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2017 in review: the year’s top stories

A C-47TP.As 2017 has come and gone, it is time to look back on the year and see what stories made the biggest headlines and what our readers saw as the most important events of what was a tumultuous year. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) drew most attention, with wildlife poaching and conflict in Africa also standing out in 2017.

Number one:

Minister confirms 35 Squadron grounded – March 2017

When defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula revealed that 35 Squadron’s C-47TPs were grounded due to technical problems, it left many people shocked and concerned that the Air Force’s maritime patrol duties were in jeopardy. The type has since taken to the air again, but problems persist with Air Force maintenance and funding.

Number two:

No more drones for Kruger – March 2017

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a hot topic, and more so when used to combat poaching. Not surprisingly, the revelation that the Kruger National Park was no longer using UAVs to combat poaching drew interest and criticism. The Park deemed small, commercial UAVs unsuitable for its purposes after a year-long evaluation process but has not ruled out using UAVs in the future as technology improves. The Park also points out that no single technology can completely eliminate poaching.

Number three:

Durban to host Armed Forces Day – January 2017

The SANDF pulled out all the stops for Armed Forces Day 2017, which was held in Durban. Although Armed Forces Week was a success, the actual day on 21 February was dampened by constant rain. Nevertheless, this did not stop the SANDF from strutting its stuff, and sending a frigate to the English Channel to (and later Germany) to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi on 21 February 1917. Armed Forces Day 2018 will be held in Kimberly.

Number four:

East Libya forces claim control of Benghazi Islamist holdout – January 2017

The conflict in Libya continues to rage more than six years after Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown, with various factions, militias and governments seeking to take power. This story caught people’s attention as Libyan National Army troops from the Eastern government took control of territory in Benghazi held by fighters loyal to Islamic State. Since then Islamic State has suffered numerous defeats in Libya, but conflict is far from over.

Number five:

Military veterans by the numbers – May 2017

A large portion of defenceWeb readers are military veterans and they keep a sharp eye out for news about veterans’ issues, such as benefits and housing. One such story looked at the military veterans database, which showed the country currently had 67 718 veterans from at least 10 different forces registered. This included 35 189 former SA Defence Force (SADF) personnel.

Number six:

SANDF troops gearing up for DRC rotation – May 2017

South Africa’s only remaining peacekeeping operation is in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where forces are deployed with the United Nations mission there. They have performed well in combat against numerous rebel factions, with the Rooivalk combat helicopter playing an important role in defeating rebels. This story looked at the rotation of 700 soldiers from 5 South African Infantry (SAI) Battalion to the DRC and the jungle warfare training they were conducting ahead of their deployment in May 2017.

Number seven:

Gupta’s armoured personnel carrier identified
– April 2017

Ever since the Gupta family landed a chartered aircraft at Air Force Base Waterkloof, they have been in the spotlight. They have been seen meddling in South African politics and also in the defence sector, with interference in Denel through the now defunct Denel Asia partnership via VR Laser. The Guptas have a stake in Scipio Technologies, which has developed the Griffin armoured personnel carrier. This caused a furore early last year when the prototype vehicle was seen in the compound of the Gupta residence in Saxonwold.

Number eight:

Defence Force Service Commission against delinking SANDF salaries from rank
– June 2017

A big problem in the SANDF is salary stagnation, where soldiers are trapped in particular ranks with no prospect of improvement of their salaries. The Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) looked into ways of solving the problem, including delinking salary from rank, but recommended against it. It instead recommended increasing salaries (but not ranks) of 8 900 affected personnel based on years of completed service and good performance, amongst other solutions.

Number nine:

New boss for 7 Med Battalion Group
– March 2017

Colonel Mcebisi Mdutywa in March 2017 took over command of the SA Military Health Service’s (SAMHS) 7 Medical Battalion Group from Colonel Siphiwo Nqqukuvana. Mdutywa earned joint qualifications of medical doctor and Special Forces operator.

Number ten:

SANDF gearing up for Armed Forces Day – February 2017

President and Commander-in-Chief Jacob Zuma presided over Armed Forces Day 2017 in Durban, and commemorated those who died in the sinking of the SS Mendi 100 years ago. He also presented medals during Armed Forces Day activities in Durban that included a 300-vehicle parade and capability demonstration.

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