Address by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu at the change of command and handing over parade dinner, Presidential Guest House, Pretoria
2 Jun 2011
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Mrs Busiswe Ngwenya
Members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military
Secretary for Defence,
Chief of the South Africa National Defence Force,
Director General of the Department of Military Veterans,
Members of the Plenary Defence Staff Council,
Members of the Military Command Council,
Generals, Officers, Warrant Officers, Non Commissioned Officers,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Deputy Minister, Department of Defence and myself, I would like to express my appreciation to all the guests present here tonight to join us in celebrating the enduring military service of one of South Africa’s great patriots, General Godfrey Ngwenya – a soldier who embodies all attributes we associate with this noble profession. The humility to accept commands; the humility to accept others’ view; the courage to take on any adversity; the courage to take on responsibility; the bravery to confront the enemy; the steadfastness to adhere to a mission and see it through; the loyalty of a true patriot.
The National Defence Force was his life. Thank you for making time to honour and acknowledge a military champion of our time who dedicated his entire life to serve our nation through the most difficult times.
He was the last man standing in Angola after all our non-statutory forces returned; he was literally the last man standing to hold up the leadership edifice a few years ago as both Minister and his Deputy coped out of the responsibility.
When this unthinkable happened, we lost no sleep because we knew that the defence force was in the good hands of General Ngwenya – an unwavering patriot whose grasp of the political imperatives of our Constitutional democracy is unquestionable. With the political uncertainty that has engulfed the Arab World and some part of Africa– we count ourselves lucky that we had such as hero – when he was needed.
It is in times like these that we fully appreciate the necessary ingredients that make a professional soldier; the discipline, the loyalty, the patriotism and the courage that constitute an outstanding citizen.
Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, the people of our country witnessed yet another smooth change of command at the handing-over parade which saw General Ngwenya with grace and dignity handing over to the new Chief Defence Force that is the pride of our people.
I sat next to the President yesterday, not quite dry eyed, to put it mildly trying to keep a brave face; he was not perturbed by my condition. He briefly took my hand and said South Africa should be proud that we have produced the Ngwenyas that have made us so proud.
It was a poignant moment for all of us, Commander-in-Chief included. And he concluded, before he left, what must have been a feeling that captured what was in everybody’s mind at the time and I quote: “We must honour such people – we need a special national award to recognise them for their outstanding contribution to democracy.”
It was music to my ears and we will certainly set about the President’s advice with zeal so that we can – collectively as South Africans demonstrate what you General Ngwenya mean to us.
This ceremony also marked the level of maturity of our defence force. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) today is in good shape. We are better integrated; better educated, as a whole; we are better trained; we are ready and we prove it every day as part of the operational missions that we execute – be they peace missions responsibilities; borderline patrol; disaster and humanitarian relief – and also as a last form of defence when all else fails.
These successes are shaped by the professional commitment of our officers through their patriotic duty to serve, inspired by those who serve them.
Command is the singularly most important element in our military tradition. No other responsibility is more meaningful. Our military success is dependent upon the quality of our leaders – in positions of command authority. When that position of command is as the Chief of the Defence Force, then the responsibility and authority become absolutes.
When these absolutes were exercised with humility and honour, we have the kind of leadership exemplified by General Ngwenya and the kind we will need as we contend with the challenges thrown up by the security requirement of the twenty first century. A quiet thoughtful person who one could say easily fits the saying that: “speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
In his many years as a Commander of uMkhonto we Sizwe, General Officer Commanding, Chief of Joint Operations and as Chief of the South African National Defence Force – this was General Ngwenya’s underlying principle: his “statesman-like” outlook and composure earned him natural respect by his peers – who widely revere him for his soft approach, but tough resolve.
The people of Burundi would not enjoy the peace they do today without the sterling command and leadership of General Ngwenya who led our very first peace missions’ deployment with neither the necessary regulatory framework of the African Union nor the United Nations. We achieved it.
The Chief of the South African National Defence Force had unique challenges to deal with. Whereas General Nyanda had to deal with the integration of the armed forces – General Ngwenya played a significant role in the transformation of our defence force as its leader. In the process, he has helped forge an even stronger bond of total force unity and capability.
He brought required stability and integrity into the defence force. Today, the Defence Force is recognised, has sufficiently transformed and efficiently responsible to be given its place as a state institution outside of the public service. Very few know how hard General Ngwenya worked to achieve these goals. He leaves the Defence Force in a better position with all the changes that we have implemented in the past two years.
He listened more than he talked. He would explain that – that was precisely the reason he was not a politician. He applied his mind to every decision he took. Never one to seek the limelight or glory, but had them foisted upon him due to his enormous achievements. He preferred to remain in the background, behind the scenes and content with what he became accustomed to do best – which is to command his soldiers.
