Last Saturday, 15 October 2011, I found myself at Vygieskraal Stadium in Johnson Road, Rylands, Athlone.
My mission: To take photographs during a mini tattoo at the Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Festival 2011, and then to write an article or two about it.
The Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Festival was originally a drill and marching competition, but in the spirit of fostering closer cooperation and ties between the participating groups and schools, it was decided to turn it into a festival instead.
It was attended by learners from numerous schools in the Western Cape, who, judging from their enthusiastic cheering, clapping and singing on the grandstand, were very excited to be there. It had been organised by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in close cooperation with Mr Saeed Ruiters, the President of the Western Province Schools Marching Drill and Exhibition Association (WP SMDEA).
The opening ceremony began at 09h00 sharp, with performances by the SA Army Band Cape Town and the Pipes and Drums of Cape Field Artillery. They were joined by the St Joseph Worker Church Lads and Girls Brigade and the soldiers and dogs of 505 Squadron from the SA Air Force Base at Ysterplaat.
First to march onto the field were the popular SA Army Band Cape Town, led by Drum Major Warrant Officer André van Schalkwyk. Director of Music Major Martin Chandler conducted the band during the singing of the South African National Anthem by the three tenors, as the flag was ceremonially hoisted to mark the start of the day’s events.
This band is the oldest Regular Force band in the country, having originated in 1915. Its home is the Army Support Base in Youngsfield, under the command of Colonel Pieter Kobbie. The Band is strongly committed to building bridges between the community and the SANDF, and Warrant Officer Van Schalkwyk acts as the community liaison. The Band is closely involved with youth groups from previously disadvantaged areas, and often gives youngsters who are interested in being part of a marching band an opportunity to participate at musical events.
The school holiday program of performances at the Castle of Good Hope, which I wrote about a couple of days ago, was one such event. It gave three youth groups – a Drill Squad of the WP SMDEA, the Fife and Bugle Band of the St Joseph Worker Church and the Marimba Dancers of the Likhwezi Arts Project – an opportunity to showcase their musical, drill and dance skills to local visitors and school groups as well as tourists from far-flung areas of the globe.
After the singing of the anthem, Mr Brian Arendse, principal of Aloe Junior High School and Chairperson of the Mitchells Plain Primary School Sports Organisation, took the microphone. He explained a bit about the origin and history of the marching drill programme and the background of the annual Drill and Marching Festival.
This programme was rolled out at Western Cape schools as part of a Life Orientation activity in 2007, which means that it is incorporated into the weekly school timetable as a physical education class. It has had a significant positive impact on participating learners, instilling qualities such as discipline, self-confidence, teamwork and leadership. This has led to many of them voluntarily mentoring their fellow pupils and passing on these positive qualities.
Given that the children who live in many areas of the Cape Flats are constantly exposed to a daunting range of social problems, including drug abuse, alcohol abuse, crime and gangsterism, I find it comforting and encouraging to know that alternatives do exist, and that they are indeed making a difference in these young people’s lives. If we do not find creative and effective ways of dealing with such problems, they will continue to spread, further breaking down the fabric of our society, and endangering our country’s stability, growth and economic survival.
The Army Band was joined by the Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums, led by Pipe Major Staff Sergeant Andrew Imrie, to the stirring sound of the bagpipes and the thumping and rattling of the drums that reverberated around the stadium. Their pieces included the fantastic Highland Cathedral, the ever-popular Amazing Grace, and the traditional Scotland the Brave.
Then it was the turn of the talented St Joseph Worker Church Lads and Girls Brigade from Bishop Lavis to impress the spectators with their musical skills on fifes, drums and bugles. A non-profit organisation established in 1952, this Brigade has become one of the leading organisations to raise awareness on all social issues and to train potential leaders within the community it serves. They received loud and cheerful applause from the spectators.
The Dog Unit of 505 Squadron, from the SA Air Force Base in Ysterplaat, had the youngsters on the edge of their seats with a thrilling demonstration. 505 Squadron is tasked with protecting and safeguarding all personnel, buildings and equipment of AFB Ysterplaat.
The dog handlers showed how well-trained and obedient the dogs are in tackling and bringing down attackers. They also conducted a mock-assault on the field, complete with gun-fire, explosions of thunder flashes and grenades that sent up billowing clouds of red, yellow and green.
Immediately thereafter, the Field Guns of the Cape Field Artillery fired a single thunderous shot that echoed around the grounds of Vygieskraal stadium, eliciting a rousing cheer from the youngsters. These same powerful 25-pounder guns fire the 21-gun salutes during state visits and at the annual opening of Parliament. You don’t want to be standing too close to one of these when it fires!
Throughout the day, the learners visited the various static displays of the SANDF, including career displays by the Defence Reserve Provincial Office Western Cape (DRPOWC), the South African Medical Health Services and 9 SA Infantry Battalion. The Regiment Oranje Rivier also had their awe-inspiring Rooikat armoured vehicle on show (perhaps you remember some previous posts I wrote about it – like this one about last year’s Women’s Day event at Fort iKapa, or the one about the Drill Squad’s visit to Fort iKapa?).
For the rest of the day, there were marches and exhibitions of the precision drill squads (including the WP SMDEA), the drum majorettes of the WP Drum Majorettes Association and the gymnaestrada of the Western Cape School Sports Organization. The festival ended with an impressive Grand March involving all the drill squads from the participating schools, in their colourful matching uniforms.