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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of Armed Forces Day, Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal

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Programme Director,
His Majesty King Misuzulu kaZwelithini,
Bayede! Hlanga lomhlabathi!
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Ms Nomusa Dube-Ncube,
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla,
Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Rudzani Maphwanya,
Acting Secretary for Defence, Dr Thobekile Gamede,
The Plenary Defence Staff Council,
Generals and Admirals,
Officers and Warrant Officers,
Non-Commissioned Officers, soldiers, sailors and air men and women on parade,

Fellow South Africans,

I am honoured to be addressing you on this very special day.

Every year we observe Armed Forces Day to recognise and celebrate the immense contribution made by the members of our armed forces in creating a better life for the South African people and for the people of our beloved continent, Africa.

On this day, we remember and pay tribute to all our fallen men and women in uniform who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Among these, we remember those who tragically lost their lives when the SS Mendi sank on this day 106 years ago in the English Channel during the First World War.

As we mark this day, we appreciate that our armed forces are continuing the pursuit of the ideal for which their departed predecessors lived.

They have picked up the spears of our fallen heroes and heroines and continue the effort to give our people lasting peace, security and stability.

As the Commander-in-Chief, I commend the good work you are doing as men and women in uniform.

As we gather to honour the serving members of our armed forces, those who have served in the past and those who have fallen over the years, we are reminded that we stand on the shoulders of patriots such as Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha who, when confronted with death aboard the SS Mendi, led his countrymen in song.

We are inspired by their bravery as we stand here in the face of grave challenges confronting our society.

We are determined to emerge triumphant from the struggle against poverty, inequality, unemployment, gender-based violence, crime, disease and deprivation.

While our armed forces are always on guard to defend our hard earned sovereignty and constitutional democratic order, they do much more than that.

They actively contribute to the social and economic development of our country.

They are to be found on rescue missions in times of disaster, building bridges where a desperate need exists and rehabilitating rivers from the effects of pollution.

They have time and time again shown that they are a force for good and an integral part of all progressive humanity.

I wish to pay tribute to all members of our armed forces who, at great risk to their own lives, work tirelessly to help maintain law and order in times of crisis.

I commend the highest level of discipline with which they discharge their duties under difficult conditions.

By virtue of their calling and allegiance to the constitution, they act without hesitation whenever called upon to do so, when their country needs them most.

I salute all of you who carry out tasks in times of disaster that literally stand between life and death.

We commend the exemplary selflessness, self-sacrifice and patriotism of our armed forces who, even in the face of great danger, always put the interests of the country first.

From North Africa to Southern Africa, from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, South Africa depends on the SANDF to support peacebuilding on the continent as part of a mandate from the African Union and the United Nations.

We extend our appreciation and respect to our forces deployed in various missions across the continent.

We mourn all those who have lost their lives in the effort to silence the guns on our continent.

Just two weeks ago, we lost Flight Sergeant Vusi Mabena when his helicopter came under attack in the eastern DRC. We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Unlike the apartheid-era SADF, the democratic South African National Defence Force is committed to forging peace and supporting development.

The primary function of the SANDF is to protect the territorial integrity of this nation’s borders. It is a tough task.

We read of their successes every month, almost every week, as they confront illegal migration and international crime syndicates, working hand in hand with our nation’s law enforcement agencies as part of the long running Operation Corona.

Our soldiers are there to stand guard in times of crisis within our borders, as they did resolutely during Operation Prosper.

Now the SANDF is guarding vital infrastructure against those who would endanger the security of the state to advance their own personal interests.

We called on the SANDF during the initial phases of the COVID-19 lockdown. It was a vital part of our response to the pandemic through Operation Notlela.

This included the work of the South African Military Health Service, which provided support to our public health response.

It is therefore wonderful to witness the launch of Project Owethu to coincide with this year’s Armed Forces Day.

Through Project Owethu, the SANDF is working with government departments to provide access to health care and other social services in communities in KwaZulu-Natal that are remote and marginalised.

Project Owethu can be a great catalyst for change through empowering communities and improving people’s lives.

The SANDF is no stranger to the people of KwaZulu-Natal. Its members have been serving in this province since the devastating floods of last year.

Most of these were members of the SA Army Engineer Corps and medical practitioners from the South African Military Health Service. They have built bridges, fixed roads and purified drinking water.

With the confidence and faith we have in the capabilities of our armed forces, we are reassured as a people that no matter the circumstances, the SANDF will always be there to restore order, maintain calm, support our people and defend the territorial integrity of our Republic.

We salute all our men and women in military uniform on Armed Forces Day, and we thank them for their courageous and tireless service.

May God Bless South Africa and protect its people.

I thank you.