The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is preparing for an eventful Armed Forces Day in Kimberley next month, when it will see more than 6 000 troops and 700 vehicles descend on the city.
Armed Forces Day is an initiative created by President Jacob Zuma in 2012, with a different province hosting each year. This year it’s the turn of the Northern Cape, and after scouting several locations, Kimberley was chosen as the host city.
Announcing the programme at a press conference in Kimberley on 25 January, the SANDF said that a total of 6 524 SANDF personnel – 3 000 from the Army alone – will participate, along with 41 aircraft, 222 specialised vehicles, 374 operational vehicles, 66 busses and 60 motorcycles.
Armed Forces Day is held on 21 February (chosen after the sinking of the SS Mendi on that day in 1917) and this will start off with a wreath-laying ceremony officiated by President Jacob Zuma. It will be followed by a parade through the streets of Kimberley involving bands, a flag company, gun carriage, marching columns, mechanised column with hundreds of vehicles and a flypast of South African Air Force (SAAF) and SAAF Museum aircraft.
According to Brigadier General Kobus Butler, the flying lineup will include Hawk and Gripen jets, C-130, CASA 212 and King Air transports and Rooivalk, A109 and BK117 helicopters as well as PC-7 trainers from Langebaan and the Silver Falcons aerobatic display team.
Apart from the main event on 21 February, there will be activities throughout the week, including a capability demonstration at the De Brug training facility outside Bloemfontein. The public are invited to this on 18 February, with 5 000 people expected, while the demonstration on 20 February will be for invited guests only. It will include a static firepower exhibition and mechanised attack with air support.
Back in Kimberley, the SANDF expects 10 000 people per day to visit its fan park at AR Abass Stadium between 15 and 21 February. This will have a career village, and division and service villages, showing the public what the SANDF does and what career opportunities exist in it.
According to the South African Air Force’s Colonel Eugene Motati, ten music events will take place at schools between 12 and 15 February, while sporting activities/clinics will be held at several locations between 16 and 20 February. This will see an estimated 1 200 learners per day participate.
A music evening, involving bands and choirs from across all branches of the SANDF, will take place at Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre on the 17th, followed by an interfaith church service there on the 18th.
SANDF spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said Armed Forces Day is important as it gives a chance to celebrate and honour the people serving in the SANDF who keep the country safe. It is also a chance to let people know what the military does and expose youngsters and potential soldiers to career opportunities.
As each province takes a turn to host Armed Forces Day, it will be up to either Mpumalanga, Limpopo or the Western Cape to host in 2019. Organisation is also rotated amongst the arms of service, with the SAAF taking charge of this year’s edition.
After Armed Forces week, the public can look forward to seeing the SANDF at the Rand Show over Easter (30 March to 8 April) and at the Bloem Show in April/May.