Written by Kim Helfrich, Thursday, 06 August 2015
Armed Forces Day next year will be commemorated in Port Elizabeth with the SA Navy hosting the event on behalf of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Solly Shoke.
Planning is underway to make the event a notable one especially in view of it being held at a coastal venue for the first time. This will allow the maritime arm of the SANDF to showcase its platforms where they belong – on and in the sea. Previous Armed Forces Day parades have seen the SA Navy represented by smaller craft positioned on trailers.
Personnel in distinctive naval uniforms have marched and also manned career displays at previous Armed Forces Day events.
The Human Resources directorate of the SANDF, incorporating the force’s ceremonial section, hosted the first official Armed Forces Day parade in Atteridgeville at the SS Mendi memorial in 2013. Commemorative parades and march pasts have since been held in Bloemfontein with the SA Army as host and last year in Potchefstroom where the SA Air Force was the organising authority.
February 21 marks the day of South Africa’s single largest naval disaster: the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi in the English Channel. She was rammed by the SS Darro and sank in 20 minutes. Six hundred and sixteen members of the SA Native Labour Corps drowned along with all 33 crew.
A Navy source said it was “fitting” for the maritime arm of the SANDF to host Armed Forces Day in a coastal city. The navy will work closely with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to make February 21, 2016, a day to remember.
Indications are a number of naval platforms, ranging from Valour Class frigates through to Heroine Class submarines as well as the offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and hopefully the hydrographic vessel, SAS Protea, and the supply ship, SAS Drakensberg, will be offshore Port Elizabeth before, during and after the Armed Forces Day parade.
As has become customary President Jacob Zuma, SANDF Commander-in-Chief, will be invited as the main functionary for Armed Forces Day.