Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has commemorated the 40 South African peacekeepers who lost their lives while serving with United Nations peacekeeping missions.
She laid a wreath in honour of the fallen at the Tempe military base outside Bloemfontein on 29 May, which is International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. Wreaths were also laid by senior military officials and relatives of those who have fallen in combat.
A total of 40 SANDF members have lost their lives with UN peacekeeping missions over the last 15 years, in Burundi, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The majority died in the DRC, with the most recent fatality occurring in December 2016.
Twenty-three members have died in the DRC since 2003, eight in Burundi between 2004 and 2006, and nine in Sudan, between 2008 and 2016. The single worst loss of life on a UN mission was on 6 April 2004 when six members lost their lives.
Apart from the 40 who died during UN operations, SANDF personnel have also perished in active service in the Central African Republic and in the line of duty in South Africa.
To those who have lost family and friends in the line of duty, the minister said that as a mother who has lost a child she knows their pain and said families should remember their loved ones with a smile.
The commemoration by the South African National Defence Force of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers comes as the SA Army rotates its contingent with the UN Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC. The first batch of soldiers from 4 South African Infantry (SAI) are due to land back in South Africa this evening while the first 200 troops from 5 SAI are due to head off to the DRC on 30 May. The rotation of more than 800 troops will be completed by 8 June.
Mapisa-Nqakula emphasised the importance of contributing to UN peacekeeping missions, saying that if there is not peace in East and West Africa then there won’t be peace in Southern Africa. It’s important to live under conditions of peace and security, she said.
She called on the troops rotating to the DRC to serve their country with pride and discipline and commit to the ideals of the Constitution and the SANDF.
South Africa is revered for being a major contributor to the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission efforts, with annual contributions fluctuating between 1 500 and 2 500 members.