Removal of MiG-21 from SAAF Museum “dishonourable” – former CAF

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Former Chief of the SA Air Force (SAAF) and board member of the SAAF Museum, retired lieutenant general Denis Earp condemned the removal of the Angolan MiG-21 fighter from the SAAF Museum headquarters at AFB Zwartkop.

He told defenceWeb proper procedures were not followed and he was going to the Angolan Embassy to inform them of this fact. He said the sudden removal of the Soviet-designed and built jet fighter was “dishonourable” and called it an act of corruption.

Earp explained the structure of the SAAF Museum, a unit of the air force. He said the SAAF Museum has an Officer Commanding (OC), who has staff (both civilian and military) and a Museum Council. This exists to give policy guidance and direction and meets quarterly. Council meetings are chaired by the Chief Air Staff Operations who represents CAF, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang.

Chief Air Staff, Operations liaises with the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA), a statutory body mandated to oversee the country’s heritage.

He said the SAAF was the custodian of the museum, with the museum exhibits belonging to the people of South Africa. He added museums fell under the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999. The Act refers to items in museums and other national heritage resources as being part of the “national estate”.

Earp said each item in a museum is registered and given a national heritage number.

He added it was possible due to financial constraints, for instance, for museums to swap items or trade them, but this had to be done according to a specific procedure. This procedure included the museum council, in the case of the SAAF Museum. If the council agreed, it would make a recommendation to the Museum OC, who would then pass this on to SAAF Chief of Logistics, who also has the role of auditor of the museum.

Earp pointed out on the afternoon of October 15, Chief of Air Staff, Logistics, and Chief of Air Staff, Operations, presented papers to Zwartkop AFB OC and the SAAF Museum OC signed by Chief of the SAAF and removed the MiG 21 “Fishbed”, serial C340, from the Museum.

Asked if these high-ranking officers’ signatures were not enough for removal of the MiG fighter to be legal, the retired general said if the national president or any official thought he could treat aircraft, or any registered heritage item as his to give to whomever he wished, he was wrong.

He said anyone who bypassed the procedures required by law was violating the Act and therefore it was illegal. Procedure had to be followed and he said it didn’t matter how many signatures there were, it was still illegal.