SANDF to mark International Peacekeeper Day in Free State


The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will this year mark the United Nations (UN) International Day of Peacekeepers – Monday, 29 May – for the eighth time with a wreath laying ceremony at its De Brug mobilisation centre outside Bloemfontein.

The South African ceremony does not coincide with that planned for UN headquarters in New York. This is due to 29 May being the Memorial Day public holiday in the United States (US). The day was originally known as Decoration Day from an early tradition of decorating graves with flags, flowers and wreaths. One description has it as “a day for remembering those who died in service of our country (the US)”.

The world body will instead mark the day on the Thursday preceding – 25 May – in New York.

This year is noteworthy marking the 75th anniversary of UN peacekeeping. The first peacekeeping operation was UNTSO in the Middle East.

An SANDF communication has it: “The UN dedicated 29 May each year as a day to pay tribute to the ‘blue helmets’ invaluable contribution to the work of the UN and honour peacekeepers who lost their lives serving under the UN flag since 1948. In 2015 the SANDF committed itself to recognise 29 May as the International Day of UN Peacekeepers and will hold a memorial service for all fallen Department of Defence (DoD) peacekeepers annually at an appropriate venue”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to lay a wreath for the almost four thousand three hundred peacekeepers who died while serving under the UN flag since 1948. He will also preside over the Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony at which 103 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who died in 2022 will be honoured posthumously with the medal.

A UN spokesman told defenceWeb no South African peacekeepers died last year adding the South African peacekeeper killed in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in February this year aboard an Oryx helicopter will be honoured at next year’s International Day of the Peacekeeper ceremony.

Since the establishment of the SANDF in 1994, South Africa has been part of a number of continental peacekeeping operations with fatalities, combat and non-combat related.

The DoD records around 50 South African soldiers killed since the country became an active troop and equipment supplier to African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) continental peacekeeping and peace support missions, this figure is not complete. When those killed in Lesotho or the Central African Republic (CAR) are included it increases to almost 90.

The single biggest loss of life suffered by South African forces deployed continentally since democracy was the ill-fated Battle for Bangui in Central African Republic (CAR) in March 2013 where 15 elite soldiers were killed and a further 27 wounded in a vicious firefight that saw the deaths of several hundred Seleka rebels.

South Africa is  a major contributor to UN and AU peacekeeping efforts, with annual contributions of between 1 500 and 2 500 military personnel. Peacekeeping deployments since democracy include operations Mistral, Sunray and Teutonic in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Operation Espresso on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border; Operation Fibre in Burundi; Operation Triton in the Comoros; Operation Montego in Liberia; Operation Cordite in Darfur; Operation Pristine in Cote D’Ivoire; Operation Vimbizela in the Central African Republic; Operation Bongane in Uganda; Operation Rachel in Mozambique and Operation Manguzi in Angola, Lesotho and Namibia. More recently, Operation Vikela has soldiers deployed with the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) to fight an insurgency in Cabo Delgado province.