A South African delegation leaves for France Wednesday to commemorate 100 years of South Africa's participation in World War I.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her deputy, Kebby Maphatsoe, will lead the delegation to France to honour the lives of South African troops who died and were buried in Arque-la-Bataille, near Dieppe and Delville Wood in Longueval.

A memorial service will be held in Arque-la-Bataille in remembrance of all the South African troops, who for many years, had gone unrecognized for their participation of the 1st World War, also known as the Great War.

This commemoration coincides with the State visit to France by President Jacob Zuma.

Accompanying President Zuma on the State visit, Mapisa-Nqakula will officiate at the memorial service in Arque-la-Bataille, where about 260 black South African soldiers perished and were laid to rest. The other mainly white South African soldiers are buried in Delville Wood.

The black soldiers were enlisted and formed the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC). This formation hardly received any attention in South African history and its members did not receive any medal for their participation in the war.

This omission is most evident in the South African Museum in Delville Wood. The South African National Memorial was inaugurated in 1926 in Deville Wood. The memorial is on a 63-hactare piece of land, which is South African property acquired in 1920 by the South African government.

Delville Wood was chosen as a site to erect a national memorial because it is at Delville Wood that the 1st South African Infantry Brigade got engaged in one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.

The memorial commemorates South African soldiers who died in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans said the representation of Africans during the war is very minimal and it distorts the important role they played in various theatres of war.

"In the spirit of democracy, reconciliation, restitution and integration, the transformation of this national heritage is imperative, so as to ensure the rewriting of an objective, just and authentic South African military history," the Ministry added.

"As part of our efforts to correct our history, the first member of the South African Native Labour Corps to perish in the Great War, Private Nyweba Beleza, has been [reinterred] to the museum, which now proudly marks his final resting place."

It said the reinterment of Private Beleza has given further impetus in consolidating diversity and it will also "solidify efforts to bring the various South African groupings together".

"It will further greatly assist in helping to remove the negative stigma attached to the Delville Wood Memorial that has been for a very long time seen as a dedication to a very small segment of the South African population," the ministry said.

Source: Nam News Network

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