Families of 13 SA soldiers killed in the Central African Republic have arrived for the memorial service at the Swartkop Air Force Base in Pretoria.
The families were seated south of the podium in the fully-packed hall on Tuesday.
Soldiers in full uniform filed into the hall while a military band played Abide With Me and the Tempe military choir stood by to render a hymn.
The 13 South African soldiers were killed at their base, outside Bangui, on Saturday, March 23, in a fight with rebel forces.
Twenty seven of them were wounded and have since returned to South Africa for medical attention. The wounded soldiers were admitted to 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. President Jacob Zuma was expected to address the memorial service later in the day.
"We are deeply saddened by this incident," secretary for defence Sam Gulube said on Friday. He was speaking at the opening of the Rand Easter Show in Nasrec south of Johannesburg.
"Some say, time is supposed to heal everything, from my experience during the years of the liberation struggle, as a soldier, I learnt that it is not true. "The years pass and the ache remains. But in time, that flash of sharp pain is dulled by other instances filled with memories of the good times we had with our beloved."
The soldiers were: Corporals Mokgadi Darius Seakamela and Ntebaleng Andrew Mogorosi. Lance Corporals Daniel Sello Molara and Lukas Mohapi Tsheke. Riflemen Lesego Maxwell Hertzog Lebatlang, Zamani Jim Mxhosana, Xolani Dlamini, Vusumzi Joseph Ngaleka, Karabo Edwin Matsheka, Khomotso Paul Msenga, Maleisane Samuel Thulo, Motsamai William Bojane and Thabiso Anthon Phirimana.
They were all part of the One Parachute Battalion.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqacula handed over the soldiers' remains to their families on Thursday. They were part of 200 soldiers deployed to the Central African Republic earlier this year.
The South African National Defence Force members had been deployed in CAR since 2007, following a memorandum of understanding between the two countries which resulted in a SANDF contingent being based in CAR for "training and capacity building purposes". – Sapa