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Year in review: 2016’s top stories

Exercise Ibsamar.With conflict remaining high around the world, 2016 was a busy year. South African defence matters drew the most attention from our readers, with theft in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), allegations of ‘stolen’ aircraft and the poor state of the Air Force being most salient. Here is a list of the big headlines of 2016.

Number one:

Arms theft apparently only the tip of the iceberg at Naval Base Simon’s Town – July 2016

The theft of firearms, ammunition and hand grenades from six storerooms at Naval Base Simon’s Town’s armoury drew condemnation and shock, but this was not the first time an event like this happened – sentries at Tempe previously had their assault rifles stolen from them – and other such incidents are common throughout the world.

Number two:

Botswana acquires 14 Bat Hawk aircraft to boost anti-poaching operations – June 2016

Botswana received 14 Bat Hawk light surveillance aircraft from South African manufacturer Micro Aviation, which were deployed in airborne anti-poaching patrols to protect elephants and other endangered animal species in four major game reserves. With poaching high across Africa in 2016, poaching and anti-poaching news continued to make headlines and will most likely be a big topic in 2017 as well.

Number three:

Defence Minister’s clarification on “stolen” SAAF aircraft – June 2016

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula shone herself and the Department of Defence in a bad light when she claimed that aircraft that were retired from the South African Air Force (SAAF) and sent mostly to museums were ‘stolen’ and this lack of aircraft was causing problems training new pilots. Unsurprisingly, the Minister has been roasted by the media and opposition parties for her poor performance in 2016. Criticism was focused on her poor track record in parliament and failure to arrest the decline of the SANDF.

Number four:

Possible permanent grounding for either Gripen or Hawk coming – March 2016

The SA Air Force’s 10% budget cut for the 2016/17 financial year coupled with the Rand’s decreasing value prompted concerns that either 2 Squadron (Gripens) or 35 Combat Flying School (Hawks) could be closed, but it is not yet clear if this is a real possibility or not. A lack of funding continues to hamper the effectiveness of the SAAF and SANDF as a whole and the situation is expected to be even more dire in 2017.

Number five:

SA Air Force maintenance suffering from loss of skilled technicians – May 2016

The aircraft maintenance capabilities of the SAAF decreased dramatically since the last of the AMG/Denel support personnel were laid off, resulting in serious implications for aircraft serviceability and safety. Over 500 skilled personnel were dismissed after the contract was cancelled, with ramifications continuing – there is speculation that the C-130 fleet may be grounded completely due to a lack of spares and skilled maintenance technicians.

Number six:

Rumours of a salary increase doing the rounds in the SANDF – July 2016

Misinformation that members of the SANDF could expect a 7% salary increase in 2016 caused a furore among soldiers, which was later compounded by talk of massive personnel cuts (16 000) to affect the SANDF. The shrinking defence budget means some personnel will be laid off but it is not yet clear how many.

Number seven:

Minister among those paying tribute to Mgwebi – August 2016

Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi’s appointment in December 2015 as the Force Commander of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) was a feather in the cap of the SANDF and South Africa as a whole. Mapisa-Nqakula joined many others in congratulating Mgwebi, who had previously delivered sterling service to the SANDF as head of Joint Operations, tasked with peacekeeping and border security operations, amongst others.

Number eight:

Minister told affirmative action doesn’t work in SANDF – May 2016

Employment, salaries and transformation are hot topics amongst the SANDF. When Mapisa-Nqakula noted an increase in white military skills development recruitment, the Freedom Front Plus lambasted the career prospects of whites in the SANDF due to affirmative action and called for it to be scrapped.

Number nine:

Austrian special forces prepare for deployment in Mali – June 2016

The situation in Mali remained tense throughout 2016, with attacks on peacekeepers occurring with alarming regularity. The Austrian Army’s consideration of a deployment of special forces to fight resurgent terrorist groups in the north of the country highlighted the lack of progress there has been in maintaining peace there.

Number ten:

Two star admiral is acting Joint Ops Chief – October 2016

The SANDF’s Joint Operations division saw quite a shakeup in 2016, with Mgebi appointed to the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC and his interim replacement, Lieutenant General Duma Mdutyana, passing away. Mdutyana was subsequently replaced as acting Joint Ops chief by Rear Admiral Derek Christian.

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