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South African Air Force History - Transformation

The sweeping constitutional changes in South Africa also called for an extensive integration of various military forces into a single defence structure. Within the Joint Military Co-ordination Council (JMCC), which met in January 1994 for the first time, a joint Air Force Work Group was set up to plan and implement an integrated Air Force for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

In respect of military aviation, an integration and restructuring programme involving the SAAF, the air wings of the former TBVC states and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was instituted in 1994. This programme provides for the interim control of TBVC air wings and bases as satellite bases by the SAAF, the transfer of selected personnel and aircraft to SAAF squadrons and training of new members. Former TBVC air bases were closed at the end of 1994.

In terms of the Interim Constitution (1993) the SADF (and for that matter also the SAAF), were destined to become part of the new SANDF on 27 April 1994. In view of this development, the JMCC instructed that all National Colours were laid up before 27 April. On 15 April the National Colours were laid away for the last time by twelve SAAF units and squadrons for safe keeping at the SAAF Gymnasium in a symbolic parade on behalf of the SAAF as a whole.

In July 1994 the SAAF Gymnasium incidentally also became the first , SANDF unit where non-statutory members (formerly of the ANC’s armed wing, MK) of the SANDF were trained. The first visible results of the transformation process in the SAAF culminated in August 1994 when 47 former MK members completed their officer forming course.

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A group of proud SAAF candidate officers - former MK members - at their passing out parade in August 1994) Photo: Salut)

Serving the Community

The SAAF’s assignments are inter alia to preserve life, health or property, to maintain essential services and to support and state department for socio-economic upliftment. Although the SANDF is the SAAF’s first client, the community have always figured prominently in the scope of its operational activities. The SANDF’s withdrawal from Namibia and South Africa’s new constitutional dispensation have put greater emphasis on the SAAF’s service to the community.

Despite its scaling-down and a drastic budget cut, the "learner" SAAF’s traditional role in search-and-rescue missions and other relief operations was not affected in the least. During the past five years the SAAF was called upon to render aid and assistance on numerous occasions, and each time it responded in a most professional and efficient manner. The role played by the SAAF squadrons and personnel during a dramatic rescue operation following the Oceanos ship disaster off the Transkei coast in August 1991, is a case in point. During the operation Puma helicopters airlifted 225 passengers to safety in foul weather and extremely difficult circumstances. In 1992 the newly instituted Air Force Cross was awarded to 27 SAAF members for their role in the rescue operation.

In the period 1990 - 1994, squadrons and units of the SAAF were tasked to participate in numerous other search-and-rescue operations. On 14 July 1991, for instance, the longest SAAF rescue operation ever (range wise and from a base) was carried out by two Oryx helicopters of 31 Squadron. During the operation the seriously ill captain of the Arabian Mist was airlifted from the ship in the Mozambique Channel and flown to AFB Hoedspruit where a SAAF Dakota was waiting to take him to Pretoria. During the operation a total distance of 1 151 nautical miles (2 129km) and 13 hours flying time were completed by the Oryx helicopters.

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A SAAF squadron trooping its Colour. Note the battle honours on the Colour. (Photo: Salut)

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A puma form 17 Sqn lifts a generator from the Palace of the Lost City (Sun City complex). The SAAF was requested to help with the removal of two generators after the Miss World Competition in 1993 (Photo: Ad Astra)

The SAAF’s service to the community; is not restricted to rescue operations, however. Over the years SAAF units have, for example, successfully launched and maintained a number of conservation projects in the areas under their control. Since 1990 SAAF units such as AFB Hoedspruit and the Test Flight Development Centre (Bredarsdorp) won awards such as the Caltex Floating Trophy for the Protection of the Environment almost on a regular basis.

During the SAAF African election in April 1994, the SAAF launched Operation JAMBU at the request of the Independent Electoral Committee (IEC). During the operation, which turned out to be the biggest peacetime operation ever carried out by the SAAF, personnel of the IEC and ballot material were transported to various polling stations throughout the country. In the course of Operation JAMBU and the SAAF flew more than 175 special missions totalling close to 550 flying hours.

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The Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Ronnie Kasrils, taking the salute during a SAAF parade (Photo: Salut).

The SAAF into Africa

In line with the normalisation of relations with neighbouring states, the SAAF had adopted an outward approach toward Southern Africa. The SAAF’s participation in air shows in Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1994 clearly demonstrated its intention to play a constructive role in Africa. This change is further manifested by SAAF missions into other African countries to provide humanitarian assistance. The transport of relief supplies to Somalian refugees in Kenya (1992) and Rwandan refugees during Operation Mercy (1994) are cases in point.

