State of the SA Air Force address – Acting Chief of the SAAF Major General Mzayifani Innocent Buthelezi


Members of the Air Force Command Council, retired and serving Generals, Officers Commanding bases and units, Senior and Junior Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, members of the SAAF spouses forum, captains of industry, members from the media, ladies and gentlemen.

I bring you warm greetings and best wishes for the new year from the South African Air Force (SAAF) Executive Council. It is my singular honour and privilege to welcome you all back to your respective duties after the past year’s festive period.

Under normal circumstances, the Air Force Day is celebrated with pomp and jubilation throughout the country. However, with the new normal brought about by COVID-19, we are here today to celebrate the Air Force through this virtual event.

The past

As we acknowledge the history of our Air Force and celebrate 27 years of a democratic SAAF, may we rise to the occasion to help the nation dissolve the barriers of race, religion, and political divide. Let us embrace our differences with understanding and compassion. Our museums, on all the bases, have captured the timeline of the history of the Air Force to date, with a deep sense of neutrality and in totality.

As we strive to embrace our collective heritage and social cohesion, Air Force invites you to participate in the country’s nation-building efforts, where Air Force observes days of honour and remembrance with appropriate ceremonies and in context. As we mark the Air Force’s history pre-1994, we must be mindful of the glaring human rights violations that occurred.

The country’s history books have February 1920 as the birth of military aviation in South Africa. Culminating from the Imperial Conference of 1917 and a report by General Jan Smuts, the country received an Imperial Gift comprised of 113 aircraft and included steel frames for 20 hangars and everything else required to start and operate an air force. Swartkop airfield became the first military airfield and thus the oldest active airfield in the world today. Over the years, the South African Air Force has evolved with as many missions, exercises, and operations as well as how it relates to the people of South Africa.

The Constitution of South Africa (1996) pronounces that the primary objective of the Defence Force is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity, and its people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force.

The role of the country’s Armed Forces must be informed by our understanding of sovereignty, the value-exchange between the State and the citizenry and the changing nature of the conflict.

With the dawn of democracy, the South African Air Force began a new era in 1994. Transformation over the past two and a half decades has brought about a change in composition, structure, and hardware with a new vision since 2013 of “An Air Force that Inspires Confidence”.

I trust you all had enough time to rest as you spent quality time with your families and friends, despite the accompanying challenges brought to you by the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to pay homage to our members who have departed this world due to the pandemic. May their souls rest in eternal peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen, for some time now, defence spending, has been in a critical state of decline. The Defence Review 2015 has been developed with a plan to arrest the decline of the South African National Defence Force. However, unfortunately, no funding has been received to attend to the decreasing capabilities of the South African National Defence Force.

Capabilities, infrastructure and facilities

The Air Force’s Air Defence capabilities are under pressure including Air Transport and Maritime capability, Very Important Person Capability, Air Combat Capability, and Command-and-Control capability. The continued reduction of flying hours will impact negatively on safe Air Force flight operations at the Strategic (VVIP), Operational (Force Employment) and Tactical (Force Preparation) levels.

Of great concern to the Air Force is the status of facilities and infrastructure. This is a direct result of a lack of maintenance of State property and the closing of the maintenance backlog. The main reason for the status of facilities is a lack of maintenance, coupled with normal wear and tear and neglect and ageing of buildings. The current decline in facilities and infrastructure maintenance not only affects the Air Force’s operational capabilities but has a direct impact on the morale of SAAF personnel, especially during challenging times such as COVID-19.

As a client of the National Department of Public Works (NDPW), the Air Force cannot take responsibility for maintaining State Property. We do not have the mandate, proper expertise, and Bases that faces many facilities challenges due to a lack of maintenance and deterioration of facilities. The Air Force as occupants are therefore forced to maintain these facilities using a limited Operational Budget allocation.

SAAF covid-19 response

On 15 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a State of Disaster in South Africa. The South African National Defence Force was employed “to release resources (including stores, equipment, vehicles, and facilities), as well as to release SANDF personnel to render emergency services” as per Section 27(2) of the State of National Disaster Act. During Operation NOTLELA, the Air Force delivered exemplary service and recorded 1000 operational flying hours. We will continue to perform our mandated task in the service of our country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc across the globe and many if not all employers and employees have to adjust to a new dynamic. To most, this so-called new dynamic is vague. Nevertheless, it remains a general principle that success strongly hinges on the positive morale and attitude of people.

COVID-19 brought fear into the hearts of most people including our Airmen and their loved ones. People fell into despair, uncertainties and anxiety. Adding to these anxieties are remote working – with challenges accompanying working from home at times in makeshift home offices, perhaps with children learning at home, unreliable internet connections and worries about parents and family and friends who they can no longer see.

Supervisors will thus have to be mindful of how they can improve their subordinates’ mental health and morale. As such, supervisors will have to be flexible, and they will have to consider the challenges people are encountering in balancing their work lives with their personal lives. They will have to create opportunities for employees to pause and reflect, encourage healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, and develop a sense of community and shared purpose. Demonstrating empathy, flexibility and creating psychological safety can have a meaningful impact on members’ experiences and coping.

Not only did the pandemic challenged Air Force members, but also our families. As the Covid-19 pandemic ensues, The Military Family Foundation (MFF) locates itself in serving its community – the families of the South African National Defense Force. They connected military communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, to minimise the sense of confusion, loneliness, and anxiety.

The future

In line with the Department of Defence Imperatives, the Air Force for the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) will focus on the following areas:

Explore the establishment war rooms to monitor stock: and track the movement of components.

Establish warehouses to reduce delivery turnaround time and address warranty challenges.

Train and certify engineers and technicians in the Air Force to establish an in-house [maintenance] capability.

Reconfigure the Collective Heritage Programme to ensure display of an all-inclusive history of the South African Air Force.

Decentralise recruitment to Level 4 to ensure that Outreach Programmes culminate into a feeder system for the SAAF.

In recognition of potential opportunities of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we will engender the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology to explore ways of mutual benefit.

Optimise the People Care Management Plan by enhancing the Spouses Forum’s endeavours regarding early childhood development.

The Air Force will have to be innovative to deliver on its intent to “remain a small, responsive force that is acknowledged as the leading air force on the continent, able to fulfil its obligations in accordance with the Constitution and the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief in an effective, efficient and economical manner”.

Despite all our challenges, we as disciplined soldiers, we should be sincere in everything that we do. We should do the right thing even when nobody is looking at us. We must strive to ensure that our thoughts, words, and actions are without fault. We must demonstrate our integrity by accepting responsibility and being accountable to others.

Retirement and new appointments

I wish also to use this opportunity to welcome new members who are promoted and appointed to the Air Force Command Council. I welcome both Major Generals Setete Daniel Malakoane and Jacobus Christoffel Johannes Butler who resume their duties of Chief Air Staff Logistics and Chief Air Staff Governance.

May I also take this opportunity to bid farewell to the two Command Council members who recently retired? We owe immense gratitude to Major Generals Tersia Jacobs and Motshabi Sehloho for their contribution to the Air Force development. May God bless you in your future endeavours as you settle down in your retirement.

In conclusion, we in the Air Force faces many challenges, and I am confident the I can count on each member of the Air Force to overcome the difficulties.

We must remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Please remain vigilant and adhere to the Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as to keep your social distance, wash, or sanitise your hands and wear your mask. Let us all fight the spread of this pandemic.