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Article by Cpl Tebogo Kekana, Ad Astra Magazine, Photos by 5ASU

The rain did not deter the Armed Forces Day parade that took place at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on 21 February 2017.
The event also commemorated the memory of the selfless soldiers of the SS Mendi. They were attached to the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC). They had volunteered to join the world war and paid the supreme price for peace.

President Jacob Zuma on his way to adddress the parade accompanied by the Minister of
the Defence and Military Vaterans, Ms Mapisa Nqakula and the Chief of the SANDF , Lt Gen Solly Shoke

President Jacob Zuma, the Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force hailed the six members who died in a freak accident after inhaling methane gas at the Salisbury Island Navy Base in Durban. Some of which were also participating in the Armed Forces Day activities. “We received the news with great shock and sadness, occurring just as preparations were at an advanced stage to celebrate Armed Forces Day.

We are with the families at this difficult time. Their loss is our loss.” said the President.
Armed Forces Day’s aim, according the Commander-in-Chief is to celebrate the contribution of the people’s defence force to the consolidation of democracy and peace in the country. At the fifth Armed Forces Day, the President also acclaimed those on parade saying, “We chose the date of the sinking of the SS Mendi, so that the day on which so many paid the supreme price for peace should be used to honour our men and women who are prepared to lay down their lives if need be, to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic, and its people, our soldiers.

Black people had volunteered to join the First World War in order to fight against fascism. They were ahead of their time. They were internationalists who loved peace and justice. They also joined the war believing that their contribution would lead to better treatment back home after the war by the colonial masters.”

President Jacob Zuma, The Chief Commander of the SANDF addressing the parade

The President said that it is the painful history they come from, a history of brutal and blatant racism and colonialism. However, he was hopeful when he said, “Together today, we restore the dignity and humanity of the black soldiers who perished on that fateful day. We salute their courage, bravery and commitment. We salute their quest for a more equal, and just world, for the better world we are still working to achieve one hundred years later.”
Mandisa Sithole, holding on to her spot, which she said gave her the best view of the parade, said the President’s speech touched her. Especially when he quoted Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha who said, “Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill.

“I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers...Swazis, Pondos, let us die like brothers. “We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.”

SA Army band opens the Armed Forces day parade

Moreover, the Commander-in-Chief said that in recognition of the tragedy, amongst the National Orders, the highest honours to be bestowed by South Africa, is the Order of Mendi for Bravery. “Through his Award we will continue to honour these men and their sacrifices throughout our lives and from generation to generation. On this important day, as Commander-in-Chief, let me inform the thousands of our soldiers, on behalf of the entire South African population, that your work is highly appreciated. We thank you for answering the call to serve. We have full confidence in you.”
Armed Forces Day, according to the SANDF Spokesperson, Col Ronald Maseko, “it also provides an opportunity for our youth to learn about careers in the defence force. Through the Military Skills Development System, the SANDF has continued to recruit healthy and fit young people to join the South African National Defence Force.”

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