While this year’s Armed Forces Day will be held in Durban, much attention will be focussed on the English Channel where an SA Navy frigate will commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi.
The troopship that was rammed by the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight on 21 February 1917 with the loss of 628 members of the then SA Native Labour Corps remains South Africa’s worst naval tragedy. A decision was taken in 2012 to stage Armed Forces Day on the day of the SS Mendi’s loss to keep it in the collective national memory.
The SAS Amatola is currently steaming to the English Channel where she will, among other duties, take up station on the site of the SS Mendi’s sinking on February 21. Planning is for a live video link between the Valour Class frigate in the Channel and Durban, where SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, will take the salute and present medals. He will also lay a wreath in honour of those who died when the SS Mendi went down.
The major part of Armed Forces Day 2017 will take place in Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium on Tuesday 21 February.
Other components of Armed Forces Day 2017 include the arrival of a mechanised column on 14 February and the opening of a fan park from where the public can watch various events. These include a live capability demonstration on the new beach adjacent to Addington Hospital; a night shoot at the Blue Lagoon, the Armed Forces Day parade and a further capability demonstration, also at the Blue Lagoon.
The SA Navy plans to have its supply and replenishment vessel, SAS Drakensberg; the hydrographic vessel, SAS Protea; a Valour Class frigate; a Heroine Class submarine; a Warrior Class offshore patrol vessel and a River Class mine counter-measures vessel in the port city for the duration of the week around Armed Forces Day. Ships will be berthed in Durban harbour and will be open to the public.
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