By ‘Odidi Matai-Sigudla
Though the weather was cold, soldiers kept their bodies and spirits warm by chanting songs of excitement at the 2023 South African Infantry Formation Fittest Soldier Competition. The annual competition was held this year from 19 to 22 June in Makhanda, hosted by Makhanda’s 6 South African Infantry Battalion (6 SAI Bn), a week filled with drilling activities and challenges that pushed soldiers to their limits.
6 SAI’s Lieutenant Colonel Brian Miller urged soldiers to enjoy the competition and encouraged them to cheer for their Comrades in Arms even if they were competing against each other. Acting Chief of Staff, Colonel M.S. Rampai reminded the soldiers that each of them was representing their units and should therefore raise the bar and represent them well. “(However), sportsmanship must not be neglected, fair game is the core of the business and most of all do not forget to enjoy, and have fun in the process,” said Rampai.
Fourteen units from KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape Mthatha, Oudtshoorn, Mpumalanga, Bloemfontein, Northern Cape, Gauteng, Cape Town, and Johannesburg took part in the competition which aims to help the South African Army to test if the infantry is combat ready. “We are a combat-ready landward force as the infantry. So by being combat ready, we mean to be fit,” said Pretoria-based Major Metja Evelyn Mashiane, Acting Staff Officer1 Infantry Formation Corporate Communication. “It’s in our DNA; you need to always be fit. The competition aims to boost morale. You can also use it as a medal tool for character and demeanour of a soldier. Within those different values that we carry like pride, integrity, honour, there’s a certain discipline within a soldier that you have to project and pose, and this is the testing point of it, she said.
Mokete Putlane from the Bloemfontein 44 Parachute Regiment was contesting for the third time. “It shows the potential, the skills that I have gained, and the limit I can go to. So that whenever there’s an actual battle that occurs, I know how far I can go. If I’m the leader, the subordinates, I will know your strengths… For me, this shows me who can I go to war with,” he said.
Soldiers Maria Qwabe and Gaontebale Seletswane viewed it as a fun activity. “It’s enjoyable because we make friends and we target some people: you, I’m gonna beat you,” said Seletswane, from Bloemfontein 44 Parachute Battalion, who has participated since the competition began in 2014. The soldiers faced the grueling exercises head-on instead of backing away from the challenge. They exceeded their expectations, like soldier Sabelo Dunywa from the unit in Makhanda, who felt he was not ready for the competition but said he was very happy with his results. At the end of the competition, Rampai said “members had put their hearts and minds to the test. They gave their best”.
A gala dinner was held on 22 June at the 6 SA Infantry Battalion mess to celebrate the winners: Private I. M. Ramalepe from 1 South African Infantry Battalion in Bloemfontein won the best overall Fittest female category, and Lieutenant Qingci from Infantry School in Oudtshoorn, won the best Male Fittest Soldier category. The winners are now set to go to the SA Army Fittest Competition to fight for the top spot. The gala dinner was a lively night filled with joy as soldiers celebrated the closing of the competition.
Rampai also relayed her gratitude to the sponsors and units who donated sanitary towels, toiletries, school uniforms, shoes, and clothes to Makhanda’s Home of Joy orphanage. The orphanage was previously adopted by the 6 Sai Battalion. This was “a beautiful experience that brought tears to my eyes, literally,” said Rampai.