Address by the President of the Republic of South Africa and the Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of the National Armed Forces Day, Cape Town:
As Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force, it is a great honour to address you on this National Armed Forces Day.
It is the day on which we acknowledge the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the service of this country.
You have answered the most noble calling – to defend the Republic, to protect her sovereignty and guard her territorial integrity.
You have sworn to serve South Africa and its people in accordance with the Constitution, and to uphold its values.
Ngokwamkela lengubo yamalungu ooMkhosi, nibonisa ukunyaniseka kwenu kwiLizwe lwenu; ukuzibophelela ekusebenzeleni iLizwe lwenu ngentlonipho, ngesidima, ngesibindi nokuthembeka.
Kungoko ke ndiyanibulela; nesizwe ngokubanzi, siyanibulela.
The 21st of February holds deep significance for us as South Africans.
It marks the day of the sinking of the troop carrier vessel the SS Mendi.
On that fateful day in 1917, 805 souls perished in the English Channel on their way to the Western Front during the First World War.
The soldiers aboard the SS Mendi were volunteers in the then South African Native Labour Corps.
They were among 25,000 others who joined the corps during a war that began in Europe but soon became a global conflict affecting people on nearly every continent.
The men who died on the SS Mendi and others of the Native Labour Corps who served in the trenches in France did not enlist to further the advance of imperialism.
They volunteered at a time when the 1913 Land Act had cut a devastating swathe across black communities in this country, and they hoped with their service to get a chance to provide for their families.
They also saw it as a chance to play their part in defence of the freedom and preservation of humankind.
They are our heroes, and it is our duty to impart to our children the story of their bravery and courage.
I wish to congratulate the Ministry of Defence for ensuring that this important part of our history is kept alive; and wish to acknowledge the survivors and their descendants, some of whom are here with us today.
Today, we wish to extend our condolences to the family, friends and unit of Corporal Randal Jacques Krynauw.
He lost his life on Wednesday the 6th of February, while he was travelling to be part of preparations for today’s event.
I also wish his injured colleagues a speedy recovery.
Ons gedenk vandag alle gevalle soldate wat in opdrag en belang van ons land gesterf het.
It does not matter how or where they fell – they paid the ultimate price.
Ons sal hul opoffering vir altyd onthou – en vereer.
We are joined here today by Mr Jany Fournier the Mayor of the town of Longueval in France.
Longueval is where our National War Memorial commonly known as Deville Wood is situated.
To you and your delegation, Sir, I say Bienvenue, Wamkelekile, Welkom.
On National Armed Forces Day we honour our veterans and those still in uniform.
We also honour their families, for the sacrifice of serving in uniform is also the sacrifice of a family and of a community.
You have given us the best of your men and women, who left you in the bloom and enthusiasm of youth, and who returned wiser, disciplined and stronger.
It is said that it is only in the service to one’s fellow human that one’s mettle is truly tested; and the armed forces of democratic South Africa can be justifiably proud of having produced soldiers of resolve, of steadfastness and of great patriotism.
Through National Armed Forces Day we want to display to our people the capabilities and state of readiness of our armed forces.
We also want to expand the public’s understanding of the military’s function and purpose in our society.
The roles that the military plays are diverse.
We all recall the iconic image of a young mother, clutching her new-born baby Rosita as she was pulled to the safety of a SANDF chopper during the Mozambican floods of 2000.
We also recall with pride the deployment of the South African Military Health Service across hospitals in Gauteng in 2017 after industrial action nearly paralysed services in the province.
A year later, military health personnel were dispatched to Mahikeng Hospital in the North West, where their intervention averted the near collapse of health services in the facility.
At present we have a specialist team of army personnel working in the Vaal area to contain a sewage spillage that is threatening the health and well-being of millions of people.
The SANDF has also been involved in international peacekeeping missions on the continent, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo under the UN Stabilisation Mission.
We currently have around 1,200 troops in the DRC and are also part of the Force Intervention Brigade together with Tanzanian and Malawian troops.
We continue to support operations in Africa under the United Nations and the African Union.
Whether it is engaging in anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel, battling veld fires in the Cape, doing border patrols as part of Operation Corona or attending to critical infrastructure, our national defence force is a source of enduring pride.
It is a pride we want to impart to the next generation.
For the SANDF to effectively carry out its mission, we need to recruit high-calibre individuals into its ranks.
The armed forces are a home for the youth of this country.
It is the means through which they can serve, through which they can also step forward and say: Thuma Mina, send me.
In 2018, 1,700 young people were recruited through the Military Skills Development Programme and successfully placed in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Medical Health Services.
They commenced training in January at their respective training units and we wish them well.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The role of the armed forces has over the years had to evolve in response to ever-changing global military, political, social and economic conditions.
Our Navy, the host of today’s event, has a particularly critical role to play.
We have a 3,000 km long coastline, the third largest in Africa, and are strategically located on one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.
Over 96 per cent of our own exports and imports are carried by sea.
South Africa’s exclusive economic zone is currently the extent of one and a half million square kilometres.
With such a large ocean jurisdiction, the need for effective maritime protection by our navy has never been greater.
This has become all the more important since South Africa, together with other nations, adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.
Goal 14 obliges countries to take measures to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
The South African Navy is, and will remain, key to supporting our National Maritime Security Strategy and advancing our vision to grow our oceans economy.
Like many other coastal countries, we are impacted by the illegal exploitation of our marine resources, which seriously threatens the sustainability of our oceans.
It is upon our Navy that we rely to protect our trade routes, to cooperate with neighbouring countries and international bodies to promote regional maritime security, and to advance our developmental objectives as a country.
We are also aware of the impact of climate change on our oceans.
Coastal communities in particular are vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels.
The resulting extreme weather will require the SANDF to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during General Military Assistance operations both in the country and in the SADC region.
It is also the responsibility of our armed forces to guard our country’s borders against the infiltration of transnational criminal syndicates, the flow of contraband, human trafficking, undocumented migrants and other illicit activities.
It is imperative therefore that all our armed forces are supported to enable them to respond effectively to current realities and threats, as well as emerging ones.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As South Africans, we are secure in the knowledge that our combined forces are well-trained, capable, and, above all, that they uphold the highest values of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Our armed forces are the great unifier; they are part of what makes us proud to be South African.
As Commander-in-Chief, I say to our men and women in uniform: we value your contribution.
We applaud your professionalism, your discipline and your dedication.
The path you have chosen is not an easy one.
Nor has it been easy for your families and your loved ones.
And yet we know that with your service, you join a long and illustrious line of those who came before you.
Of the brave fallen who lie in Delville Wood and the men of the SS Mendi.
They set sail for Europe’s distant shores in the defence of freedom and in the hope of bringing freedom back home.
They did not live to hear the ring of freedom’s bell.
The dignity they were denied in their lifetime, is the dignity we accord them here, today.
It is the dignity our people enjoy today, especially the men and women of our armed forces.
In recognising you, we are recognising them, our heroes.
It is of you that the great Homer speaks in The Illiad:
“Without a sign his sword the brave man draws, and asks no omen but his country’s cause.”
To our soldiers, yours is a clear mission, to take the SANDF into the future.
To uphold our constitutional order and the rule of law.
To defend and protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And above all, to contribute towards the well-being, prosperity and upliftment of the people of South Africa.
I wish you strength, and I wish you courage.
I thank you.
* President Cyril Ramaphosa, Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force.