The SA National Defence Force is going all out to live up to the exhortation of its Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, when Armed Forces Day 2016 is held in Port Elizabeth.
Speaking at this year’s Armed Forces Day in Potchefstroom he said the day “was not for our soldiers, but for the whole nation and it must become an important day in the calendar of government and the country”.
To make it an important day for South Africans, the military will have warships, aircraft and equipment including the G6, Olifant main battle tank and Rooikat as well as a flypast by the SA Air Force and various elements of the SA Military Health Service taking part in a parade in the Friendly City on February 21.
The date coincides with the sinking of the SS Mendi during World War One, still South Africa’s biggest naval and military tragedy. Six hundred and forty-seven soldiers died when the Mendi was rammed by the SS Darro, sinking in 20 minutes. Six hundred and sixteen of those who died were South Africans.
Initial planning for the event next year will see no less than six warships of all the class types operated by the SA Navy in Algoa Bay, according to Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communications. There will probably be one Valour class frigate; one Heroine class submarine; the supply and replenishment vessel, SAS Drakensberg; the hydrographic vessel, SAS Protea and one each of the mine countermeasures and offshore patrol vessels (OPVs).
No details have yet been made available as to which aircraft types the SAAF will put in the air for the flypast.
Mabanga said all four arms of service would be represented in a parade and marchpast with the salute to be taken by Zuma, who will also present medals to “deserving members of the SANDF”.
After the parade a mechanised column will move through the city’s streets before going into townships around Port Elizabeth to, in Mabanga’s words, “interact with the local population”.
Ships will be berthed in Port Elizabeth harbour and will be open to the public on February 13 and 14.
A night gunnery shoot is planned for February 18 at the King’s Beach parking area with flares and blank ammunition – “the SANDF’s answer to fireworks” – and is expected to draw a large crowd.
A career exhibition, across of four arms of service, is an integral part of Armed Forces Day as the SANDF attempts to attract new recruits.