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SAAF Change of Command - Farewell "Blackhawk"

By Garth Calitz

Ever since its inception in 1920 the South African Airforce has always appointed an aviator as the Chief, all this changed when Lt General Wiseman Mbambo was promoted to this prestigious position. Lt Gen Zakes “Blackhawk” Msimang, his predecessor, was appointed eight years earlier when Lt Gen Carlo “Kattie” Gagiano retired.

Lt Gen Mbambo has proven his worth in the SAAF since his integration in 1994, firstly as a mission controller, his first major task in the SAAF was to integrate six military air contingents into the SAAF, these were the former homeland air wings of Bophuthatswana, Transkei, Ciskei, and Venda as well as the MK and APLA air wings. Mbambo was promoted to the rank of Brig Gen in 2004 when he was promoted to officer commanding AFB Waterkloof. In 2013 he was promoted to Maj Gen and was appointed as General Officer Commanding Air Command. His last posting before accepting the role as Chief of the SAAF was Deputy Chief Staff for the SANDF.

Arriving at AFB Swartkop for the official change of command parade we were greeted by an extremely cold wind. One had to feel for the members on parade as they marched on. At exactly 10:00 Lt Gen Msimang arrived and once on the podium acknowledged a general salute and a fly-by two 17 Squadron Oryx helicopters flying the National and SAAF flags and a gun salute by the SA Army.

The parade, as is customary, was opened by the reading of the SANDF code of conduct followed by a scripture reading and prayer. The very impressive CV of the outgoing Chief, Lt Gen Msimang was then readout. Both the outgoing and the incoming Chief’s then inspected the parade before returning to the podium for the march past and farewell salute to Gen Msimang.

The parade marched past led by the Colours Flight and saluted the outgoing chief as they passed the podium. Gen Msimang then launched into a very hard-hitting speech, in which he warned his replacement to be diligent and always be wary of the will obstacles he will come across. Referring to the time both of them spent in Angola during the liberation struggle he cautioned: “The opponent may have changed colour, the core of the obstacles remain the same, inter alia: rugged individualism, opportunism, primitive mode of accumulation, selfishness, greed, total disregard for others and sheer callousness.” all unfortunate realities of what South Africa has become.

Msimang also indicated that he is planning to get involved with the South African defence industry and was appalled to learn of the 80% salary cut that was forced on Denel employees. “It is clear that innovative approaches have to be exercised to ensure the survival and integrity of our Defence industry. It is common knowledge that the revival of the defence industry will contribute to the prosperity of our economy.”

The speech was followed by a mass flypast of currently serving SAAF aircraft. The first wave of the flypast constituted a BK117 joined by five Oryx helicopters. Closely followed by a formation of one Pilatus PC12 and four Cessna Caravans.

A perfect diamond formation made up of nine Pilatus PC7 Astra trainers followed all flown by instructors from Central Flying School Langebaanweg. 28 Squadron were next to honour the outgoing chief, with a very tight two-ship formation of C130BZ’s.

The flypast was concluded with a formation of two SAAB Gripen fighters accompanied by three BAE Hawks Mk120’s, from 2 Squadron and 85 Combat Flying School respectively, both are based at AFB Makhado in Louis Trichardt.

After a reading of the incoming chiefs CV, command of the South African Airforce was then ceremoniously handed to Gen Mbambo in the form of a dagger that has been handed from CAF to CAF for many years. All the members very loudly voiced “Three Cheers” for the outgoing CAF.

The parade then marched past the podium saluting the “new” Chief of the Airforce. All guests were then invited to a lavish lunch in hangar 5. Gen Msimang was presented with a host of gifts on behalf of the SAAF and during the presentation, Gen Mbambo proved he had a sense of humour, an asset that will no doubt be tested during his term of office. Gem Msimang wanted to leave the stage when Gen Mbambo ordered him in his best mission controller voice. “Blackhawk, hold position as you have not yet been released for departure”.

We wish Gen Zakes and Mrs Africa Msimang a happy and peaceful retirement.