Accolades and Albatrosses: The South African National Defence Force’s Centenary and the Commemoration of Milestones in South African Military History
Peoples, societies, institutions and other entities frequently record their histories in terms of successive epochs, and commemorate those histories according to perceived milestones or turning points in their development. Since much of human history has been dominated by strife and warfare, national and international milestones are frequently embedded in notions of a military past. Milestones in military history may be divided into three broad categories, namely those representing significant strides in the evolution of warfare, those associated with bravery, heroic sacrifice and great loss, and those of decisive political importance. Defence forces in general, and individual military units in particular, are extremely conscious of their past and often commemorate milestones through customs, traditions, and splendid parades and ceremonial displays. This year (2012), the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) celebrates its centenary against the complex background of South Africa’s long history of internal strife interspaced with participation in foreign conflicts. This article reflects on the commemoration of South Africa’s military history within the context of the divergent historical heritages of the SANDF and its predecessors. It commences with a brief background on memory, identity and the commemoration of history and military history. Thereafter it outlines the commemoration of a few of the foremost milestones in South African military history associated with the evolution of warfare, with bravery, heroic sacrifice and great loss, and with political change within its historical and current context.
Keywords: South African National Defence Force, centenary, commemoration, milestones, military history