Sunday November 11th marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. 86 world leaders, joined by a South African delegation led by Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, will be meeting in Paris for a commemoration.
French president Emmanuel Macron says the ceremony will not only be a sombre remembrance of those who died in the war, but also a call for international co-operation.
In Delville Wood, South African troops fought one of the bloodiest battles of the country’s history in July 1916. More than 3 000 soldiers defended the wood – 143 survived. This tree was the only one left standing – it still has shrapnel from the battle in its trunk.
Director of Delville Wood cemetery, Thapedi Masanabo says, “These memorials and commemorations are very important to ensure that it does not happen again, and that their deaths were not in vain. We have this moral obligation to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of these soldiers in the defence of freedom. ”
The memorial was originally built in 1926, and only named white soldiers – it’s been redeveloped since South Africa’s transition to democracy to reflect the role of the 21 000 black South African troops who served on French battlefields.
The memorial wall, inaugurated in 2016, lists every name of the more than 13 000 South African soldiers killed in World War One. Organised alphabetically, without race or regiment, it gives South Africa’s war dead an equality they did not have in life.
Delville Wood attracts many South African visitors – some of whom are learning this history for the first time.
South African Tourist visiting Delville Wood, Ian Marshall says, “It’s very emotional, to be standing in the same place and looking at the graves outside for the first time, it seems such a big waste – it’s almost unthinkable that so many people died.”
On Sunday, a South African delegation will join 86 world leaders at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe to commemorate those millions of war dead.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will be among them. French President Emmanuel Macron, sees the ceremony partly as an explicit rebuke to those world leaders whose divisive rhetoric, he says left the world order more fragile than at any time since the 1930s.
Macron says the commemoration aims to honour the dead – and remind the world of the consequences of conflict.