President and SANDF Commander in Chief Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa attends Armed Forces Interfaith Service. Picture: GCIS.

KIMBERLEY - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday paid tribute to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), saying the defence force has again confirmed the depth of the roots of South Africa's democracy. 

He was speaking during an inter-faith church service in Kimberley ahead of Armed Forces Day celebrations on Wednesday, which marks the "heroic sacrifices of our soldiers who died that fateful morning when the SS Mendi sank in the English Channel" on February 21, 1917, killing 646 people.

"It has become a day that allows us to remember all men and women who paid the ultimate price in defence of freedom, peace, and justice. It is a day that reminds us that blood was spilled by countless South Africans and freedom fighters to guarantee us our freedom and human rights. It is a reminder that brave men and women continue to put their lives on the line to secure our hard-won freedoms and defend our Constitution," Ramaphosa said.

"This year, these celebrations carry a profound and special meaning for our nation. They occur at a time where our defence force has once again confirmed the depth of the roots of our democracy and the flourishing of constitutional order.

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"They occur as our nation celebrates the change of leadership in the governing party without any appetite for senseless bloodshed because our defence force is led by wise women and men who abide to the ideal of the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law," he said.

They were even more significant because they occurred in a year when South Africa commemorated the centenary birthday of the first commander in chief, former president Nelson Mandela.

"It is this SANDF – the people’s national defence force – that our founding father president Nelson Mandela envisaged as a non-partisan unifier and defender of all South Africans. As its first commander in chief president Mandela moulded the SANDF into a law-abiding institution that upholds the Constitution of the Republic in defence of its people.

"President Mandela left us a coherent SANDF whose task is to diligently safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic, build peace, and support development on the African continent. He left us a national defence force that is a true microcosm of our diverse society," Ramaphosa said.

African News Agency/ANA