The South African Air Force (SAAF) hosted its annual Prestige Day celebrations today in the form of a Ceremonial Wing Review Parade at Air Force Base Swartkop, which witnessed several dozen active and retired aircraft take part in the larger than usual flypast.
The parade began with the arrival of the main functionary, the Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Fabian Zimpande “Zakes” Msimang, which was followed with a 15 round gun salute, a general salute and salute flight. The salute flight was preformed by two Augusta 109 Helicopters from 17 Squadron which flew the national and the South African Air Force flags.
Msimang then reviewed the parade which had 28 active ceremonial colours representing different units and bases of the SAAF with static displays of a CL.13B Sabre MK 6 (SAAF Museum), a P-51D Mustang (SAAF Museum), a Rooivalk and an A109. Upon completion of the inspection the parade marched past the civilian spectators, invited guests and other members of the SAAF.
As the parade was moving through the last motions of their march past in columns of flight, the roar of helicopters began. In the distance behind the parade, 21 helicopters rose to fill the air as the mass fly past commenced featuring almost every aircraft in the SAAF inventory as well as some from the SAAF Museum.
The helicopters flew past in zigzag patterned rows led by the Denel Rooivalk and followed by A109s, Alouette IIs (Museum), Oryxs, BK 117s, and a Super Lynx 300.
The next two aircraft to fly over AFB Swartkop, now the second oldest active air force base in the world, were the Cessna 208 Caravans. Four North American Harvards flew past in a T-formation, one aircraft on either side and two aircraft stacked below the lead aircraft.
The next fly past was five transporter aircraft in formation being led by a C-47TP Turbo Dakota followed by three Cesna 208 Caravans and two C 212 Aviocars. A C-130 Hercules was scheduled to take part but unfortunately was not available.
The jets in a tight formation were up next, being led by four Gripens with four Hawks close behind them.
The final fly past was led by the Boeing 737 VIP aircraft (Inkwazi), followed directly behind it by a Dassault Falcon with five Pilatus PC-7 Mk II (Silver Falcons) in a V formation.
Today’s Prestige Parade celebrated the 2019 achievements of the South African Air Force directorates, bases, units and Squadrons. Every year the office of the Inspector General determines the prestige unit of the year for the SAAF. This year, Msimang presented the Prestige Unit award to AFB Ysterplaat.
Msimang then gave his address to the crowd and SAAF. He highlighted celebrating 25 years of the new South African National Defence Force in a young democracy. This celebration was underpinned by an anecdote he gave of growing up as a member of the diaspora due to his parents fleeing the country in the fight for an equal democracy. His opening words were:
“About 59 years ago, an infant was wrapped in documents and blankets as the Apartheid security forces stormed his mother’s home looking for sensitive information on the African National Congress. They were unable to find the well-hidden documents and the baby was spared being orphaned. The infant and family were smuggled out of the country to follow his exiled father. He grew up dislocated from his homeland, growing up thinking that his country was a myth that only existed in the lived experiences of his elders.”
“Today, at the tail end of the 25 year celebrations of our Young Democracy and also the 25 year Celebration of the formation of the new South African National Defence Force and its various Arms of Services, that young man, now bald and before you, has the honour of addressing all those who could attend.”
Msimang also addressed the history of the Air Force and Jan Smuts’ major role in its formation in 1917. Msimang went onto address essentially all responsibilities and dangers that the South African National Defence Force alongside government should and do address.
He praised the SAAF for its contribution to the country and its neighbours, such as disaster relief in Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal, Mamelodi and other places. “However, the burden on the Armed Forces stretches even further, as we know that our soldiers will increasingly be called upon to conduct search and rescue, disaster relief and humanitarian operations both domestically and in neighbouring countries in response to climate change and the attendant risks to environmental sustainability. This places more pressure on the SAAF requiring an increase in personnel and funding, to ensure we are ready to inspire confidence and fly to action where and when required,” Msimang said.
“However, we cannot give proper consideration to the challenges facing us in the future, without making an assessment of the means at our disposal to position ourselves for the future. Defence can only perform to the extent that it is resourced and funded. The Department of Defence has been forced to continuously adjust its plans downwards,” Msimang said. “This is dangerous. The Defence force is the Nations’ Insurance Policy.” He added that the SAAF is the people’s air force and is here to serve and defend unconditionally.
Msimang’s speech was all-encompassing and will be available in the video section on defenceWeb on 3 February.
The parade concluded with Fledglings releasing doves and balloons while the SAAF announcer read out, “We will keep whirling and twirling from the sky. White doves fly into our hearts, embracing our Air Force heritage. Carrying messages of goodwill. We will sing forever young and free. We will be an Air Force that inspires confidence.”
Friday’s parade was preceded by a Prestige Awards evening, and celebrations will continue on 1 February, which will be 100 years since the SAAF was formed.