SAAF hosting Saudi delegation

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A Saudi Arabian military delegation has arrived in South Africa to strengthen bilateral relations and examine possible collaboration.

Boitumelo Bapela, reporting for Ad Astra Magazine, said the nine Royal Saudi Armed Forces members were welcomed by Major General Lancelot Mathebula, the Chief Director Force Preparations, on behalf of the Chief of Air Force on 9 May upon arrival at SA Air Force (SAAF) Headquarters.

The head of the delegation, Major General Adel Mohammed Albalawi, expressed his gratitude to the SAAF for extending its welcome. He added that the purpose of the courtesy visit was to find out more about SA Air Force strategy. The delegation was briefed on how young civilians are transformed into soldiers at Air Force Gymnasium, Air Force Base Hoedspruit and the career paths they later travel within the organisation.

Brigadier General Ben Mbanjwa, the Director Education Training & Development, gave a presentation about the Human Resource Development Strategy 2016-2025 Renewal and Modernisation. The second presentation, given by Colonel Lumkile August, Acting Director Human Resource Services, briefed the Saudi visitors on SA Air Force career pathways, education, training and development as well as deployment of SA National Defence Force members internally and externally.

The visit comes after defence minister Thandi Modise and an Armscor delegation accompanied President Cyril Ramaphosa to Saudi Arabia in October last year. The Presidency revealed that 17 Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed between the two countries, covering everything from energy to defence.

Armscor’s Liziwe Nkonyana, Senior Manager: Corporate Communication told defenceWeb at the time that the defence MoU signed between South Africa and Saudi Arabia “is intended to establish a framework of cooperation between the two countries. It relates to the cooperation between the two countries on matters of defence and the development of their respective industries. As and when the cooperation develops, specific announcements will be made by the two countries, respectively.”

While in Saudi Arabia, Modise met with Governor of the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI), Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz Al-Ohali. The meeting was also attended by Armscor CEO Solomzi Mbada. Local media reported the two discussing cooperation and partnership in the field of military industries, and the “next action steps between the GAMI and the Armaments Corporation of South Africa.”

Defence cooperation between South Africa and Saudi Arabia is not a new development, and there have been multiple engagements over the years. For example, in March 2016, then President Jacob Zuma visited Saudi Arabia and toured Military Industries Corporation facilities after Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) helped establish a munitions manufacturing facility. This is able to produce 60, 81 and 120 mm mortars, 105 and 155 mm artillery shells and aircraft bombs.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier notes that GAMI and other Saudi defence companies and institutions have for decades worked with South African defence companies and research institutions to develop technologies and products, including the Saqr-1 unmanned aerial vehicle, and set up optronics research facilities. Denel division Spaceteq has supplied satellites to Saudi Arabia, such as the SaudiSat 3 and 5. Saudi Arabia even attempted to acquire a stake in Denel, but this never materialised.