SAAF memorial off-limits

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“Acts of vandalism and desecration” mean the SA Air Force (SAAF) memorial on Bays Hill immediately north of what is now the Air Force Mobile Deployment Wing (AF MDW) is off-limits and will not be used for an annual memorial service.

SAAF Association (SAAFA) National President Mike Louw writes in the association’s latest newsletter the “sacredness” of the SAAF Memorial, rarely the target of those intent on vandalism, ended in November when it was “vandalised and parts of it desecrated”.

The memorial is co-owned by Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo’s service and the SAAFA with both meeting post the November “attack” (as it was put to defenceWeb by a SAAF pensioner).

“It was mutually agreed that the memorial and its surrounds will remain out of bounds for all until such time as the terrain can be properly secured. In the interim, the SAAF will continue to co-ordinate and oversee the repair and complete renovation of the memorial,” Louw informed SAAFA members.

Indications are the May memorial service will take place in one of the hangars of what is the oldest SAAF base, with Hangar 5 the probable venue.

When the vandalism became public, defenceWeb approached the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) for input as to who is responsible for guarding and sentry duty at the memorial, outside the MADW perimeter wall. To date there has been no response.

As to who is tasked with security, a retired SAAF general told defenceWeb it was previously the responsibility of Air Force Base (AFB) Swartkop’s, now AF MDW’s, SAAF security squadron. He could shed no light on what the current status is.

The memorial was unveiled on 1 September 1963 by the then State President Charles “Blackie” Swart following an architectural design competition which drew 38 entries. The shape of the memorial in three wings crossing over one another is intended to symbolise flight. The wings cover separate rooms housing a chapel, a caretaker’s office and a machine room. The hall between the wings is home to a cenotaph as the memorial centrepiece with rolls of honour.

When democracy came to South Africa, those whose responsibility the memorial is, took note and a commemorative stone with an eternal flame was put into place on the main walkway to the memorial. It lists the Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army (APLA), Bophuthatswana Air Force, Ciskei Defence Force Air Wing, uMkhonto We Sizwe, the SAAF, Transkei Defence Force Air Wing and the Venda Defence Force Air Wing.