architecture of the national military, in border safeguarding – “a tough task”; guarding vital infrastructure (soldiers are deployed at six Eskom power stations); and being a “vital part” of government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With regard to soldiers safeguarding the borders, Ramaphosa said, “We read of their successes every month, almost every week, as they confront illegal migration and international crime syndicates, working hand in hand with our nation’s law enforcement agencies as part of the long running Operation Corona.

“Our soldiers are there to stand guard in times of crisis within our borders, as they did resolutely during Operation Prosper. Now the SANDF is guarding vital infrastructure against those who would endanger the security of the state to advance their own personal interests.”

Ramaphosa told the parade that the SANDF was called on during the initial phases of the COVID-19 lockdown. “It was a vital part of our response to the pandemic through Operation Notlela. This included the work of the South African Military Health Service, which provided support to our public health response. It is therefore wonderful to witness the launch of Project Owethu to coincide with this year’s Armed Forces Day. Through Project Owethu, the SANDF is working with government departments to provide access to health care and other social services in communities in KwaZulu-Natal that are remote and marginalised.”

The SANDF is no stranger to the people of KwaZulu-Natal as its members have been serving in the province since the devastating floods of last year. Most of these were members of the SA Army Engineer Corps and medical practitioners from the South African Military Health Service. They have built bridges, fixed roads and purified drinking water.

Going continental, the C-in-C said: “From North Africa to Southern Africa, from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, South Africa depends on the SANDF to support peacebuilding as part of a mandate from the African Union and the United Nations. We extend our appreciation and respect to our forces deployed in various missions across the continent. We mourn all those who have lost their lives in the effort to silence the guns on our continent.”

Ramaphosa recalled that two weeks ago, the SANDF lost Flight Sergeant Vusi Mabena when his helicopter came under attack in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”

The Commander-in-Chief concluded his address by saying that “with the confidence and faith we have in the capabilities of our armed forces, we are reassured as a people that no matter the circumstances, the SANDF will always be there to restore order, maintain calm, support our people and defend the territorial integrity of our Republic. We salute all our men and women in military uniform on Armed Forces Day, and we thank them for their courageous and tireless service.”

Over 8 000 members of the SANDF descended on Richards Bay for Armed Forces Day events, which began on 6 February and culminated in the parade on 21 February. Before his address, Ramaphosa awarded medals to over a dozen Special Forces members, and the family members of several soldiers who passed away in the line of duty. The medals included the Nkwe ya Gauta – Golden Leopard, awarded for bravery. This was instituted in 2003 to replace the Honoris Crux Gold and is South Africa’s highest military decoration for bravery.

Following the awarding of medals and Ramaphosa’s speech, hundreds of vehicles took part in a parade through the streets of Richards Bay, showcasing the broad range of equipment used by the SANDF, from dump trucks to main battle tanks. While much of the equipment remained the same as last year, a notable exception was the addition of several Badger infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), in different variants, including Section and Missile. While still being developed by Denel Land Systems for the SA Army, the company brought seven Badgers down for Armed Forces Day, with a couple participating in night shooting exercises.

The South African Air Force participated with helicopters (A109, Rooivalk, Oryx), fast jets (Gripen and Hawk – the second public appearance of the Gripen since AAD 2022 following a year-long grounding) and the Silver Falcons aerobatic display team.

Click here to view the Armed Forces Day 2023 gallery.