Do we actually need a South African War Graves Project?

A bloody postscript for those who would forget the lessons of the century or who failed to learn them?

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The Bulletin Newspaper

There are 384 graves in 79 cemeteries in Mpumalanga where soldiers and members of the SAPS are buried. The known Border War graves in this province amount to 138. South African and Rhodesian war graves total 29 175 (known to date) and during the Bambatha Rebellion, Rand Revolt, Korea, Border War, Non World War, and Police casualties 11 461 (known to date). (Information website South African War Graves Project as at April 26 2014)
Is the Latin expression “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (It is gratifying and honorable to die for your country) despite everything, true?
These casualties are indisputably one too many. Many of us immediately think: the Border War, and fail to remember the fatalities during the presiding wars that acquired numerous lives of our fellow citizens. One is reminded that the above stated fatalities are only those whose graves could be identified as that of a fallen soldier. Some families opted not to have a military funeral and subsequently these are not recorded. It is a frightening thought that the end result of conflicts’ casualties cannot be accurately established. In retrospect maybe a good idea.
If you for one moment imagine these soldiers to be from one ethnic group only, you would be so wrong. The fallen soldiers of the Native Military Corps, S A Forces, Indian and Malay Corps, S A Forces, and Cape Corps, S A Forces bear witness to their share.
In the local cemeteries of the Govan Mbeki municipal area there are also a few graves of fallen soldiers such as priv. George William Grant, Priv. Michiel Jooste, Priv. Meyer and Sergeant and Maj. van der Hoven (Bethal), Burg. J H Erasmus (Trichardt) and 2Lt. Gideon v Zyl, Rifleman L J Moolman, Nataniël Roesh, Martin Jacobzs, Const. G H Jooste and Ernest v Biljon (Secunda).
It is probable that each and every one reading this article, was by some invisible cord bonded to those we welcomed home. Yes, even related to the dead that we mourn. Those that paid the price on the battle fields, inside and outside the borders of our country. We, who were saved from death, but with the battle scars in our psyches, unseen, and our physiques maimed for the rest of our lives, retell the acts of valour and esprit de core that occurred during a battle between our comrades in arms. It is consequently perhaps appropriate that we reflect upon the enormous human costs incurred during the wars. Even in the achieved victory?
We are brain washed by those who spearhead us into wars. The assurances that accomplishes the victors to establish nations, create, reinstate or extend boundaries, redress grievances and restore national honour, remove cruel and despotic rulers replacing them with stable popularly-elected leaders, prevent the spread of pernicious ideologies like Nazism, fascism, atheistic communism, and terrorism.
Yes, victory? The ideology promoting liberty, equality and fraternity. The sand castle promise of a futuristic land where peace, equality and tranquillity for all will reign.
Observe that the WW2 ended 7 decades ago, the so-called Struggle war against apartheid, the Border War still clear in our psyches, then the “victors” suffered alongside the vanquished. The past hangs heavy across the present. Is the twenty-first century thus on the path to becoming a moral memory palace? A bloody postscript for those who would forget the lessons of the century or who failed to learn them? Instead of teaching history, we walk children through museums and memorials.
Do we actually need a South African War Graves Project? Yes, lest we forget the sacrifices by our soldiers. That we do not abandon merely the practices of the past but their very memory. That we never forget the suffering of war. We should not live in blissful ignorance of its true significance. These cold tombstones of our fallen brothers and sisters confront us and voices the mere futility of war.
And we, in the heat of the battle, are guarding the flag, loyal to the death.
Aart Reedijk

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