CAF reflects on successes and challenges during long service medal parade


The Chief of the SA Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, has lauded the SAAF for its contribution to peace and security but sounded a warning over budget cuts and the loss of the state-owned defence industrial base.

He was speaking during a long service medal parade for 170 members of the SAAF, held at Air Force Base Swartkop on 22 October.

In his address, Mbambo spoke on the joy he felt in honouring SA Air Force members for their loyal service, through one of the Defence Force’s oldest traditions. He noted that the medal parade would have been conducted sooner if it was not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking about successes and highlights of the SAAF, Mbambo noted the 100 year anniversary celebration last year, and “innumerable operational successes”, including flood rescues, extinguishing of wild fires, maritime casualty evacuations, joint operations with the SA Police Service for border patrol and crime-fighting, and most recently, during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, support for national government through the nationwide delivery of vaccines and transportation of medical personnel.

“The South African Air Force, in following the tradition of President Mandela and many who fought for our freedom, has been instrumental in fostering peace and security in South Africa and in Africa as a whole, under the banner of the United Nations. Our men and women in blue continue to raise our national flag high in the ongoing external deployments in Monusco and Samim (Mozambique deployment). The air force assets are held in high esteem in these deployments as they demonstrate operational excellence during task execution,” Mbambo said in his speech.

Looking at the future of the SAAF, Mbambo said there is a “sea of challenges confronting the combat readiness of the Air Force” He said the diverse challenges facing the Air Force of today are much more complex than those of 27 years ago.

During the May 2021 budget vote speech the negative budget decline was captured as follows, Mbambo said: ‘the reduction of over R15 billion over the MTEF [Medium Term Expenditure Framework] has placed us in a very difficult position. Our capital budget has effectively been reduced to a trickle and the operating budget is under extreme pressure. Under these conditions we are finding it extremely difficult to improve the serviceability of our prime mission equipment.’ In this same address the warning was clearly made; ‘if we are honest with ourselves, we now face the reality that if we do not intervene in a decisive manner, we will lose our state owned defence industrial base and the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of our defence systems. This mot only compromises our ability to not only maintain our current equipment in service, but also fundamentally impacts our long term ability to remain relevant and ready to conduct effective operations in the future.’

“We trust that the country leadership is listening and considering our plea accordingly. However, we have our role to play in bringing solutions to some of the challenges at our level. I, as the chief of the Air Force, am of the belief that the soldiers under my command, the men and women in blue are my greatest asset in tackling the challenges we find ourselves in. In order to compete within and survive an ever modern society, we have to invest heavily in the development of our members. A diversity of skills, capabilities and capacities are needed at various levels to ensure operational success across a wide range of activities, from war fighting to disaster relief,” Mbambo said, adding the concluding remark that “adversity does not intimidate us, for we thrive in it!”