SANDF supporting Mandela commemoration, burial


The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) shifted into top gear only hours after Nelson Mandela died at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home last Thursday.

First into action was the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), which had been responsible for the former president’s health care since he was admitted to a Pretoria hospital in June this year with a recurrent lung infection.

A SAMHS detail collected his body and moved it by road convoy to 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane in the first SANDF involvement in arrangements for the various functions before the final interment of South Africa’s first democratically elected President at Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday.

The involvement of the South African military in all events around Mandela’s death has been meticulously planned under the code name Operation Imbeko. When it became reality it was changed to Operation Uxolo. As South Africans came to grips with the fact that the 95-year-old former freedom fighter was no longer part of the national landscape, SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke cancelled a medal parade set for Friday and ordered all soldiers on leave to return to their bases and units immediately.

Since Sunday at least six Gripens from 2 Squadron have been based at AFB Waterkloof flying regularly along the Johannesburg/Pretoria corridor on aerial surveillance and security taskings. At least one of the Swedish fighters was spotted carrying a Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod (DJRP). At least two Agusta A109 light utility helicopters, probably from 17 Squadron at AFB Zwartkop, were also seen doing surveillance on this route at various times during Sunday and Monday.

Expectations are that close to, if not more than, 100 heads of state and eminent persons from all over the world have already arrived and will still arrive in South Africa to pay their condolences to the man known fondly as Madiba.

Current United States President Barack Obama, along with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Bill Clinton with a host of high level government representatives and close to 30 members of the US Senate have made the journey to South Africa. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is another who joins a list of high level dignitaries that literally runs from A (Afghanistan) to Z (Zambia). Other notables in the country include African Union chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, European Council president Herman van Rompuy and Minister Amb Samir Hosay, representing the Arab States League.

The majority of national leaders and eminent persons are expected to attend today’s memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto. The Department of International Relations and Co-operation had at the time of publication not indicated how many dignitaries would attend the official State funeral at the Union Buildings on Thursday or the final laying to rest ceremony at Mandela’s home village of Qunu on Sunday.

Afrikaans daily Beeld today reported snipers and electronic jammers would be working in and around the Soweto venue for the memorial service with Gripens overhead to ensure security at the stadium where the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup final was played.

A similar situation is expected to be in place starting tomorrow when Mandela’s body is moved along what will be a heavily secured route from 1 Military Hospital to the Union Buildings where he will lie in state for three days.

No definitive information has been released by the SANDF’s Corporate Communications Directorate but all indications are the Presidential Guard and its accompanying VIP Protection Unit will be heavily involved in this part of the national commemoration. Reliable sources within the defence sector have told defenceWeb snipers, both military and from the SAPS task force, will also be deployed at strategic sites along the route the cortege will follow daily.

Indications are around 15 000 SANDF members will take part in all events around Mandela’s burial.

While it could not be confirmed, some military watchers have said a Valour Class frigate will be deployed along the coastline to provide further security.