South African National Defence Force Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Vusi Masondo speaking about Armed Forces Day 2018 set for Kimberley, Northern Cape, next week Photo / Jonisayi Maromo

KIMBERELY - Excitement was palpable at the AR Abass stadium in Kimberley, Northern Cape province, on Thursday as community members were treated to spectacular military acrobats and displays by members of the South African National Defence Force, as part of preparations for the Armed Forces Day celebrated annually on February 21.

“We can see now the spectacular displays from the armed forces, but the second and most important reason is the opportunities they are bringing for our young people. Remember, they are not just here to bring these displays, but they are also showcasing the opportunities that are available for young people, for school leavers, for children that otherwise do not have other ways to get educated, and to teach our young people life skills,” Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas told African News Agency in Kimberley.

 “The most important part of this [Armed Forces Day celebrations and the buildup] is the spinoffs in terms of what kind of opportunities are there for our young people. There are opportunities for jobs, and skills development – that is the kind of things we really want to bring into our province. Remember we are a marginal province, in terms of getting the smallest budget, and having the smallest population.”

Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas speaking to journalists in Kimberley about the spinoffs from the Armed Forces Day set to be celebrated next week. Video / Jonisayi Maromo

She said the province is riddled with joblessness, and an extensive burden of economic challenges particularly amongst young people.

The SANDF is pulling out all the stops to host a memorable Armed Forces Day 2018 in Kimberley, which will see more than 6 000 troops and 700 military vehicles descend on the usually sleepy city.

Armed Forces Day is celebrated on February 21 in memory of the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel, on that day in 1917. Carrying over 800 servicemen, the majority of whom were black South Africans – the South African Native Labour Corps members - the SS Mendi was struck by another South African vessel, the much bigger SS Darro, on the morning of February 21, 1917.

On Thursday, SANDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Vusi Masondo said the idea behind Armed Forces Day was to foster closer interactions between the military and South African communities.

“We must understand that with the background we have as a country, most of our African people are not [familiar] with the business of defence, and therefore for us to be appreciated as a national asset, it was critical that we begin to get closer to our people,” said Masondo.

He said Armed Forces Day has since been hosted in five provinces.

Thousands of young people were lining up at different booths erected inside the Armed Forces Day fan park created at the AR Abass Stadium in Kimberley, seeking career guidance and opportunities within the military.

African News Agency/ANA