By Garth Calitz Photos by Andre Venter
Last week the South African Airforce celebrated their 102nd birthday with a Prestige evening and Prestige day parade, the SAAF was established in 1920 on the 1st of February.
The SAAF Prestige evening is, under normal circumstances, the event where all the Bases, Sections and Individuals are honoured for outstanding service and dedication to the Airforce. But, as we are all painfully aware, these are definitely not normal circumstances. The newly appointed Chief of the Airforce, Lt Gen WS Mbambo, took the opportunity to share his vision and mission for the embattled Airforce.
The media were sadly not invited to the Prestige evening but we were however invited to the Prestige parade which was held at AFB Swartkop on Friday 4th February. The weather threatened the event with abnormally high rainfall in the Pretoria area in the days leading up to the parade, an hour before the scheduled start the rain stopped and contingencies were pushed aside.
The rather large Wing marched on accompanied by the SAAF Band Troop, a team of Skydivers from both SA Special forces and the SAAF were dropped from a SAAF Kudu, it became painfully clear that the military is not what it should be as two of the skydivers were using their own personal parachutes as the military don’t have any serviceable shutes available for them.
Lieutenant General W.S Mbambo, the Review officer arrived at the podium to General Salute from the parade as well as a Salute Flight, performed by two Agusta A109 helicopters flying the National Flag and the SAAF Flag. A 15 Gun Salute was sounded by an Artillery Unit from the South African Army to conclude the Salutes.
The customary reciting of the SANDF Code of Conduct and opening of the parade was observed with scripture reading by the Chaplain of the SAAF, Col Smit. A scroll was then handed to LtGen Mbambo by the paratroop squad. LtGen Mbambo then inspected the parade accompanied by the podium party and then parade commander followed by a march past in columns of flight, each individual flight saluted the podium as they passed.
LtGen Mbambo then addressed the parade, he thanked all the SAAF members for their ongoing dedication in these very difficult times. In reference to the proud history of the SAAF LtGen Mbambo said “In our journey of 102 years we have seen and experienced the best and also the worst, where we have to operate under severe constraints of politics, resources, capabilities etc. The various leaders of the Airforce together with the members have never failed to navigate through these storms.” he went on to say “we are standing here today confronted by an avalanche of challenges but we are not blinded to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of all this.”
The new vision for the SAAF according to Mbambo must “Aim to challenge and unsettle the old thinking patterns”. The SAAF will have to adapt to a new theatre of operation, Space. Although the geographical theatre has not changed, the region and continent, Air and Space power must be effectively projected in these domains.
FREE THE EAGLE!! was the call from the Chief of the SAAF. In an informal chat with LtGen Mbambo after the parade, he mentioned reducing the reliance on the National Fiscal budget by utilising almost abandoned facilities like the Test Flight and Development Centre Overberg in the Cape. It has been a long time open secret that aerospace and weapons manufacturing companies around the world have eyed this sate off the art facility with envy. SAAB many years ago showed interest in using Overberg as a testing site for their latest technology, surely the use of the facility could be used as a bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations with SAAB for the return to service of the SAAF’s Gripen fleet that has been grounded for the past few months leaving the entire South Africa vulnerable to attack.
The endurance and dedication of the CAF will no doubt be tested in the coming months and years as he attempts to implement the new vision. Whether the political will from the President, Cabinet and Parliament will be fourth coming remains to be seen.
The parade was concluded with a mass flypast of currently serving and historic SAAF Aircraft. The first wave was a mass helicopter formation consisting of four Agusta A109’s, Two BK117’s, Two Rooivalk Attack Helicopters, Two SAAF Museum Alouette II’s and a Museum Alouette III.
Wave two comprised of two North American Harvards, a Cessna 185 and an Atlas Kudu from the SAAF Museum. They were followed by the Pointer formation made up of three Cessna Caravans led by a Casa 212. Five Pilatus PC7 MkII’s then ran in and the mass flypast was concluded by a three-ship formation of BAE Hawks lead-in fighter trainers. One of the Hawks then broke off to perform a solo display.
Once the podium party 500 Squadron performed a display on how they are capable of protecting VVIPs against violent protesters, in my opinion, it was a display of how the emphasis has migrated from the protection of all citizens to the protection of the ruling elite.
In closing, I would just like to wish all SAAF members, current and passed, a very happy birthday of the institution that has brought untold glory to the South Africa Nation.
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