President Cyril Ramaphosa
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Thandi Modise,
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla,
Secretary for Defence, Ambassador Sonto Kudjoe,
Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Rudzani Maphwanya,
The Military Command,
Generals and Admirals,
Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers,
Fellow South Africans,
It is with the greatest of honour that I stand here today to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces.
Over the past year, under conditions that were difficult, demanding and unprecedented in our democratic history, the men and women of the South African National Defence Force have served this country with the utmost distinction.
It is now two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SANDF was there, assisting with the implementation and maintenance of the National State of Disaster in the early weeks and months of the pandemic.
It is seven months since parts of South Africa experienced the worst unrest in our democracy’s history, leading to loss of life, destruction of infrastructure and devastation of businesses.
The SANDF was there, assisting law enforcement agencies to restore order and protect key economic infrastructure.
And when our Parliament was engulfed in fire at the beginning of this year, it was our personnel from Air Force Base Ysterplaat Military Aviation Rescue and Firefighting Services who were part of the first responders to douse the flames.
In neighbouring Mozambique, a cyclone caused flooding and devastation.
The SANDF was there, assisting with the evacuation of flooded areas and distributing humanitarian relief.
The government of Mozambique continues to battle a deadly insurgency in the north that poses a threat to the security and stability of the entire region.
The SANDF was there, deployed as part of the SADC Mission in Mozambique.
I had the privilege of meeting with the troops earlier this month, when I attended National Heroes Day celebrations in Mozambique.
These brave men and women are there to restore stability and prevent a spill-over of the conflict into other countries.
Last month we welcomed back the members of 15 SA Infantry Battalion from their deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Since 2001, members of the SANDF have been part of peacekeeping operations under the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, known as MONUSCO.
At all these moments of uncertainty, crisis and very real danger for our country, for our neighbours and for our continent Africa, the SANDF has been there.
As we continue to drive development and resolve service delivery challenges that directly impact the lives of our people, the SANDF has been there.
The SA Army Engineers were there as part of a multisectoral team to clean up the Vaal River to make it safe for communities.
Until the middle of last year, army engineers assisted with repairing damaged infrastructure that had caused the contamination of the river.
As our mass COVID-19 vaccination drive started last year, the SANDF was there, rolling out a vaccination campaign for its various units and formations, as well as for military veterans.
As schoolchildren in rural areas battled to cross dangerous rivers to get to school, the SANDF engineers were there, constructing bridges as part of the Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme.
According to our Constitution, the primary objective of the armed forces is to defend and protect the Republic.
The SANDF has more than lived up to this task, particularly over the past year, when our country endured great tribulations.
How apt, then, is the saying that the truest measure of courage is perseverance under pressure.
As the Commander-in Chief of the SANDF, I could not be prouder of you.
Our nation could not be prouder of you.
As a people, we are reassured that no matter the circumstances our nation faces, the SANDF will always be there.
The SANDF is one of the last lines of defence to restore order, maintain calm, support our people and defend the territorial integrity of our Republic.
The terrible experiences of the July 2021 unrest has left deep wounds.
It tested the authority of the state and the strength of our democracy.
At that moment of great crisis, the sight of a uniformed SANDF member out there, keeping us safe, restoring calm, gave reassurance at a time when many were fearful.
Their presence reminded us once more that we have honourable armed forces who took an oath to serve and to protect, and to never dishonour the cause of freedom.
On Armed Forces Day we remember the servicemen of the South African Native Labour Corps who perished during the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel on February the 21st, 1917.
We honour all the men and women in uniform who have lost their lives in the line of duty, at home and on external operations.
Today, we pay homage to Corporal Tebogo Radebe, who was killed in Cabo Delgado late last year during a deployment as part of the SADC Mission in Mozambique.
The entire country owes a debt of gratitude to his family for having selflessly shared him with us so that he could fulfil his patriotic duty to serve the country of his forebears.
We remember all our soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan.
These gallant soldiers died in the cause of peace and freedom for Africa.
Their deaths remind us that our freedom, our way of life and the peace that we enjoy as a country comes at a price.
We are also grateful to our soldiers conducting border safeguarding operations.
Our troops put their lives on the line to ensure that peace and stability prevails in South Africa and outside our borders.
They do so in pursuance of our international obligations towards continental peace and security.
It is heroes in uniform – fallen and still standing – who make sure that South Africans are able to retire in peace at night knowing that the country is safe.
We know that the SANDF has many challenges.
Our military, like every other organ of state, has had to conduct its substantial operations in the face of extremely limited resources and a growing catalogue of commitments.
I commend the leadership of our military and all members of our armed forces for fulfilling their responsibilities even as we grapple with funding challenges that affect various defence programmes and development activities.
We are looking, within these constraints, at ways to better resource our defence force with the tools they need to fulfil their mandate.
We are observing Armed Forces Day this year mindful that we are still in the throes of a global pandemic.
Our battle against COVID-19 is not yet won, and we must continue to work as a united nation to put this pandemic well and truly behind us.
For your role as the SANDF in preventing the loss of more lives to the pandemic, in working with law enforcement agencies and communities to end the unrest, and in helping civilians in the troubled regions of our continent, your country thanks you.
For remaining ever vigilant and ever ready to answer the call of duty, we thank you.
We honour you and we salute you.
I thank you.