South Africa pays tribute to fallen World War II soldiers in Egypt
By: Kgabo Mashamaite
A full scale special tribute for the brave and gallant South African heroes who perished during the campaigns of El Alamein was performed by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), during the 70th Commemoration of the battle of El Alamein in Egypt over the period of 20 and 21 October 2012 respectively.
More than 1200 South Africans, both black and white soldiers took part in a battle over the period of 23 October and 4 November 1942 under the old Union Defence Force banner during the second battle of El Alamein codenamed “Lightfoot”, which marked the most decisive battles of the entire World War II campaigns. In that period, the battle opened with a huge Allied artillery bombardments and after which, coordinated tank, infantry and air attacks slowly broke down the Axis forces resistance and ultimately into a full retreat.
Currently, the El Alamein War cemetery is home to 7 200 graves to the Allied, Commonwealth, Free French, Polish and Greek forces who participated during a series of campaigns designed to secure the control of the Mediterranean shore, the Suez Canal, Middle East oil supply and the supply route to Russia through the modern day Iran against the Axis forces, largely consisting of the German and the Italian foes.
In his speech delivered before 350 international guests and diplomatic corps and representatives of the governments during the South African commemoration ceremony, the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla, said
“These fallen soldiers we honour on this day may have had reservations about being conscripted for a war far from our shores for a colonial power, but they made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of mankind. The ruthlessness of these El Alamein campaigns is evident through my observation after going through the history, as an entire generation of 22 to 23 age group was wiped off, young lives being cut off in one front and others as young as 19 years, where few were above the age of 30 years had to unselfishly sacrifice their lives for the world peace and stability. They fought a good battle and their blood that flows from the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile River, Lake Victoria, the Limpopo River, to uThukela River all the way to the Indian ocean, nurtures our democracies and strengthens our nations in fighting oppression and foreign dominance.
During the Second World War, human values were threatened; it was a war that not only involves the West nor the African continent. It was a war that was fought in different parts of our world and had the potential to alter our habitat forever. The victory we speak of today was not for only for the people of Egypt, but for humankind and liberty for the entire world. Egypt may be at the horn of the continent and South Africa at the foot of the motherland. History such as the victory of Alamein narrows the gap between our nations that may be geographically far apart but brings us closer in pursuit of democracy, human dignity, peace and world security.” Mr Thabang Makwetla said.
According to the Republic of South Africa’s Ambassador to Egypt, Ms Noluthando-Mayende Sibiya, the commemoration marks the new chapter in the lives of the South Africans united in paying tribute to those soldiers who bravely gave up their lives during the Battle of El Alamein in pursuit of peace. Ms Mayende-Sibiya further promised to make everything possible to assist the relatives of the deceased to find the eternal resting place of their beloved ones in Egypt.
At least seven wreaths have been laid during the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) ceremony as an act of remembrance and to honour those soldiers who put their lives on the line for world peace during the World War II campaigns in Egypt. The proceedings were led by the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Mr Thabang Makwetla and Ms Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya on behalf of the South African government (also at the commonwealth event), the High Commissioner of Canada in Egypt, Mr David Drake, C SA Army Lt Gen Vusi Masondo representing the C SANDF, Defence Attachè of India to Egypt, Col Girisha Kalia, Capt Sifiso Nene on behalf of the SA Army Artillery Formation as well as Staff Colonel Wail El Sharly.
Meanwhile Maj Gen Steve Marumo led the SANDF delegation to another wreath laying ceremony on 21 October 2012 at the Heliopolis war cemetery in a special tribute another group of soldiers who died during the campaigns of the battle of El Alamein at the Heliopolis war cemetery, Cairo. Maj Gen Marumo was accompanied by Mr Tshepe Motumi, the Director General at the Department of Military Veterans and the Republic of South Africa Ambassador to Cairo, Ms Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya who also paid her tribute to the deceased soldiers.