CAF retreat speech, 30 September 2020


As delivered verbatim by Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang at Air Force Base Swartkop:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is very difficult time for me emotionally because I leave people who I believe have done so much for me, to be able to do our work properly. You are awesome, you are awesome. I’d like to say you are the greatest. I can go to war anytime with you. You are committed and passionate and most importantly patriotic – what more does a commander want?

I want to thank each and every one of you that are here and to those also that have helped ensure this venue is well looked after and prepared for this occasion. Thank you.

To say that there was much deliberate uncertainty about today would be an understatement, but as always, when we see obstacles we find ways around them.

We find ourselves in an interesting time, where our minds reflect our national borders, porous to illicit activities, but closed to much of what’s important to us. Covid has come at a time where we would have celebrated our Collective Heritage of a quarter century of the Repbulic, and remembered the full century of the world’s Second oldest Air Force. I would like to take a moment to remember all those who have been affected by COVID-19 and lost loved ones.

As I’m leaving, I want to leave you with some short musings from my mind on these last 8 years of service, capping off an honest and transparent career formally spanning roughly 30 plus years, but really, as the story of a child bundled into exile at age six months, a story spanning 60 years. I believe my leadership style has been one focused on four pillars known as THAD: Transparency, Honesty, Accountability and Discipline.

On Projects

In my tenure as the Chief of the South African Force, I have, to the best of my ability, strived to lead in a manner that you could feel proud of and confident in. I believe that it is through our action in unison where we have been working very hard in projects that have been reshaping our organisational structures and systems and carrying out the national project of the transformation of our institutions that I may have done so. I have always believed that we are capable.

To be an Air Force that Inspires Confidence we need to be confident in ourselves. Since I started here, I have always believed that you, and I mean each of you, have done more than we expect. You have that capability. I believed and still do…good people it is very difficult to read from this script. As I go through these words, emotion is taking the better of me. I would like to say, allow me to share the better part of this speech with you through the media when I give it to them. I say this because I’m holding back a lot of emotions, feelings that if I do not compose myself I may embarrass myself.

My wife is here, I take the cue. Because I’m talking about people who I really care for, people who have meant a great deal for me, people who have done exceptionally well turning the impossible to the possible. People who have gone out of their way when things were tough. I’d like to mention our technicians, with the support of Armscor, today we can proudly say that we have successfully serviced for the first time on our air base BBJ, Falcon 50, which is happening right now, the Oryxes, the Caravans that you saw flying, and many others. These are dedicated men and women who are not appreciated sufficiently by people outside. People who break their backs to make sure that aviation safety is not compromised, standards are not dropped. I salute you all.

One of the legacy projects that I would love to see carried into the future and developed is a project on creches. We’ve established Early Childhood Development Centres around the country that cater to the educational needs of our future — our children. The Fledgelings ECD Centres are successful in creating platforms for increased employment, schooling and personal confidence. I have heard stories of young personnel registering for their babies who are yet to be born. I truly believe that these projects have helped shape the military community into one that is beginning to sound like a family.

We have recently welcomed the return of our young pilots and technicians from Cuba. The celebration of the old and the new is definitely going to create a better future for this South African Air Force. These students were part of an exchange programme, started in 2014, that aimed at skilling our youth. Some of the graduates, who by the way received golden awards for engineering degrees and others for sports, started off as our maths and science summer and winter schools learners from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. Yes, we deployed members to communities to help with education, and we’ve seen the results, the learners were hungry for access and they were committed and they have now come back with degrees, and I’m proud of these members who have flown that flag of the South Africa Air Force high, of the South African National defence Force. Today we also have members of the South African Air Force who are in Russia who will be returning next year.

The number of SAAF learners at the Saldhana military academy continues to be impressive. Members who are studying and graduating from various institutions of higher learning are next to none. Today I welcomed the team from the School of Government as lessons of good governance and ethics are non-negotiable. This team has been working for the past couple of weeks and I wish them all the very best.

