Rail transport for Ratels – first time in 20 years

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Armed Forces Day this year is of necessity, due to the financial crunch the national defence force is in and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, downscaled from previous week-long events.

The event in Mpumalanga tomorrow (Monday, 21 February) is split between the provincial capital Mbombela and Barberton, 45 km away, also appears to be the first time in the brief history of Armed Forces Day in South Africa that rail has been roped in as part of the logistic effort.

Acknowledgement of the shrinking defence budget and its impact on operations, training and other components of a properly prepared SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was acknowledged by CAF Lieutenant-General Wiseman Mbambo, whose service is seemingly the lead organiser for Armed Forces Day 2022.

Addressing a weekend media briefing at the army support base in Mbombela, Mbambo said financial constraints impacted negatively on the defence force and its ability to execute its mandate.

On the pandemic, Mbambo said the SANDF was unable to stage Armed Forces Day for two years because of COVID-19 and this year’s event would be marked “with restraint”.

Ahead of the Mpumalanga event, the SANDF alerted motorists to be aware of large numbers of military vehicles en route to the venue. At the same time, as far as can be ascertained, the SA Army Support Formation went the rail route to move Ratels based at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) at Lohathla in Northern Cape to Mbombela.

Captain T.M Setati, transport company commander of 16 Maintenance Unit, reports an on-site inspection of the Bulkop station, serving CTC, gave approval to the overall condition of the station, its platforms and infrastructure. With the green light given it was all systems go and military vehicles for the first time in 20 years moved by rail from Northern Cape on a long journey to Mpumalanga.

The Support Formation report gives no indication of the number and type of vehicles transported, how many flatbed railcars were used and the number of diesel locomotives that pulled it. The route and time is also not given but it would presumably have gone to Free State, probably via Bloemfontein and then on to either south-eastern Gauteng or directly into the same geographic area of Mpumalanga before the final leg to Mbombela.