The SAAF marks its anniversary this week


An SA Air Force (SAAF) event on Friday (4 February) will mark what is now known as Prestige Day, celebrating its establishment.

On Thursday, the SAAF will host its Prestige Evening, at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof. Awards are usually presented the evening before Air Force Day when units and squadrons are honoured for achievements over the preceding year.

The event at Waterkloof, according to a SAAF notice published on SA National Defence Force (SANDF) social media, is part of the SAAF’s birthday celebrations. Thirty minutes have been set aside for one part of the formal event that will see low flying aircraft and fireworks take over the airspace above the Centurion base. No time is given for the airborne component of the event apart from it “adhering to all” air show and fireworks protocols.

The SAAF social media notice gives no indication of which SAAF aircraft will be part of “the mini air show” with the only certainty being the non-appearance of the force’s Gripen fighters. The entire fleet of AFB Makhado-based, fourth generation Swedish fighters are currently grounded due to a shortage of funds and non-renewal of maintenance and support contracts. Negotiations between Saab and Armscor are currently underway and the Gripens are expected to be flying later this year.

Friday sees the SAAF Prestige Day being held at Air Force Base Swartkop for the “Prestige Parade”. This will be a ceremonial wing review, with Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, the review officer.

Addressing a medal parade at the same base in November, Mbambo was reported as saying “the organisation (the air force) must gear itself for new heights with renewed vigour”. The new direction for the airborne service of the SANDF is understood to take into account responses to a force-wide survey which allowed for “proper diagnosis” of the SAAF.

A SAAF statement has it the “Prestige Parade is the highlight of the SAAF’s year calendar and is used to celebrate SAAF achievements and acknowledge performances of a high standard by directorates, bases, units and squadrons. CAF utilises this event to thank all members of the air force for their dedication, loyal support as well as work performed during the previous years (sic)”.

The new SAAF vision, a November report had it, will be unveiled and adopted “no later than February 2022”. Military aviation watchers speculated it could happen at events to mark the birthday of the air force.

The SAAF was officially founded on 1 February 1920, with its anniversary celebrated on the Friday closest to 1 February.

This year marks the centenary of the SAAF’s first operational deployment, when it helped quell internal dissent during the 1922 miner’s strike on the Johannesburg gold mines after this turned violent and led to the declaration of martial law.

defenceWeb understands at least two Hawks will take part in Friday’s parade, along with Rooivalk attack helicopters and several A109 and Oryx utility/transport rotorcraft.

Some of these aircraft may possibly still be present and take part in the SAAF Museum flying training day on Saturday 5 February. Flying training days, held on the first Saturday of the month, are back on the calendar after a relaxation of lockdown regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.