Port Elizabeth has taken to the military like the proverbial duck to water as all four arms of service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) show their collective muscle in the Eastern Cape capital ahead of Armed Forces Day on Sunday.
The presence of a frigate (SAS Amatola), a submarine (SAS Queen Modjadji), the hydrographic vessel (SAS Protea) and SAS Drakensberg, the Navy’s supply and replenishment vessel has been such that people queued for more than two hours during each of the ships’ open days earlier in the week to see what it’s like aboard a warship.
SA Navy spokesman Commander Greyling van den Berg was quoted by a local newspaper as saying the queues (for ship tours) were long primarily because of “the overwhelming turnout”.
Estimates are that around 25,000 people boarded naval vessels during the open days.
An exhibition of military equipment said to be the largest in South Africa since democracy in 1994 has also been packing in Port Elizabeth residents whose nearest acquaintance with and knowledge of the SANDF is via 15 Squadron’s Charlie flights based at AFB Port Elizabeth and 6 SA Infantry Battalion in Grahamstown.
On display in the Kings Beach parking area are weapons systems, armoured vehicles, radar systems, artillery guns, boats, a dive tank, a helicopter and an exhibit showing the different facets of the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS).
Arena displays of precision drill by both the SA Army and SA Navy, a Navy sword display, a Military Police hostage release demonstration, an Army dog show and a bridge building demonstration by the SA Army’s Engineer Formation are among the events which have brought different aspects of SANDF operations home, in no uncertain manner, to Windy City residents.
Elements of all five military bands presented a gala concert in the Feathermarket Hall on Wednesday and a night shoot featuring aircraft and naval guns today promises to be a major attraction.
According to SANDF Corporate communications a Gripen, a C-130BZ, an Oryx and two Rooivalk combat support helicopters will take part in a night shooting demonstrations with tracers, rockets and flares. Army mortars will fire illumination rounds from the Kings Beach military exhibition area and SAS Drakensberg and SAS Galeshewe gunners will use these as targets firing tracer rounds.
President Jacob Zuma, Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, will be the main functionary at Sunday’s Armed Forces Day parade after laying a wreath at the SS Mendi memorial in New Brighton.