Annually the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Infantry Formation holds their Memorial Service at Fort Klapperkop outside Pretoria to pay tribute to South African soldiers who lost their lives in wars and peacekeeping operations.
During these services high-ranking members of infantry regiments, military veterans groups, defence attachés and families honour our fallen heroes by laying wreaths and observing a moment of silence.
This year on 20 January 2013 the Infantry Formation also paid tribute to 23 year old peacekeeper Private Vincent Mthuthuzeli van der Walt of the 10 South African Infantry Battalion, Mafikeng, who died last year whilst travelling in a convoy in Darfur in Sudan. Private Van der Walt was honoured in line with SANDF tradition with an inscription on marble plaque.
During the ceremony, Chaplain N. C. Jack said: “Today, our hearts and minds, our ears, our eyes, are on them, fellow South Africans who died in the line of duty…We remember and bring them back on centre stage. We remember also, that their bodies were broken; for peace, prosperity and stability in Africa and for a better world.”
To create this “stability and for a better world”, South Africa has 2 000 SANDF personnel serving in peacekeeping and peace-building programmes on the continent. Our troops are currently stationed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan’s Darfur region and the Central African Republic (CAR).
During the dark days of apartheid, African countries remained undeterred in their support for South Africa’s struggle by accommodating our leaders and activists. This played an important role in our attainment of freedom.
We too are committed to stability, peace and the strengthening of democracy on the African continent. Moreover, a peaceful continent is the only way to ensure growth and socio-economic development for South Africa, our region and the rest of Africa.
President Jacob Zuma underlined this when he said that South Africa “cannot survive in isolation, as its economic development and security is linked to the continent’s stability”. He added that when South Africa helps to bring peace to the continent it creates “an environment that is conducive to reconstruction and development in our region...”.
Only through stability can Africa attract investments; enhance intra-Africa trade; develop regional infrastructure; and successfully deal with various social challenges.
Therefore as a country, we will continue to commit ourselves towards conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction on the continent.
In this spirit, South Africa signed a military cooperation agreement with Central African Republic(CAR) in February 2007 which resulted in a rotation of between 20 and 46 South African soldiers assisting the country.
As part of the 2007 agreement, we provide CAR’s defence force with an array of military training and also assisted them during the country’s 2011 elections.
Towards the end of 2012 the situation in CAR deteriorated with rebel groups beginning to seize key towns. The rebels’ gains were accompanied by reports of widespread looting and violence, creating concerns for a humanitarian crisis. Doctors Without Borders described the situation in CAR as a "silent crisis".
Within this context and in line with earlier commitments to CAR, President Zuma authorised the deployment of 400 SANDF personnel to the country “to render support in fulfilment of an international obligation of South Africa towards the CAR”. The deployment period will be for 2 January 2013 to 31 March 2018.
Our troops will assist with capacity building of the CAR Defence Force and will also aid CAR with the planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and re-integration processes.
This peace mission adds onto our long and successful peacekeeping history on the continent. South Africa has been involved in more than 15 peace support operations since 1999. We were among the first countries to deploy military forces in support of the Burundi peace process in 2003 and over the past decade our troops have made a strong contribution towards stabilising the DRC.
According to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, our participation in peace missions strengthens our relations with the affected countries and “improved our standing on the continent”. He added: “Both the governments and peoples of these countries value the contribution … and therefore relate to our own government and people in a variety of areas as friends and partners.”
South Africa's effort to establish peace and stability in Africa is central to our foreign policy. Our second tenure in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) between 2011 and 2012 was also aimed at contributing towards peace and stability on the African continent.
During our term we successfully championed the landmark Resolution 2033 which allows the UNSC to establish a more effective relationship with regional African bodies in particular the AU Peace and Security Council.
Gradually the continent is starting to find durable solutions for its conflict areas bringing democracy and sustainable development. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week President Zuma stated: “There is also evidence that African leaders have collectively come together to do things that are going to make Africa to move forward. We have collectively dealt with the issue of democracy in the continent of Africa. We are entrenching the democratic rule…”.
Africa and conflict resolution will remain top of our country’s agenda, because our future is intertwined with that of the continent. Government expresses our deepest appreciation to all our peacekeeping personnel which support South Africa’s pursuit to create a better and safer continent. We thank you for your hard work in making our continent and country great.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)