Speech: Buthelezi at the memorial of Des Barker and Rama Iyer, 30 March 2021


The families of Major General Barker and Colonel Iyer, Chief of Staff South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Lieutenant General Yam, members of the PDSC present, members of the Air Force Board, Generals, captains of industry, South African Air Force Association (SAAFA), senior officers, officers, senior warrant officer of the Air Force, warrant officers (WOs), non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and defence civilian members. We are all in mourning. Today ladies and gentlemen, we celebrate the contributions, dedication and selflessness of the two fallen aviation giants.

Today we honour the lives well lived. Major General Barker and Colonel Iyer were the epitome of service before self even long after retirement from active duty, they continued to lead, to share their skills and impart knowledge. They continued to serve the people of South Africa via the SA Air Force Museum historic flights. General Barker and Colonel Iyer played an important role in all our careers lives. I can confidently say everyone here probably has a good story to tell about each of them.

The SA Air Force had been very fortunate to have a kind of leadership that General Barker and Colonel Iyer had at its disposal. Retired Major General Desmond Barker and Colonel Ramalingam Ramanathan Iyer who sadly departed on the 15th of March 2021 were amongst those who the SA Air Force could pride itself with.

They were amongst the giants of this organisation, the ones who unconditionally displayed loyalty and commitment to the SA National Defence Force. Allow me to take a moment and reflect on their demise. Indeed “We meet to part and we part to meet” as they say. Whilst the SA Air Force may strive to understand the message encapsulated in this statement, we did not wish to part with General Barker and Colonel Iyer so soon when the SA Air Force was still comfortably harvesting from their wisdom. We did not expect to part with them this way. Both retired members of the SA Air Force departed under the most excruciating circumstances, circumstances that we desperately wish to obliterate from our memories.

As mortal beings and acknowledging that General Barker and Colonel Iyer were not immortal, we didn’t think that when they depart from this world as a culmination of their human life journey, we will be left with so many questions surrounding their demise.

When the aircraft approached the SA Air Force museum both officers did not know that the landing wouldn’t be safe as anticipated. Unwittingly, the projected landing was about to mark the end of their lives. No one knew that it wouldn’t be a safe landing, had we known we would have obviously stopped them from going on board but this kind of information is sacred, it remains God’s secret and only revealed when it is too late for any human being to do anything about it.

As human beings, we were certain that we would meet them following their flight but to our dismay, they had met their sudden death. Colleagues, this incident is a reminder that life is precious, life is unpredictable, life is unfair, and life can be agonising. Their loss represents a major setback in our efforts to transform the SA Air Force Museum and open up opportunities for the younger pilots who were previously disadvantaged. To lose such experience is our loss to the nation. As the saying says “knowledge not shared is wasted knowledge.” As leaders, they had gravitated towards imparting knowledge in many ways than one. Yes, they are no more but their legacy will see future decades and yes, they are late but their teachings will continue to assist the SA Air Force to find workable solutions in future challenges.

Excellence, visionary, and vibrancy may be regarded as some of their key elements of true leadership. These attributes had not been scarce in our beloved departed patriots. It is probably more accurate to say these traits were identical to their defining features.

While we mourn their passing, we must equally celebrate their lives. As we celebrate their great achievements as trailblazers, we must find inspiration in the knowledge that, they were head and shoulders above their peers. Their unsurpassed sense of professionalism, competence, and camaraderie earned both Major General Barker and Colonel Iyer the highest regard amongst associates, colleagues and friends. We too, will mourn their absence.

On behalf of the Air Force Board and the SA Air Force at large, I convey our heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased and loved ones. We are with you during these trying time. General Barker and Colonel Iyer have ran their race, and we must find comfort in the legacy they have left for the future generations.

To the families, allow me to reflect on 1 Corinthians 15: 42-44 “So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable, it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” General Barker and Colonel Iyer are sown in honour so they shall be raised in honour and they shall be sown in power so they shall be raised in power.

Although General Barker and Colonel Iyer’s bodies are no more, we will continue to keep their precious memories alive. As we pray for healing of our broken hearts, we shall also pray for healing of your broken souls. May God be with you in this difficult time.

I would like to take this moment to thank the families of General Barker and Colonel Iyer for offering us these precious human beings. You must know that serving in the military is an exceptional sacrifice, one that affects soldiers as well as you as our families and loved ones. It truly does take a village to ensure things run smoothly while service members are not at home or deployed.

We therefore honour you as wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, children and loved ones for the support you provide through the most difficult of times. Throughout the difficult times and deployments, you’ve stood by and supported us in uniform. Your unwavering love and devotion is appreciated.

To the Barker and Iyer families, we the SA National Defence Force and the SA Air Force in particular share your pain and feel your loss, knowing that your loss is our loss. Thank you for having been their pillar of strength and for allowing them to serve their country. You have lost a husband, a father and a relative. We have lost leaders, friends and advisors. Their guidance and firm leadership will remain with us.

God bless you all, I thank you.