“You who have the honour of being members of our armed forces must pick up the spears of these fallen heroes and heroines in our effort to give our people lasting peace, security and stability,“
THE SINKING of the troopship SS Mendi, one of the worst marine disasters in the history of South Africa, was commemorated for Armed Forces Day at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town on Sunday afternoon.
The annual commemoration paid homage to the 616 South African soldiers and 30 British crew members who died aboard the military steamship on February 21, 1917, when the vessel sank in the English Channel during the First World War.
Among those at the service was President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla, Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Solly Shoke, the Military Command, non-commissioned officers and warrant officers.
During his speech, Ramaphosa said the highest ideal for which the soldiers on the SS Mendi lived and died remained as true as ever.
“You who have the honour of being members of our armed forces must pick up the spears of these fallen heroes and heroines in our effort to give our people lasting peace, security and stability,” said Ramaphosa.
He said that today, the National Armed Forces Day was not taking place as before.
“This time last year we marked Armed Forces Day in Polokwane, just a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic broke out in our country.”
Ramaphosa said that the SANDF had been essential to the national effort to confront the virus. He said that through the invaluable work they had done – and continued to do – during this pandemic, they had demonstrated that the SANDF could be relied on in good times and in bad, in times of peace and times of war, in times of stability and prosperity, and in times of crisis.
He said that by virtue of their calling and allegiance to the Constitution they acted when their country needed them the most.
“It was our soldiers who helped to maintain law and order in the early days of the lockdown. The landward force deployed no less than 33 companies in under 72 hours,” Ramaphosa said.
He said the SANDF undertook mercy missions to repatriate citizens abroad who were fearful and wanted to be reunited with their families.
He said the SA Army Engineers Corps helped deliver clean drinking water to vulnerable communities, and that the SA Air Force and the Logistics Division had managed the distribution of much-needed supplies to deployed forces.
He also said that the South African Military Health Service had deployed its personnel in all provinces, where they worked in hot spots, and helped set up field hospitals and quarantine sites.
“But what perhaps touched us as the nation most was the sight of SANDF members helping the elderly carry their groceries, walking alongside young people making their way home, and many other instances that showed our armed forces at their best.”
The South African Army band was in attendance, with the Cape Town Highlanders lining up as the guard of honour.
Shoke said they had been permitted by God to celebrate the lives of those outstanding men of sterling qualities whose unselfish sacrifices made such an indelible last impression to them.
He said they celebrated to reflect and recapture the relevance of those men whose untiring and unselfish sacrifices brought them to where they were today.