As your leader, I have given myself completely to the project of transformation. 26 years into democracy and there is still so much ground to cover, but we are here, we managed to put forward placements for extremely talented and brilliant minds who have attended their expertise to making this an Air Force that inspires confidence. I am glad to see so many more African faces in command positions in these institutions. I am proud to see the vision that some many of our comrades who have fought for this country finally materialising. I am, however, saddened by the limitations placed on me to fully achieve the vision of transformation. I was unable to restructure the Air Force in such a way that gave spotlight to many brilliant women. I was limited in many ways to create a culture of strategic and timeous staffing.

Limitation and prevention of progress

Of course, as a pilot, I have always reached for the clouds, and often I have wished it would have happened much earlier. I want to highlight a few possible barriers to progress that the SANDF faces. Firstly, I must stress the fact that we have such amazing policies that are constantly being improved on, but with no oversight and will – these policies just remains paperwork. There needs to be better alignment, discussions and collaboration between members at senior levels, the parliamentary oversight committees and the commanders of the various arms of service. Attempts to procure more strategic assets have resulted in a pile of documents languishing on a desk somewhere, unsigned. The cyber security course in Hoedspruit was terminated and to date we still hope it will be approved.

Fiscal maladministration is not the only problem our government battles with, abuse of power is rampant at various levels. And us in the air force need to make sure we do things correctly. Military law is clear that there shall be no fraternisation with juniors, and that we shall not encourage positions of favour. Furthermore, I must note, that abuse of power also comes in as many forms, many civilians do not trust their security apparatus, and it’s our job to regain that trust and build that trust through accountability. The stories that came out during lockdown horrified me.

In my time as Chief of the Air Force, my name at times has been sadly thrown around painfully. But of course with the support of the members that have been around me, we’ve managed to put the record straight. At times our appreciation of the PFMA, our appreciation of the PFMA has to be done in detail.

This, unfortunately, has led to punitive measures for raising pertinent and uncomfortable questions. There are issues I would have loved to share with many of my superiors on how best to address some of these issues, issue which talk to the morale of the men and women who commit and who have committed so much to this country and who deserve more. We have it in our hands, we can make life so much easier for each and every one of the citizens of this country.

A bit about The Future of SANDF

I want to touch briefly on the potential I see within this institution and how we can revolutionise it to be the Defence Force of the future. I have mentioned before the need to commence with robust discussions on what capabilities, platforms, doctrine and tactics would be most appropriate for future conflicts. A Defence Force that is agile enough to both physically and intellectually move seamlessly between its traditional mandated tasks and functions and the demanding new environments of cybersecurity and cyber-resilience, proxy forces, hybrid warfare, transnational crime, climate change, as well as peace support operations to mention but a few.

I foresee a Defence Force rich in quality, educated and professional human capital. Teams that have the best interest of the Flag and what it represents. A force that can work with its regional, continental and international partners to form coalitions or partnerships to lead to greater internal and external security. As usual, there are unsigned documents that speak to this as the current plan is not effective. I need to highlight the scourge of kidnappings, which often forms part of the femicide in South Africa, itself a significant issue.

The Defence Force is not just a bunch of members running with guns, we are the ones called when flooding happens in Mamelodi, when there are fires in the Cape area, and I imagine it remaining this way, however without improved funding, core mandates such as these, we have to find a way of addressing them. In defence, it is important to prioritised mental health, many of us serve on different sides of a war for equality, and very few people have sought help on this. Depression, anxiety, alcoholism also the addressing of other issues has to happen immediately. I see a time in the near future where we can have this discussions without stigma, so people can get the appropriate assistance they need. Additional and tighter regulations of the Air Space is a must, and it is possible as I leave behind a great relationship with ACSA and other entities, but maintain that we need more oversight of movements in and out of our territory, another document still to be approved.

