President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Armed Forces Day in Cape Town. PHOTO: Supplied

CAPE TOWN - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said the aim of national armed forces day was to display the capabilities and state of readiness of the country’s 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,” he said.

Ramaphosa was speaking during the annual six-day Armed Forces Day celebrations that took place across Cape Town from February 16 to 21. 

The event kicked-off on Saturday at the Mandela Park Sports Stadium in Khayelitsha, with other events taking place at the V&A Waterfront and Sunrise Beach in Muizenberg.

Men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty were honoured and the sinking of the SS Mendi was also commemorated. 

The Mendi sank in the  English Channel on February 21, 1917. 

Ramaphosa said February 21 held deep significance for 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,” he said.

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.

“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.”

The president said the SANDF had 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.”

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.

“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,” Ramaphosa said.

African News Agency (ANA)