Air Force Prestige Day marks the start of SAAF 100


The first event to mark the centenary of the SA Air Force (SAAF), or its 25th anniversary taking democratic South Africa as a starting point, will be Air Force Prestige Day on 31 January at AFB Zwartkop.

While there is apparently no detail about the exact date of the air force’s establishment, research by the late Dave Becker showed Lieutenant Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld was appointed Director: Air Services of the then Union Defence Force in June 1920. It was backdated to February and is widely accepted as the most suitable birth date for an air force acknowledged as the second oldest Commonwealth air force.

The first SAAF statement on the anniversary was released this week.

“The SAAF is celebrating 25 years of democracy and simultaneously commemorating its Collective Heritage in 2020.

“As we continue to build a cohesive society and enhance unity, it is important to reconfigure the SAAF’s heritage landscape to ensure that it reflects the diversity of our society.

“Our interventions are guided by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the supreme law of the land, whose preamble partly reads:

‘We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, respect those who have worked to build and develop our country and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.’

“In line with these constitutional imperatives, the SAAF is committed to the preservation and promotion of our Air Force heritage.

“Join us in 2020 as we continue to break the barriers of social cohesion and embrace the SAAF’s collective heritage. Join us in commemorating our SAAF pioneers, celebrating our successes and demonstrating the SAAF’s air power,” is the full text of the statement.

The SAAF will host a Prestige Day Parade on 31 January at 10:00 at AFB Zwartkop, with members of the public invited to attend. While not an air show, a number of SAAF aircraft are expected to take part in a flypast. Gates open at 7:45 and close at 9:30 am.

The statement on the SAAF anniversary celebrations was released with a logo designed to mark it, entitled ‘SAAF 2020 Embracing our Collective Heritage’. Responses have been mixed.

A quick poll of military aviation enthusiasts and retired air force personnel had a single constant from responders. To a man and woman they all said the design was lacking in that no mention is made of either the centenary or the 25th anniversary.

“What is SAAF 2020? Next year it can be SAAF 2021 and the year after SAAF 2022. It’s meaningless,” was one response.

Another called it “a social services image put onto a bastardised SAAF roundel” and a third felt the symbolic humans in it made it more suited to a USSR collective.

“I’m not sure the air force eagle deserves to be part of the design. It’s demeaning to what was once a proud symbol of South African military aviation,” an SA Air Force Association member said.