Lastly, we need to plan for a future where climate change has impacted us negatively. Already we have started studies into how we can be better prepared, and ideally would have sent out officers abroad to understand how other nations are dealing with these issues. It is my strong belief that these and many other considerations should be led by the youth, those of us who only know how to destroy should make room for those who wish to build sustainably. The reality, as we learned with the Mozambican issue, the terrible flooding, is that we are underprepared and lack a regional plan which I believe collectively for those in uniform and those thar are retired must help to build.

In a digital era, we lack the levels of digitalisation and cybersecurity necessary for us to compete and defend ourselves at a global scale. I’m glad to note that amongst us we have an advocate sitting there who is championing some of these efforts but we need more of you young men and women to continue with this beautiful legacy that has been started.

To the members of the Air Force, to you lovely people, thank you very much. This parade was just to say thank you to you members of the air force. The change of command parade will happen at its time, at its own time. Mine is to thank you, all the commanders on the bases, you have been awesome. I wish to also thank, and I count my blessings daily, for my extraordinary relationship with my wife, Afrika, my family, kids, for your support, love encouragement. To my wife, your love and commitment to the military families has been exceptional. Please do not hang up your boots – it’s only me who’s allowed to do that. Continue the fight, continue supporting the families because we need it. We stop at nothing in dealing with issues of spouses and children. You have adopted the military family as your own, you are truly a true mother in every aspect and I thank you for that.

To my sons, I apologize for being too busy to pay full attention to many of your interests. Now I have all the time in the world. To my kids and grandkids I have all the time for you.

To my boys, your pearls of wisdom and divine presence continues to mean the world to me. To those who no longer walk with us, the silent architects of this democracy who fell before seeing it and have given your all defending it, this democracy, your part will never be forgotten, and we as the South African Air Force must never forget.

A special word of thanks to my office. Your unwavering commitment and support has been exceptional. Thank you to each and every one in the Air Force Command Council. I would like to say today that as I step down tomorrow you will know the leadership of this Air Force, as tradition, as the chief withdraws the deputy chief takes charge. Support him in every single way as you supported me.

Members of the Air Force in general, members who were on parade, the band, the air crew, the ground crew, I would like to say thank you. I would also like to single out my instructor, thank you very much. Now I will be joining the Reserve Force and flying at the Museum. That’s where people of my age belong.

What makes a man cosign the starting of a political party, that same man teaches his nephews, that nephew flee a country chased by death squads unknowingly leaving family to be tortured, with his wife and kids following him a year later. What makes one of those kids pick up a toy plane at the age of 7 while speaking Swahili faraway from his native land, learning Hindi by the age of 11 and go on to train in Angola, Russia, Italy and fight in decisive environments. What makes the Commander return home to be demoted and subjected to pure racism under the guise of integration and yet turn away lucrative job offers and stay the course? What makes the demoted man work his way up again, tirelessly, to the head of the Air Force, to face stiff opposition from all quarters. What makes that man continue regardless, in the interests of the people that he serves and the people that he loves. What makes that man stand before you today to say thank you all for your relentless work in bringing many of my visions to life? What could it be if you were not there? What could it be that makes a man, an exile, a terrorist, a commander, a freedom fighter, a dedicated soldier, and a person that smiles through it all? What could it be if not a patriot, and love of the soil?

I hope you have found my musings fair, my desire for the betterment of this country unwavering and for these last few decades, you have my utmost gratitude.

Ladies and gentlemen, the media, and to all the friends that we have met, thank you very much for being there for this Air Force, that really needs a friend. This Air Force needs a partner, people who go outside and explain to the public why the need of the defence force. We ned a defence force that will be responsive when the time comes and for that we need in advance to prepare for that. We need the media to assist us, educate our people.

COVID-19 has been but one example. The defence force was called upon to assist on many fronts and I believe this defence force can do even more. It just needs your support, the support of the South African people.
All of you once again, thank you, I love you all, this is Blackhawk, signing out.