Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Defence Force Day Parade

29 April 1995

Honourable Ministers;
General Meiring and Officers of the South African National Defence Force;
Distinguished Guests.

It is a source of immense pride and satisfaction for me to address this Defence Force Day Parade; and I warmly welcome the dignitaries in attendance and the members of the force on parade.

This is the first anniversary of a new chapter in the history of the nation's military organisation. The occasion provides me with an opportunity to express the admiration and gratitude of government for the steadfast loyalty and dedication of the defence force during the past year, and its contribution to national stability.

Internal stability is essential to the successful implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme. In this connection, the defence force has played an invaluable role in support of the Police Service, defusing potentially explosive situations in some of the most volatile areas.

Your activities in the field of border control have also contributed to stability. In particular, border security is vital to combating the dangers of gun-running, drug smuggling, vehicle and cattle theft, poaching and sheer banditry. In a different connection, effective border controls are essential to implementing any policy regarding immigration and refugees.

The accomplishments of the defence force in these critical tasks should not detract from its primary role of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic. Even in the absence of any immediate threat of external aggression, the defence force has to be trained, equipped and structured to be a credible deterrent, including the protection of our territorial waters.

As the country's budget is reshaped in accordance with new priorities, the funding of all activities, including that of defence, is subject to review. The priority on defence matters is, and will be, to retain a balanced, modern and technologically advanced force capable of fulfilling its assigned roles.

In this connection, we look forward to the publication of the White Paper on Defence. It will set the scene for a proper public debate and recognition of the contribution of the defence force to the well-being of our nation.

Officers, Ladies and Gentlemen;

The transformation of the defence force, involving integration and rationalisation, is on course.

As far as integration is concerned, effective administrative action and the streamlining of procedures have dealt with the bottlenecks. The latest figures indicate that over 70% of the non-statutory forces who have reported to the assembly areas have undergone pre-selection and placement. Over one thousand members had been appointed to officer rank.

I am delighted with the progress made on the conversion of the defence force into a truly representative organisation. I am also most pleased that it is being done with a commitment to sustaining the highest standards of discipline and professionalism. These basic principles cannot be breached.

Once the integration exercise has been completed, the numerical strength will be greater than what the country needs. Rationalisation is inevitable To reduce the force to a necessary and affordable level required thorough planning. This should be done without detriment to the ability of the Defence Force to fulfill its primary function. It should be done without undermining the principled objective of ensuring that the force reflects the make up of South African society.

Rationalisation should be carried out in a humanitarian manner. Indispensable skills, expertise and experience will be retained and career prospects stabilised. Some of the reductions will be effected through retirements or normal conclusion of contracts.

For those who cannot be absorbed in the new structure, there will be specialised training to equip them with vocational skills to gain employment in other sectors of the economy. The recently established service corps has a major role to play in this respect.

Dear compatriots;

Much progress has been made in establishing consensus on the ruth and Reconciliation Commission. It is the firm view of the government that this will not be a witch-hunt, particularly against those who fulfilled what were then "lawful commands" of their superiors. Where incidents occurred which require investigation, due regard will be taken of those who authorised any serious transgressions.

There are several ways, beyond those already mentioned, in which the SANDF can and will use its resources to contribute to the RDP. Its internal training activities should, amongst other things, advance educational qualifications in terms of adult literacy. Where it is to the national interest and cost-effective, the management skills and equipment of the force can be used to support Reconstruction and Development projects.

These comments apply to both the full-time and part-time forces. However, in the new situation, clear guidelines are needed on part-time forces. On this basis, it will then be possible to mobilise the nation, particularly those who were excluded from such activities in the past, to take part in programmes decided upon.

On the broader front, the various arms of service have made significant contributions to the establishment of new international contacts, the pursuit of diplomatic initiatives and continental relief operations. They have been in the forefront of initiatives to build collective security in the Southern African region.

In addition, the United Nations expects South Africa to participate in International Peace Support operations. To the extent that the structures are in place and the funds available, we will do our best to meet specific requirements, while maintaining our emphasis on regional co-operation.

In conclusion, there are some particular commendations that I wish to make.

The men and women on this parade ground have exhibited smartness and bearing of the highest order and I am proud of you all. Your conduct augurs well for the future.

Last but by no means least, I express my deep gratitude to the families of every serving member. Without your dedicated support, the Defence Force would not be able to function at peak levels.

I want every member of the SANDF to know that my government and I regard the SANDF as a priceless national asset and a positive force for reconciliation. Keep up your magnificent work.

May God bless you all.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation