On Wednesday 30 September 2020, SA Air Force staff from all over the country gathered at the farewell function of the Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General (ret) Fabian Zimpande Msimang, to bid him farewell and wish him luck on his continuing life journey.
Msimang is familiar to many for his distinguished career in the service of South Africa, the South African Air Force said. “A man, an exile, a terrorist, a commander, a freedom fighter, a dedicated soldier and a person who smiles through it all” is how he describes himself.
Officers at various levels of command throughout the SA Air Force were asked to share their thoughts on Msimang’s tenure as Chief Air Force.
Major General Mzayifani Buthelezi – Deputy Chief of the SA Air Force on behalf of the SA Air Force Executive: “During his tenure, CAF prioritised transformation; infrastructure development; the collection and restoration of military aviation artefacts as well as information; the introduction of Early Childhood Development Centres at SA Air Force Bases countrywide as well as National Youth Development projects. He has taken us to greater heights through his leadership. We want to extend our appreciation and gratitude to Lieutenant General Msimang and his family, for taking on the role of the first black Chief since the dawn of democracy, at a time of great turbulence and uncertainty.”
Brigadier General Andre Russel Barends – Officer Commanding Air Force Base Makhado, Limpopo: “I first had the honour of working with the Chief at 22 Squadron. I deployed with him to Mozambique, during the national elections and that is when I came to know him as a formidable pilot, diplomat, voice of reason and overall “good man” who inspires confidence. The SA Air Force needs more good men. He has contributed immensely to the transformation of the cockpit, although there is still a long way to go. He has afforded me many opportunities, most notably that of being appointed Officer Commanding Air Force Base Hoedspruit and Air Force Base Makhado. For all this, I am grateful for his leadership.”
Colonel Carl Moatshe – Officer Commanding AFB Ysterplaat, Cape Town: “Over the last few years, CAF has become a father and a mentor to me. He did not hesitate to reprimand me when I was not careful, and he acknowledged me when I did things that fit with the Air Force’s strategic intentions, through this process, I grew. Our relationship became stronger when I was appointed Officer Commanding 28 Squadron at Air Force Base Waterkloof, and because of his support I have survived. My daily battle has been to not disappoint him and the SA Air Force Executive. I wish him well on his retirement.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jermaine Fortune – Officer Commanding 18 Deployment Support Unit, Air Force Base Swartkop: “CAF allowed a younger generation to rise and lead. He put more of us in command positions. He prepared the SA Air Force for the future. I am most grateful to him for that.”
Lieutenant Colonel Mashaole Peter Ramoipone – Officer Commanding 16 Squadron, Air Force Base Bloemspruit, Bloemfontein: “The day after my Change of Command Parade last year, CAF called me to congratulate me and let me know he was proud. I still regard that conversation as a highlight in my career. To be frank, many of us blacks in the helicopter line are where we are because of him. All this transformation that we see is because of his guidance and grooming. Our job from here is to ensure that we pay it forward and we help more young pilots up the ladder.”
Lieutenant Colonel Khuliso Tshiololi- Officer Commanding 22 Squadron, Air Force Base Ysterplaat, Cape Town: “Most of the current crop of Helicopter Commanders in the SA Air Force, arrived into his “hands” as he was Director Helicopter Systems at the time. Because of his great leadership, we were able to advance through difficult terrain, to get command on the respective SA Air Force Helicopter Systems. I’ve had a special relationship with him since 2005 and was incredibly honoured to fly with him at 22 Squadron, during his last week of full-time service in the SA Air Force.”
Information by Major Mpho Mathebula and photograph from SA Air Force.