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Caption: Food and medical supplies for Rwandan refugees are off-loaded from a SAAF Boeing 707 of 60 Sqn in Mwanza (Tanzania) during Operation Mercy in July 1994 (Photo: Salut)

More recently the SAAF also provided fixed wing and helicopter air transport during Operation Amizade (meaning friendship) in the Mozambique election. "The SAAF is a leading force for peace in showing the flag into Africa and neighbouring states" said the Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Ronnie Kasrils after a mass fly-past of the returning aircraft which had been deployed in Mozambique.

The South African Government has indicated that Southern Africa will enjoy top priority in South Africa’s foreign relations. The promotion of regional stability and economic development in co-operation with neighbouring states and international agencies is likely to be an important theme in regional relations. As recent developments in Angola have indicated, the is thus a distinct possibility that the SAAF. as part of the SANDF, will be required to contribute to UN-sanctioned multi-national peace-keeping and relief operations in the region.

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Four Malawians of the Malawian Army Air Wing (Dornier Sqn) recently followed a national technical certificate course at the School of Logistical Training, a SAAF training unit. This picture was taken in the electrical workshop (Photo: F Sgt Jarret Clark)

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Lt Col Everest Chabwera from the Malawian Army Air Wing attended a course at the SAAF College, Voortrekkerhoogte in 1994. According the Lt Col Chabwera the course was demanding but interesting (Photo: F Sgt Jarret Clark)

Productivity Flies High

During the nineties the SAAF became renowned for the high standards set by its units in terms of productivity management and improvement. In 1992, for instance, SAAF units won four of the six major awards in the SADF’s annual Productivity Competition, with trophies going the way of AFB Bloemspruit and 2 Air Depot and 5 Air Depot.

In 1993 AFB Bloemspruit and 2 Air Depot received the Paragon Trophy for productivity improvement, with 1 Air Depot winning Silver Certificate. During the National Productivity Competition in 1994, the SAAF won the Silver Award with an entry of 180 projects amounting to a total saving of R70 million. In the same year SAAF units also took five of the seven awards in the SADF Productivity Competition . The Quality Circle Competition was successfully introduced in the SAAF in 1990.

The SAAF can therefore rightly claim to be one of the most advanced productivity-orientated state institutions.

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An Oryx helicopter trailing the new national flag during the State President’s inauguration in Pretoria on 10 May 1994. A contingent of 74 SAAF aircraft took part in a spectacular fly-past in honour of Mr Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s new State President (Photos: Sgt Pieter Drodskie)

Some other Highlights

The SAAF’s new Reaction Force was established at AFB Waterkloof in 1990.

The new golden and silver wings for pilots and navigators were introduced in 1991.

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A SAAF Mirage F1AZ refuelling during flight.

In 1991 three female officers became the first women ever to successfully complete the SAAF’s Senior Command and Staff Course.

The SAAF Museum branch in Port Elizabeth was officially opened by the Chief of the Air Force in 1992.

The restoration of the historical SAAF Officer’s Club in Voortrekkerhoogte, known as the "General’s House", was successfully completed in 1993.

The relocated SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkop was officially opened by the Chief of the Air Force in 1993.

The SAAF’s participation in the inauguration of State President Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings (Pretoria) in May 1994. During this occasion an impressive fly-past by SAAF aircraft was given.

The SAAF moved into its new headquarters close to Army headquarters in Pretoria in 1994.

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On of the first Dakotas to be converted to the C-47TP standard at AFS Snake Valley (Photo: SAAF)

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An Oryx helicopter from 19 Sqn delivers boxes of ballot supplies at Brits during the 1994 election (Photos: Ad Astra)

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The new generation. A young SAAF pilot ready to fly into the future.

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The release of two cheetah at Air Force Base Hoedspruit in 1993 was the result of a project study aimed at minimising the risk to aircraft and small wildlife near the base’s runway. Seen here with on the cheetah, are the Chief of the Air Force, Lt Gen James Kriel and Mrs Lente Roode of the Cheetah Project (Photo: Ad Astra)

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Brig George van Niekerk, Officer Commanding of SAAF Training Command, paid a courtesy visit to Luanda during December 1993 as part of the SAAF’s external co-operation and liaison programme. Here Brig Van Niekerk salutes a guard of honour at the Luanda Air Force Base (Photo: Ad Astra)

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Page last modified: 16-10-2012 19:11:55 ZULU