A month ahead of annual SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Armed Forces Day, its corporate communicators couldn’t or weren’t allowed to make known the venue for the annual event, which appears to be going ahead in spite of earlier indications it was cancelled.
This publication wanted to know if and where the 21 February Armed Forces Day event would be held and in what format, for example battalion or brigade parade, and whether President Cyril Ramaphosa, as SANDF Commander-in-Chief would be present.
A single sentence response read: “The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) wishes to state that the process is underway for Armed Forces Day 2024, and once finalised, it will be communicated accordingly”.
defenceWeb understands that late last year the SANDF recommended postponing Armed Forces Day until further notice, perhaps holding it again in 2025, most likely due to budget cuts. It now appears the event will be going ahead, but given the short time to prepare, it is likely the event will be much smaller than in past years.
The first Armed Forces Day event was held in December 2010 when then President Jacob Zuma addressed a gathering of serving and retired soldiers, with representatives from various veterans organisations also present. A planned flypast and demonstration of military equipment and skills at the Thaba Tshwane sports grounds had to be cancelled because of bad weather.
The next edition of Armed Forces Day was held in February 2013, again in the greater Pretoria area, this time Atteridgeville at the Mendi Memorial site 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, Armed Forces Day has become bigger, with capability demonstrations, community outreach projects, ship tours, parades and flypasts, costing tens of millions of Rands.
When asked about the limited information on AFD 2024 coming from the SANDF, respected defence analyst Helmoed Heitman told defenceWeb, “I would think the location was decided long ago to allow proper planning of movement, camp sites, location and nature of active displays, planning of any fly pasts, etc. bearing in mind the public relations people may be constrained in what they can say by the paranoiacs at counter intelligence (CI)”.
He maintains that paranoia did not change after 1994. By way of illustration, he points out the then SADF (SA Defence Force) CI people “insisted on keeping secret things everyone already knew – including stuff published in Paratus – and the new lot continue that habit.”
In defence of the DCC non-response, he points out any serious public relations/media liaison effort will be “hamstrung” by the secrecy approach.
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.
Armed Forces Day 2014 was held in Bloemfontein, followed by Potchefstroom in 2015 as each province received a turn to host. 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 with the SA Army the host service. The next year’s event was hosted by Kimberley, followed by Cape Town in 2019, and Polokwane in 2020. The 2021 edition was scaled down due to COVID-19, with President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering a speech and laying a wreath at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. The 2022 event was held in Mbombela (Nelspruit) and the 2023 edition in Richards Bay.
- Update: In further response to a defenceWeb query, the Department of Defence told this publication that, “The SANDF wishes to state that the Armed Forces Day celebration is being re-looked at in view of the budget reductions that have affected all government departments. We are looking at the frequency it should be held, and discussions in this regard are currently ongoing within the SANDF.”