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SAAF Prestige Day Parade – The Inconvenient Centenary

The South African Airforce have celebrated their “birthday” on the Friday closest to the 1st February for as long as most of us can remember. All the major milestones being exemplified by the creation of a special emblem, not this year, which is arguably the greatest of all milestones of all -  100 Years of Proud Existence.

As far as we can ascertain the entire SAAF were gearing up for very special Centenary celebrations, but then, an order came from up the chain of command that no mention of the word Centenary or the numerals 100 were to be used in any from regarding the SAAF. The exact origin of this order is not known, it does reek of political interference so it is highly possible it originated from Luthuli House. The slogan “Embrace our collective heritage” was then chosen to represent the day, which in itself is a misconception as a very real  attempt was made to expunge the initial 75 years of SAAF history.

The Prestige Parade itself was on a much larger scale than has been seen anytime in the past few years, with many current operational aircraft taking part, in the past the fly-pasts were made up of predominantly of SAAF Museum aircraft with the odd few operational aircraft thrown in the mix. On arriving at AFB Swartkop, one could feel the anticipation in the air with the apron full of aircraft and the excitement at levels that haven’t bee seen for many years.

The Parade was officially started by with the marching on of the “Colours” flight, display the colours of all the currently active squadrons in the SAAF, the were followed by the flights that took part in the parade under the command of LtCol Mathye they were accompanied by the SAAF Band.

Once the parade had been dressed and brought to ease the sky was filled with a multitude of canopies from both the Golden Eagles Parachute display team and the Pretoria Defence Skydiving Club, the massive 85kg South African National flag was included in the drop. The sky divers exited two CASA 212’s from 44 Squadron, a squadron with a proud history spanning from March 1944 and now based at AFB Waterkloof.

Lieutenant General Fabian “Zakes” Msimang  Chief of the Airforce then made his way to the podium, amid a 15 gun salute provided by members of the SA Army Artillery. Once the CAF and revue officer for the parade had taken his place a two ship flag formation of Agusta A109 helicopters flew past proudly flying the National and SANDF flags.

A very eloquent reading of the Armed Forces Code of Conduct, by Sargent Badimo, was followed by an official opening of the parade in scripture reading and prayer led by Chaplain Smit. The Chief was then accompanied by the podium party and LtCol Mathye on and inspection of the parade.

A mass flypast of the SAAF assets followed with the CAF proudly saluting the waves of aircraft that passed overhead. The first flight, a 21 ship helicopter formation. The formation consisted of 2 Rooivalk AH-2A’s from 16 Squadron based in Bloemspruit, 2 Westland Super Lynx Mk64’s from 22 Squadron in Cape Town, 2 Alouette II’s and 2 Alouette III’s from the SAAF Museum, 7 Agusta A109’s from various Squadrons including 15,17 and 19 Squadrons, the balance of helicopters was made up of Atlas Oryx transport helicopter from various squadrons and a Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma for the SAAF Museum.

The next flight was a 2 ship formation of a SAAF Museum Cessna C185 and an Atlas C.4M Kudu both of these aircraft proudly served the SAAF in the Angolan Bush War. They were followed by a 5 ship formation of North American T6 Havrads, “the school master of the skies”, the Harvards are from the SAAF Museum and the Harvard Club of South Africa.

A transport formation followed, led by a rarely seen TP-47 Dakota, a turbo prop derivative of the legendary Douglas C47/DC3,  based at  35 Squadron in Cape Town. 3 Cessna C208 Caravans from 41 Squadron and 2  Casa 212’s from 44 Squadron completed the 6 ship formation.

All the jet fans were happy to see an 8 ship formation of comprising of 4 Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighters from 2 Squadron and 4 BAE Hawk MK120’s from 85 Combat Flying School, both based at AFB Makhado in the Limpopo Province town of Louis Trichardt.

“Inkwazi” the SAAF’s Boeing 737-7ED(BBJ) used as a presidential aircraft led the next flight, the BBJ was joined by a Dassault Falcon 50 also from 21 Squadron AFB Waterkloof, they were accompanied by the “Silver Falcons” aerobatic display team in Pilatus PC7 MkII Astras.

LtGen Msimang then called upon the officer Commanding Airforce Base Ysterplaat, Col Moatshe, to join him on the podium and receive the trophy for the Prestige Base of the Year, this is the second year in a row that AFB Ysterplaat was recognised with the prestigious award.

As is customary the Chief of the Airforce is then offered an opportunity to make an address, LtGen Msimang ,despite the limitations placed on him, delivered a very inspiring speech highlighting the formation of the SAAF by Gen Jan Smuts and Gen Pierre van Ryneveld, a process that started in 1917. Gen Msimang referred to himself as the 21st Air Chief in the pre and post 1994 history of the South African Airforce and said  “My prayer today is, as we acknowledge the history of our Air Force and as we celebrate 25 years of a democratic SAAF” in those few words he acknowledged the 100 years of proud SAAF History.

Gen Msimang addressed the increasing threat of terrorism, ethnic nationalism and fundamentalism known as TENF. “As our Armed Forces modernise and become more technologically advanced, careful attention must be given to having a balanced and broad enough suite of capabilities that can address the challenge of TENF. Developing a common understanding of the extent of the threat is the first step in coordinating a national and integrated regional counter-terrorism response.” he said.

“Our borders are the physical manifestation of our national sovereignty. Yet we experience unprecedented illegal cross-border migration, human trafficking, the smuggling of small arms and light weapons, trafficking in stolen goods and property and the illegal harvesting and transfer of natural resources. Similarly, we are also challenged by maritime crime in our Exclusive Economic Zones, piracy on the High-Seas, the illegal exploitation of maritime resources and the uncontrolled movement of people and goods at sea. The international response thereto has seen Multi-National Joint Task Forces being formed and deployed to high-risk areas. One of the difficulties such task forces face is reliable shared-maritime domain awareness.”

Gen Msimang concluded his address with a passionate plea “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Your Air Force – The Peoples Air Force which is here to serve and defend you unconditionally. Nurture it and keep it relevant. Let us Love, Respect and Protect our beloved country.”

The parade then marched off the parade ground saluting the CAF as they marched passed the podium once again accompanied by the SAAF Band.

A group of young children were brought onto the parade ground, they released a flock of white doves and also let many balloons float away, all the balloons were printed with  “SAAF 2020”. A mass Harvard shutdown and a flypast by the SAAF Museums de Havilland Vampire brought an end to the festivities before the invited guests were ushered to Hangar 5 for refreshments.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all proud, present and past, members of the South African Airforce on the centenary of this amazing institution.

Happy 100th Birthday


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