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Defence minister opens Rand Show with a bang

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula at the Rand Show.Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula officially opened the 2014 Rand Show on Friday morning with a number of impressive demonstrations from the various arms of service – South African National Defence Force (SANDF) participation included dogs, jets, helicopters and parade ground marching.

“The SANDF is delighted to participate in this year’s Rand Show,” the minister said during her address, noting that South Africa’s military was proud to have been associated with the show for 100 years of the Show’s 120 year history.

Mapisa Nqakula said that the SANDF belongs to all South Africans and that at the show the public can learn about its contribution to the defence and development of the country. “Visit our exhibition area – they are here to inform and educate you about the SANDF,” she urged the public.

The minister noted that 2014 is a special year as it marks 20 years of democratic freedom and 20 years of the South African National Defence Force, which has undergone a “remarkable” transformation over the last two decades.

Recruitment forms a big part of the SANDF’s participation at the 2014 Rand Show, with all four arms of service – the Army, Navy, Air Force and Military Health Service – all seeking to attract bright young minds. Mapisa Nqakula said that, looking forward, she wanted to recruit the best youngsters as the SANDF needs engineers, doctors and other highly skilled personnel. She urged youngsters to enquire about opportunities that go beyond fighting wars and protecting the country – the SANDF performs search and rescue functions, builds bridges, assists communities (such as by delivering water) and provides medical care to serving members and veterans. “The SANDF doesn’t just need soldiers,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The defence industry was also noted as being an important contributor not just to the South African military but to the economy as well, with local companies, especially Denel, lauded for creating export business and driving scientific and technological innovation. As a further way of the military contributing to the local economy, Mapisa-Nqakula said that she wanted bases to stimulate the economy through localised procurement.

In declaring the show open, the minister emphasised that “the SANDF is there to serve all of you”.

After the opening ceremony parade and flypast of two Oryx helicopters carrying national flags, the crowd was treated to an anti-rhino poaching demonstration with a mock gunfight between soldiers and poachers. As the SANDF uses horses, motorbikes and dogs in its anti-poaching and border protection missions, these assets were brought in for a live demonstration. As soon as the gunfight with the ‘poachers’ erupted, the horses were led away, and soldiers on Yamaha XT 250 motorbikes roared into the arena to provide additional fire support.

After a gunbattle, German and Belgian Shepherd dogs were released by their handlers, hurtling off and attacking one of the ‘poachers’. The dogs demonstrated their effectiveness in bringing down suspects, apart from one dog who bolted out of the arena after being startled by noise.

Next up to entertain the crowds was a well disciplined precision drill performance by South African Army soldiers, who pulled off an impressive marching routine that involved figures of eight and other unorthodox manoeuvres not usually seen on the parade ground.

After the soldiers had marched off the field, an Air Force Cessna Caravan dropped four pathfinders, who expertly parachuted into the showground arena. Then it was time for the big guns to come out. An Oryx transport helicopter, supported by two A109 Light Utility Helicopters, dropped troops into the arena and evacuated an injured ‘pilot’ who had been ‘shot down’. A Gripen fighter jet roared overhead to provide air support. The rescuing soldiers then attached themselves to a rope and were airlifted out of the danger zone by an Oryx. The afternoon’s demonstrations concluded with a precision drill from Navy personnel.

In addition to the Gripen, Oryx and A109s, the Air Force’s participation in the Rand Show included a performance by the Silver Falcons aerobatic display team, which wowed the crowd with group and solo displays above the Nasrec showgrounds. Similar SANDF capability displays are scheduled to continue during the rest of the Rand Show.

The SANDF has a large presence at this year’s Rand Show, and has come out in far greater force than last year, when participation was marred by the events in the Central African Republic that March which saw 13 South African soldiers being killed in an ambush.

Apart from capability demonstrations, all arms of service brought a large amount of equipment for static display. Some of the Army’s assets include a Ratel ZT3 anti-tank variant, Casspir armoured personnel carrier, tank transporter with Olifant Mk 2 main battle tank, Rooikat armoured car, multiple rocket launcher, G5 artillery piece, Husky and Meerkat mine detection systems, and various small arms and support vehicles and equipment.

Members of the public were also able to get a taste of military life by using a Starstreak surface-to-air missile simulator, by shooting one of four Elac R4 assault rifle simulators and by inspecting a military tent and seeing how a private’s bed should be made and his items arranged for inspection.

The Air Force’s static displays included a Rooivalk combat helicopter, A109 utility helicopter, fire truck, Umlindi radar and ops cabin and a mobile air traffic control (ATC) control tower.

The South Africa Navy brought one of its boats, a 3 metre diving tank and various weapons, from torpedoes to .50 calibre machineguns.

The SA Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SASSIC) prepared an interesting exhibit on visual tracking and how soldiers can tell from a person’s footprints what they are carrying and if they are trying to throw off trackers by doing things like walking backwards. Soldiers demonstrated how they could tell whether tracks belonged to someone carrying a heavy load (deep tracks), or even if they were from a woman (women take much shorter steps than men). Trackers also showed how they could identify weapons from the marks they left on the ground, whether they be assault rifles or RPG-7s – poachers are now using rocket propelled grenades to hunt animals like rhinos and elephants.

Some 250 000 people visited the Rand Show last year and a similar number are expected at this year’s edition, which runs from April 18 to 28. Apart from the SANDF’s presence, there are plenty of other activities and attractions to entertain the whole family, from animals to boats to cooking to stunt bikes, cars and consumer goods exhibitions.

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