IN HIS FINAL salute to his troops, outgoing chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Gen Solly Shoke has called on citizens to put the country first.
“Let us rise above our own personal and political interests and serve this country and its people. Let us be loyal to our constitution and get rid of some criminal elements, those who are selfish, serve their own interests and sometimes tarnish the good we do.”
Shoke was speaking during a symbolic change in command parade and swearing-in ceremony of the new chief, Lt-Gen Rudzani Maphwanya, at the Pretoria Sports Club in Thaba-Tshwane.
Shoke, who has been at the helm for 10 years, takes up his retirement on May 31.
Maphwanya will officially take up the position on June 1, when he will be promoted from Lieutenant-General to General. His selection was announced in April by the commander-in-chief of the national defence force, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
He took his oath at a swearing-in ceremony on Friday presided over by Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo and Ramaphosa.
As he hangs up his uniform, Shoke told his soldiers: “Once a soldier, always a soldier. I am not sure what I am going to do at this time on Monday, but rest assured I will be one of the people who will lobby for your budget and your conditions of service because you are a special breed of people.”
The military’s budget has been cut by R15bn over three years in the medium-term expenditure framework. All government department budgets have been slashed due to the devastating economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think you are the only people in this country where death is part of your job description, although it may not be written in black and white. As soon as you wear your uniform and go on your missions, you know some of you might not come back, but you go.”
That is what makes soldiers special, said Shoke, reiterating that he will visit Ramaphosa to discuss and plead for better conditions for soldiers.
In his emotional address, Shoke said he never thought he would live to see a democratic SA.
Thanking his family for their support, he said: “Without your support and understanding, my work wouldn’t have been easy. I was an absentee father in my family and I hope as I take off my uniform, my kids will be able to call me ‘papa’ and not ‘the general’.”
He also thanked Ramaphosa, former president Jacob Zuma and minister of defence and military veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula for the confidence and trust they had in his leadership.
“My special thanks goes to the ordinary men and women in uniform, those who are at the sharp end, who execute the tasks that have been given to them, and sometimes under difficult conditions. Those men and women who risk their lives to ensure we comply with our constitutional mandate.”
It is the ordinary soldiers who “have made the SA military a force to reckon with and make this force tick”.
“Even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, you were at the forefront knowing you might get the virus. For the love of your country and your people, you were committed to executing the duties given to us by our commander-in-chief.”
He admitted the military has in the past made mistakes in the execution of their duties, but said the good that soldiers do far outweighs the bad.
Shoke said citizens should “focus on what unites us. Let us be united in purpose and serve the people of this country”.
Image GCIS (Out-going (SANDF) Gen Solly Shoke, meeting in-coming Gen Rudzani Maphwanya, Pres Cyril Ramaphosa and defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula at the Pretoria Sports Club in Thaba Tshwane today).