South Africa will not be treated to an exhibition of SA Air Force (SAAF) capabilities and platforms this year as a highlight of its centenary because of COVID-19 and government’s continued national state of disaster to mitigate the pandemic’s spread.
The arrival of the virus in South Africa as far back as February and subsequent creation of a National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) saw cancellation of public events, including the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition set for September.
The exhibition at AFB Waterkloof, the SAAF centre of transport excellence, was to host a comprehensive display of air force platforms from Gripen and Hawk jets through to helicopters, including the South African designed and built Rooivalk combat support platform, and its transport workhorses. These range from the venerable C-130BZs to the even older C-47TPs that also operate in the maritime patrol and surveillance role to the smaller C-212 Aviocar, Cessna C-208 Caravans, Beechcraft B200 Super King Air and Pilatus PC-12 on the airlift side of the force as well as the PC-7 trainer. The trainer is also used by the Silver Falcons aerobatic display team based at AFB Langebaanweg.
The other major SAAF event for the year – the annual airshow at the SAAF Museum headquartered at AFB Zwartkop on 9 May – was canned soon after the national lockdown and its numerous regulations were announced at the end of March.
The annual SAAF Prestige Day on 31 January and associated Prestige Awards were the sum total of “official” SAAF centenary events. There were also a handful of base commemorations at the same time.
Indications are the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) does not plan to have any other commemorative events for the centenary of the second oldest Commonwealth air force in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.
defenceWeb approached the corporate communication section of the SAAF Corporate Staff Service Directorate to ascertain what – if any – commemorative events will be staged in the latter part of its centenary year.
The official SAAF response, supplied by Brigadier General Hilton Smith, Director: Corporate Services, does not mention “centenary” in a three-sentence statement. defenceWeb asked, in the light of the AAD postponement, whether alternative options were being explored. These include a possible centenary publication as well as publishing a series of commemorative themed articles on the official SAAF website. The site is down and carries the message “This website is currently unavailable, come back later”. That has been there for at least six months. Some SAAF 100 calendars were printed but not widely circulated.
Smith’s full response to defenceWeb states: “AAD 2020 has been deferred to 21 to 25 September 2022. In line with directives from National Government all events have been annulled due to the escalation of the COVID-19. The process to revive both the internet and intranet web pages (of the SAAF) is currently underway”.