South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops killed in the pursuit of peace have been honoured with a wall of remembrance at the SANDF Mobilisation Centre in De Brug, Bloemfontein.
The unveiling of the wall commemorated the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, which takes place annually on 29 May. On this day, the SANDF pays tribute to those SANDF members who died while serving under the United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Missions Flag.
The United Nations General Assembly designated 29 May as the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers to remember the dedication and courage of soldiers who lost their lives in preserving peace. The date commemorates the establishment of the first UN Peacekeeping mission in Palestine in 1948. The theme for this year is, “70 Years of Service and Sacrifice.”
The SANDF invited families from around the country for a day-long programme that included the unveiling of the wall and a wreath-laying ceremony led by defence force officials. The wall is engraved with the names of SANDF soldiers killed during UN peacekeeping operations in Africa and around the world.
Among the relatives present was Elizabeth Mazimbela from Mtubatuba in Kwazulu-Natal. Her stepfather, Obed Dlamini, had served with the SANDF since the 1990s.
Mazimbela remembered Dlamini being deployed to various countries during his years with SANDF.
“He would come and go. Once he was gone for a year. He would come back, and then he would be gone for another six months. But he was like a real father to me. He was everything to us,” she said.
Dlamini was killed in a military vehicle accident while on a mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2005. The tragic incident took its toll on the family, said Mazimbela.
“We were told that he had died in a car accident. I only saw the pictures. The SANDF called my mother with the news. She had to go to the DRC to identify his body and go to the scene of the accident. She never recovered from this and it affected her mentally. We don’t know where she is.”
Seeing her stepfather’s name on the wall of remembrance made Mazimbela emotional.
“I broke down when I saw his name there. My heart broke. But it also made me feel like he is still around. He is still here with us,” she said.
According to the United Nations Peacekeeping website, UN peacekeeping missions work in areas of conflict to protect civilians, reduce violence, strengthen security and empower national authorities to assume these responsibilities. Host countries are given the assistance they need to become more resilient to conflict and sustain long-term peace by addressing root causes of conflict.
There are currently 14 peacekeeping operations around the world. In Africa, missions are in operation in several countries including the DRC, Central African Republic (CAR), and the Republic of Southern Sudan. More than 3 700 military, police and civilian personnel around the world have lost their lives in service of peace since 1948.