BLOEMFONTEIN - The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on Wednesday honoured soldiers who had died during worldwide United Nations peacekeeping operations since 2003.
The event took place at the department of defence mobilisation centre in Bloemfontein and was planned to coincide with observance of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.
A choir softly sang hymns while family members bowed their heads and cried as the names of the dead soldiers were read aloud. SANDF members were on hand, offering comfort to the bereaved.
Following the naming of the fallen, single roses were laid in memory of each soldier.
SANDF military commander, General Solly Shoke, and other dignitaries, laid wreaths of remembrance at the centre's memorial wall.
The wall holds the names of the 55 South African soldiers who died during peacekeeping operations since 2003.
"When one soldier dies, we are all affected; it's not an easy thing knowing that they died fighting for peace. But either way, our duty is to protect the lives of children, men and women, and this means putting our lives on the line, that is why these men have to be remembered for generations to come," said Shoke.
Young widow Nozuko Ngaleka told African News Agency (ANA) she lost her husband Vusumuzi in 2017, and that he would be remembered as a hero. "When my children are older, I will explain to them that their father died while trying to achieve peace and stability in the world; I want them to take pride in the man their father was," she said.
According to the United Nations, South Africa was the 11th largest contributor to peacekeeping troops in Africa and the 17th largest in the world, with 1231 troops deployed between the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect said that despite funding cuts, peacekeeping remained one of the most effective tools for protecting populations.
"Today’s commemoration pays tribute to the more than 1 million men and women who have served in 72 peacekeeping operations since 1948. Today we also honour the 3842 peacekeepers who have died while serving the United Nations.
"Last year, 98 peacekeepers lost their lives while on active duty, including 27 killed in malicious acts in the Central African Republic, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. In the first four months of this year alone, 19 peacekeepers were killed in malicious acts in Mali," said the statement.
African News Agency (ANA)