With the exception of an errant and somewhat hard parachute landing, the national defence force more than held its own during Saturday’s presidential inauguration at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld stadium.
The National Ceremonial Guard (NCG) led a battalion strength parade which included elements of all four SA National Defence Force (SANDF) services – SA Air Force, SA Army, SA Military Health Service and SA Navy – in a fine example of parade ground drill. The massed military band provided aptly stirring music to set the tone for what some commentators called “a show of a military muscle not seen since 1994”.
Precision drill apart, the flypast with examples of literally every type currently – and historically – flown by one of the oldest air forces in the world was also given high approval ratings by military aviation enthusiasts and photographers.
It was a fitting illustration of what a military spokesman last week said would be “an all-out effort” by the defence force which has newly inaugurated President Cyril Ramaphosa as Commander-in-Chief.
A seven-ship formation of 2 Squadron Gripens – the sharp end of South Africa’s air power – with support from a five-ship Hawk Mk120 formation, led the way with solid contributions from all rotary-winged aircraft currently in service, including an AFB Ysterplaat-based Super Lynx maritime machine and the Rooivalk combat support helicopter operated by 16 Squadron, which flew in an eleven-strong formation.
Major Mandisa Mfeka, South Africa’s first black female combat pilot, flew one of the Hawks.
Air transport was covered by C-130BZ (28 Squadron), C212 and Pilatus PC-12 of 44 Squadron alongside 41 Squadron’s Cessna 208 Caravans. The SAAF VIP squadron put the Boeing 737 Inkwazi into the air above the stadium along with its Falcon 50 and 900.
The Silver Falcons display team admirably strutted their stuff alongside a pair a of the national carrier’s Airbus A340-600s. In addition to the Falcons, AFB Langebaanweg was represented by a five-ship flight of PC-7 Mk IIs from Central Flying School.
One of the South African Airways pilots was SAA’s Chief Pilot, Captain Vusi Khumalo, who joined the airline as one of its first four black pilots in 1994. Other members of the crew were Captain Andre Steenkamp, Captain Mark Dethian, Senior First Officer (SFO) Monde Gxoyiya, Captain Pierre Gouws, SFO Hennie Badenhorst and SFO Julian Whitelaw.
SAA said the flypast on Saturday was reminiscent of the “Madiba moment” when SAA did a flypast more than two decades ago at the 1995 Rugby World Cup finals.
Aircraft from the SAAF Museum at Air Force Base Zwartkop also took part in the inauguration, including five Harvard trainers. Unusually, these had their castle and flag insignia blanked out.
The only hiccup happened when 44 Parachute Regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Victor Kose misjudged his landing in the stadium and hit an 81 mm mortar tube on display. He was immediately taken to a first aid post by a soldier known to defenceWeb and pronounced “fit to go” without needing any further medical attention.
Parachuting into a stadium is regarded as a difficult task due to wind around the bowl and thermals created by crowd heat. It appears Kose was hit by a gust of wind as he approached the ground, sending him into the mortar tube.
The presidential inauguration took place in a front of a crowd of 32 000 people that included current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state from the DRC, Namibia, Saharawi, Gabon, Egypt, Madagascar, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Uganda, Lesotho and Eswatini.
“Today our nation enters a new era of hope and renewal,” said Ramaphosa during the inauguration. “Let us forge a compact for growth and economic opportunities, for productive land and wider opportunities … A compact of an efficient, capable and ethical state. A state that is free from corruption.”
“The challenges our country faces are huge and are real but they are not insurmountable. They can be solved and I stand here to say they are going to be solved,” Ramaphosa said in his speech.