“Conflating” Armed Forces Day with Exercise Mosi is wrong – Senior DoD communicator

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Siphiwe Dlamini, Head of Communication (HOC) in the Department of Defence (DoD), is concerned about what he terms “media attempts to conflate” next month’s Armed Forces Day (AFD) with the tri-nation naval exercise Mosi II.

Both are set to take place in and off South Africa’s eastern province with AFD in Richards Bay, part of the uMhlathuze municipality, and the joint Russian/South Africa/Sino naval exercise in February using the sea between Durban and Richards Bay as its exercise area.

In an unembargoed statement issued today (Friday, 27 January) the senior communication official in Minister Thandi Modise’s DoD writes: “The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) notes with concern attempts in the media and elsewhere to conflate Armed Forces Day 2023 with the maritime exercise Mosi II. These are two distinct and different activities whose only apparent similarities are the coincidence of geography and timing”.

“It is difficult to establish whether the confusion arises from this and a lack of understanding of the nature of the activities or whether it is a mischievous attempt to conflate the two and by doing so interpret the exercise as a deviation from South Africa’s stated policy of neutrality and non-alignment,” he continues, pointing out AFD has been commemorated on 21 February every year since 2012 to commemorate men and women in uniform and those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

“This includes the heroism of the men of the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC) who perished on the SS Mendi in the English Channel en route to serve on the battlefields of the Western Front. As such Armed Forces Day is an annual celebration and showcase for the men and women who make up the people’s defence force.

“The event is preceded by a week of community outreach projects, talks and demonstrations, culminating with the parade, all of which will take place in Richards Bay this year, after rotating through each of South Africa’s nine provinces at least once in its 11 year history.”

On the naval exercise Dlamini states it is “a scheduled nine-day military marrying up exercise, one of several the SANDF conducts with militaries around the world on a regular basis, to ensure it can learn from and benchmark its own operating capability”.

“The first edition of this particular exercise was held in 2019 and involved Brazil and India as well as Russia and China. The follow up exercise, Mosi II, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“South Africa,” he writes, “is continually home to military co-operation events, not all of which are formal exercises,” adding: “As the SA Navy prepares for Mosi II, the USAF (United States Air Force) visited our shores with their two Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers”.

“Last year South Africa participated in Exercise Shared Accord, the US (United States) military’s annual African military exercise, hosting it in South Africa for the fourth time since 2011. The focus of this two week long exercise last June was humanitarian support to the Richards Bay community, coincidentally the venue for this year’s AFD celebrations.

“The SANDF has participated in many other military exercises in the last 12 months, with the French on Oxide last November, the Indians in Ibsamar last October and the Brazilians in July.

“None of this is sinister, nor suggests any agenda over and above ongoing improvement of SANDF capabilities in executing its constitutional mandate of safeguarding the territorial integrity of this country.

“Just how well, the people’s defence force is doing in this regard will be clear to anyone who chooses to participate in the celebrations and benefit from the outreach programmes next month in Richards Bay.”

South Africa has faced criticism for hosting Exercise Mosi II around the 24 February anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (drills will take place form 17 to 27 February while Armed Forces Day will be held on 21 February).

“We are concerned about South Africa’s plan to hold joint naval exercises with Russia and the PRC in February, even as Moscow continues its brutal and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine,” David Feldmann, spokesperson for the US Embassy in South Africa, told CBS News.

Democratic Alliance shadow defence minister Kobus Marais has called the exercises “silly,” saying that “while our government has claimed its neutral, this is just another of many incidents where the ANC has clearly exposed their favouritism towards Russia.”

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was in South Africa this week and he said the drills were transparent, with no hidden agendas. Meeting with Lavrov, his counterpart Naledi Pandor said criticism of the exercise was applying double standards, as there has been no criticism of South African exercises with Western nations.

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov and its replenishment oiler will be taking part in Mosi II, along with Chinese vessels, the South African Navy’s new inshore patrol vessel SAS King Sekhukhune I, and hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea.