In 2015, I was lucky to be one of the people working behind the scenes, tasked with creating the commemorative programme booklet for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2015, which marked the 10th Anniversary of this event. We couldn’t refer to it as an ‘annual’ event, unfortunately, because it hasn’t been happening every year.
I don’t know when the very first Cape Town Military Tattoo was presented at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, but it was probably in the second half of the 20th century. (If you happen to know, please drop me a note in the comments.) What I do know what that there was a break, of probably quite a number of years, before the powers that be in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) decided to bring back the Tattoo in 2003.
After the first two Tattoos in 2003 and 2004, there was a break in 2005 and 2006, before it resumed in 2007 and ran through to 2010. Then there was another break in 2011, when we had a Sunset Picnic Concert instead. Thereafter, it ran uninterrupted from 2012 through to 2015, culminating in a spectacular 10th Anniversary Edition in November 2015.
In 2016, much to my dismay – as well as the dismay of all our loyal supporters and fans – the Cape Town Military Tattoo was cancelled. So, it seems, was the KwaZulu Natal Military Tattoo, which is usually held around July, and even the South African Tattoo, which is held at Montecasino around September, did not take place.
Rubbing salt into the wound, the Cape Town Military Tattoo’s official website has in the meantime been colonised by a tattoo of an entirely different kind, and even the KZN Military Tattoo’s website and the SA Tattoo’s website have disappeared.
On the upside, residents and visitors of Johannesburg were given a treat in the form of the very first Johannesburg Military Tattoo, presented at the Apartheid Museum in Gold Reef City from 7 to 10 September 2016. There was no proper website created, but you can find some pictures on their official Facebook page.
And it looks like the SA Tattoo may be returning sometime in 2017. But no news yet on the others. There have been no military tattoos anywhere in South Africa in 2017, and it does not look like any of them will be returning anytime soon. The Facebook pages are still alive, so perhaps there is a glimmer of hope… The Cape Town Military Tattoo’s website was co-opted a while back and their Facebook page has disappeared, the SA Tattoo’s website is still blank and their Facebook page has disappeared as well, and the KZN Tattoo’s website remains offline, and their Facebook page has seen few updates:
Given the serious budget cuts and changing priorities in the Defence Force, it is unlikely that the situation will change.
In November 2015, around the time of the CTMT 2015, an article appeared on the DefenceWeb website, titled “Lack of Funding forces Cape Town Military Tattoo Organisers to seek Partnerships”. Based on the fact that we didn’t have a CTMT in 2016 or in 2017, I would guess that no progress has been made in that regard.
In January 2017, another thought-provoking article on the DefenceWeb website, titled “Reserve Force to be Updated and Revitalised” makes it even more clear how critical the situation is, and that it seems highly unlikely that money will be made available for such things as military tattoos, when there are so many more crucial and urgent priorities, for the country as well as for the SANDF. Chief of Defence Reserves, Major General Roy Andersen, was quoted as saying:
“The defence force is in a critical state of decline, characterised by force imbalance between capabilities, block obsolescence and unaffordability of main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments and a lack of critical mobility.
Left unchecked and at present funding levels this decline will severely compromise defence capabilities.
There must either be a greater budget allocation or significantly scaled down level of ambition.
Even with an immediate intervention, it will take at least five years to arrest the decline and another five years to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability.
The longer the neglect is perpetuated, the greater the effort, time and cost necessary to arrest the decline and restore minimum capabilities required to safeguard South Africa’s borders, protect its trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions, safeguard South Africa and its people and defend and protect the country against external aggression.”
Sobering words. Against such a backdrop, allocating resources and funding to an event that appears to be primarily a form of entertainment and a public relations exercise, although it is of course much more than that, is difficult to justify or motivate.
I wonder what the future holds? When and where will the next military tattoo be held in South Africa? Was the spectacular Cape Town Military Tattoo of 2015 our proverbial swan song?