When he takes up the post of SA Air Force (SAAF) Chief on 1 June, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo becomes the fifth commander of the airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) since its establishment on 27 April 1994.
In what is, in some circles, seen as a break with tradition Mbambo is the first CAF in the democratic era not to wear pilot’s wings.
His predecessors, all three-star generals, were James Kriel (November 1991 to April 1996), Willem Hechter (May 1996 to February 2000), Roelf Beukes (March 2000 to February 2005), Carlo Gagiano (March 2005 to September 2012) and Zakes Msimang (October 2012 to September 2020).
Prior to Mbambo’s appointment, then SAAF Deputy Chief Lieutenant General Mzayifani Buthelezi was acting chief following Msimang’s retirement. He goes back to being number two in the airborne service come next month.
Fifty-five year-old Mbambo was born in Durban and completed his primary and high school education in KwaZulu-Natal before joining Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the then underground armed wing of the ANC (African National Congress). His military training, ahead of integration into the SANDF in 1994, was done in Angola, the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Yugoslavia. Part of this was spent at Frunze 1 Central Officers Training Centre (now the Military Institute of the Armed Forces of the Kyrgyz Republic) in the then USSR. Here he obtained, according to the Directorate Corporate Communications (DCC) of the SANDF, a BA Mil Science equivalent specialising in combat military aviation control.
Mbambo’s first assignment in the SANDF was integration of the former MK and Apla air force groups with the SAAF and the TBVC (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) air wings.
Leadership and command responsibilities in the SAAF saw Mbambo variously as 140 Squadron commander responsible for long range mobile radar systems operations at the Air Force Mobile Deployment Wing, Staff Officer for Airspace Control Planning in 2001 and later Officer Commanding Bushveld Airspace Control Sector (BACS). He was appointed the General Officer Commanding AFB Waterkloof in 2004 and then Director: Air Capability Plans responsible for air force strategy, plans and resource allocation. Additionally, Mbambo is a qualified airspace control officer, better known as a mission commander.
He became General Officer Commanding (GOC) Air Command responsible for air force base operations in 2013 and was placed as Deputy Chief of Staff SANDF in 2017. Mbambo holds a Master’s Degree in Strategic Security Studies from Air University Alabama in the US and is currently completing his Masters in Business Leadership (MBL) with UNISA.
Career highlights include participation in local and international military conferences where he shared his views on different military topics and he has published such information in SANDF publications.