THE HISTORIC EVENTS – 25 YEARS AGO
April & May 1994
20 April 1994: “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” was officially recognised alongside “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” as the National Anthem. The National Anthem (as we sing it today) was finally adopted in 1997 as a hybrid song combining new English lyrics with extracts of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, the Afrikaans “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” and the English “The Voice of South Africa”. The lyrics employ the five most widely spoken of South Africa’s eleven languages – Xhosa and Zulu (first stanza), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza), and English (final stanza).
27 – 29 April 1994: The first democratic election was held in South Africa. The elections were the first in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part and changed the history of South Africa, paving the way towards a new democratic dispensation and a new constitution for the country. On 26 April 1994, South Africa’s new flag was raised, while South Africa’s new Constitution and Bill of Rights took effect on 27 April 1994. The system of “homelands” for the Black population was abolished, while the policy of apartheid (separation) was dismissed. Nelson Mandela declared that South Africa’s population was free at last. A total of 19.5 million South Africans casted their votes in the first democratic election.
27 April 1994: The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) came into existence. In terms of the 1993 Interim Constitution eight military forces integrated, the largest of which were the South African Defence Force (SADF) and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress. The armed forces of the former ‘homelands’ or TBVC states, namely the Transkei Defence Force (TDF), Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF), Venda Defence Force (VDF) and Ciskei Defence Force (CDF) comprised the rest. In 1997 the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), the paramilitary wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) integrated, while the KwaZulu Self-Protection Force (KZSPF), the paramilitary wing of the Inkatha Freedom Party was another addition.
10 May 1994: The newly established South African National Defence Force featured prominently (both in front and behind the scenes) at the Union buildings in Pretoria where Mr Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first democratically elected President of South Africa with FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki joint Deputy Presidents. Just after twelve o’clock the President and his two Deputy-Presidents were sworn in while South Africa’s top military generals, including Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Robert Simpson-Anderson looked on. The Joint Operation Centre in the Union Buildings was under the command of Rear Admiral Johan Retief (Chief of Naval Operations and future Chief of the Navy) who kept a firm finger on the pulse of the day’s events. Nine hundred SANDF soldiers (and sailors) lined Church Street for the auspicious occasion, while the SA Navy Band was praised for its participation at the inauguration.
Photo: President Nelson Mandela sworn in with Chiefs of the Arms of Services in the background, Union building 10 May 1994 (Salut magazine, June 1994 & Navy News magazine, June 1994)
20 May 1994: The first historic session of the democratic parliament takes place in Cape Town.
“PARLIAMENT OPENS. As miraculous as God’s creation of Table Mountain, so wonderful, too, the birth of our new nation, celebrated again at the opening of Parliament in Cape Town on 20 May. As impressive as the opening of Parliament proceedings, so impressive, too, was the South African Navy’s proud participation in this memorable occasion.” (Navy News, June 1994: 4)
Photo: President Nelson Mandela takes the salut at the opening of Parliament 24 May 1994 with Presidential Aide, Captain Gus Mostert alongside (Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive/Benny Goolin)
25 May 1994: The United Nations (UN) lifted its arms embargo on South Africa. Various Security Council Resolutions were adopted between 1970 and 1986 to reiterate the UN’s total opposition to the policies of apartheid. Although the embargoes would lead to the growth of an indigenous arms industry, it also negatively affected the capabilities of the South African Navy. The cancellation of the sale of two French A69 class corvettes and two Agosta class submarines in 1977 effectively signaled the end of the Navy’s traditional “blue-water capability”. However, the lifting of the arms embargo in 1994 would importantly enable the South African Navy to reequip itself, through the Strategic Defence Package of 1999 which would ultimately see the commissioning of four new Valour class frigates and three Type 209 submarines between 2006 and 2007.
18 May 1994: SAS DRAKENSBERG (Captain Preston Barnard) sailed from Simon’s Town at the start of a three month goodwill and operational tour to Europe and West Africa. This was the first flag showing cruise, following the historic events of April, and SAS DRAKENSBERG flew the new South African flag. This was also the first time in the history of the South African Navy that women (Commander Peggy Pysden and Chief Petty Officer Jacquie Hanson) were allowed to sail on a long extended trip of three months.
Compiled by the South African Naval Museum (April 2019)