When we describe a Chief of the Defence Force, his characteristics immediately come to the fore. These are the characteristics that define all the attributes of the highest office in the Defence Force.
He is a commander with extraordinary courage and all the elements of a professional military leader par excellence. With equally extraordinary humility – steeped in the culture of the South African people. A dedicated soldier who would avail himself for any challenge that was before us. We salute that kind of humility!
I want to take time to take you through only the highlights of his successes:
It was under his command that:
- All our services met their requirements and fulfilled and even exceeded their mandates
- It was under his time that the SANDF participated in United Nations and African Union missions in support of peace, stability and security on the continent. Combatants of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were integrated into the Defence Force of the DRC.
- It was in his time, that the SANDF made forays in peace operations, amongst other – in the Sudan, in Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, in the Central African Republic.
- It was in his time that the SANDF effectively increased its representations in all African countries through the deployment of 37 Defence Attaches.
- It is under his command that SANDF oversaw two exercises of Southern African Development Community (SADC) Brigades, which ensures ongoing development of operational capabilities.
- It was under his command that we strengthened our relations with Mozambique – I and through his determination and commitment, we have today signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
- It was under his watch that the number of women Generals increased from 12 to over 30 – including one Major General.
- It was under his command, that the soldiers saw improvement in their conditions of service.
- It was under his command that the SANDF participated in the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup.
- It was under his command that we returned to the borders – we now have a safer country to live in.
- It was under his command that on two occasions we saved the country from the health disaster arising from a crippling public service strike.
I could go on and on.........
It is easy for us to get carried away with expounding all the superlative virtues inherent in General Ngwenya and completely overlook a vital element of what makes him what he is. He is a very stubborn man. Maybe this is what makes for his tenacity. Very stubborn!
A year ago, we had worked behind his back to find a way to honour him within our own limited powers. We worked out that the parade we all agreed to – to honour our peacekeeping operations, that this parade would be the perfect setting to give this honour. It’s clear he got wind of our intentions and decided to avoid this – which he considered a spectacle. He cancelled his attendance at the parade.
A whole Chief of the Defence Force absent at this kind of parade – one that was going to be addressed by the President. He suddenly discovered a family commitment in KwaZulu-Natal – mind you this is a man whose roots are in Soweto. Suddenly he was the only male in his family – he had to be in KwaZulu-Natal. So, he was not coming. All this dawns on all of us at 20h30 of the night before the parade starting at 09h00 the next morning. He was not coming. It was almost like a man who is not going to show up for his own wedding!!
But history was on our side – this is a man with steel-like discipline who understands command and control. So we took the unprecedented step of issuing a Ministerial command that he would be at the parade in uniform in Bloemfontein at 08h00 in the morning. Ah… he said, please tell the Minister her word is my command – but I can not get to Bloemfontein from Durban within the time, I am terribly sorry.
General Ngwenya leaves behind a legacy of service, dedication and success few can equal. But he can never leave behind his love of freedom and country, or his belief in equality and human rights. His redeployment as our Ambassador to Angola is fitting since it was in that country where his military career started.
General Ngwenya, I know your wife Busisiwe who, through her dedication the spouses forum managed to exist as a pillar of strength and rendered the support to improve welfare of our soldiers. Your family share in your pride – and well they should! No career officer can effectively execute their responsibilities without the support of their family behind them. To all of you – I deeply appreciate your splendid service to our Defence Force and to our country.
General Ngwenya, I congratulate you for the excellent job you have done here. You can be proud.
Obviously, when one commander leaves, another must be chosen to take over. That is a choice not easily made. Command does not come automatically to an executive officer. You do not get this job by seniority – but by a proven record of excellence.
Such is the case of the new Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Solly Shoke. The job is now yours. You have some very big and polished shoes to fill. I have no doubt you will continue to take the South African National Defence Force to even greater heights and further achievements.
I welcome you, your wife Sibusisiwe and your family to this new responsibility as Chief of the South African National Defence Force – and I look forward to working with you.
General Ngwenya, as you take leave of your responsibilities as Chief of the South African National Defence Force, take with you my appreciation for a job very well done. Before you leave here this evening to join the ranks of military veterans, I would like to more “officially” recognise your efforts . . .please join me at the podium.
With the authority vested in me as the Minister of Defence-I award you a merit medal: Propratier Medal in Silver.
And now – I can call you Ambassador Ngwenya!
Farewell Ambassador, we wish you and your family all the best for the future. We take comfort in the knowledge that you are not lost to us, as you shall continue to serve the people of our country in a different capacity.
I thank you.
Ndivhuwo Mabaya (Head of Media Services, Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans)
Cell: 083 645 7838
Issued by: Department of Defence
2 Jun 2011
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