Defence Minister’s clarification on “stolen” SAAF aircraft


An attempt by a Freedom Front Plus MP to shed further light on aircraft apparently “stolen” from the SA Air Force (SAAF) has resulted in further confusion thanks to the response by Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

In February the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans told the National council of Provinces (NCOP) aircraft stolen from the SAAF and put into museums meant the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had insufficient aircraft for pilot training.

Approached for more information, her media liaison officer at the time, Joy Peter, indicated the Minister would not be expanding on her statement to the NCOP.

Last month Pieter Groenewald deemed it a good idea to ask Minister Mapisa-Nqakula about the stolen aircraft again in an effort to clarify matters.

His question reads: “with reference to her reply to question five for oral reply in the NCOP on February 23 that pilots were unable to fly sufficient flight hours because retiring members had stolen aircraft. (a) What types of aircraft were stolen? (b) How many of each type of aircraft was stolen? (c) when were they stolen? and (d) who were the members who allegedly stole them?”

The FF+ MP who has previously served as a member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans also wanted to know if any steps had been taken against “retired members” who stole aircraft from the SAAF.

Mapisa-Nqakula responded by saying: “In this context , stolen refers to premature phasing out of systems type aircraft by donating to the museums or selling this limited the SAAF to build capacity”.

Military analyst Darren Olivier said the Minister’s “clarification of her stolen planes comment was still based on a flawed understanding”.

The South African Air Force retired its Harvard trainer fleet many years ago and a large number still fly with the South African Air Force Museum and private pilots. Between 2009 and 2013, 35 of the Air Force’s PC-7 Mk II trainers were upgraded with improved avionics while 18 aircraft that were not upgraded were subsequently put up for sale by Armscor. In May Mapisa-Nqakula revealed that these were no longer for sale and had been taken back by the Department of Defence.

Another example of the evasive way in which she answers Parliamentary questions came when Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais, wanted to know why SAAF pupil pilots were being sent to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Cuba for training rather than being given flying instruction locally.

He was told: “technically, we do not have any pilots training in Russia or Cuba. What we have in these countries are members identified to become student pilots”.

Last October it was reported that 10 pilots from 2 Squadron (the sole remaining fighter squadron in the SAAF) had been selected for further training in Russia with another four SAAF pilots already in Cuba. Additionally five SAAF members were receiving aviation engineering training and seven are doing aviation technical training in Cuba.

Another defence related response to the Parliamentary question, this one posed by shadow public enterprises minister Natasha Mazzone, has again highlighted the evasive replies that oral and written questions receive in Parliament. This is a matter the party’s chief whip, John Steenhuisen, has indicated he will take up with Deputy President and leader of government business, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Last week Mazzone was told by Public enterprises Minister, Lynne Brown “the duties of Ministers and Deputy Ministers are outlined in the Ministerial Handbook”.

This was in response to Mazzone’s question wanting to know whether Minister Brown had ever met with the Guptas with regard to the Denel Asia/VR Laser joint venture.
“Her failure to either confirm or deny she met the Guptas is not only highly suspicious but shows complete disregard for accountability,” Mazzone said.