After almost 30 years of a MiG-21 fighter jet being in South African hands, Angolan officials have stated that the aircraft remained the property of their country.
According to Colonel Piet Claasen (SAAF, ret.) the Deputy Defence Attaché at the Angolan Embassy, Lieutenant Colonel MFG Gomes told him that when President Jacob Zuma last visited Angola (officially this was to attend the inauguration of that country’s new president, Mr João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço) the Angolans had requested the MiG. He added it was an Angolan initiative.
The MiG-21, serial number C-340, made a forced landing near Otjiwarongo in Namibia, which lies some 300 kilometres south of the Angolan border, on 14 December 1989. It was taken into South Africa’s possession and as Angola did not request the return of the aircraft later, it was placed opposite its former “foe”, a Mirage F1AZ on static display at the SAAF Museum in Pretoria.
Gomes said the Angolan government had asked for the aircraft for its newly-built memorial to the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The memorial features Soviet-style “Socialist Realism” art and a library, museum and hotels for visitors.
Claasen told defenceWeb that during 2016, the Chief of Staff (Logistics) did an audit of everything in the museum. All the exhibits received a number and a sticker, and were placed on the Heritage Asset Register under the Heritage Resources Act. He wondered whether the so-called “C-Log” sticker would still be on the plane at its new home.
Colonel Claasen is no longer a member of the SAAF Museum Board, but continues to work for the museum in his retirement. In this capacity, he telephoned the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) who have sent a letter to the Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang. He has also spoken to Defence Legal Services.
He added that the authority cited for removing the MiG-21 from the museum was that of Chief of Joint Operations (CJ OPS) who, he said, has nothing to do with heritage matters.
“What bothers me”, he said, “was it was done at midnight”. He said the nose cone, which had been welded on when the aircraft was originally flown to South Africa, came loose and the wings were removed for the flight in the Angolan Air Force’s Ilyushin Il-76 heavy lifter.
defenceWeb then spoke again to former Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Denis Earp (ret.) He said he was looking forward to the next SAAFM Board meeting, to see what the senior SAAF officers would say about the incident. He thought it would be “interesting.”
General Earp indicated that there was a possibility that the Auditor General might be interested in the matter.
He said: “I feel people should raise their voices” on this issue, where rules and possibly laws were broken by the authorities and the correct process was not followed.