SAAF looks back on de Bod’s Boputhatswana and SA Air Force service


As part of remembering its heritage, the South African Air Force has shone a spotlight on the contributions of retired Brigadier General Ettienne de Bod, who served in the Bophuthatswana Defence Force and South African Air Force (SAAF).

De Bod was born in 1959 in Krugersdorp near Johannesburg and later moved to Swartklip outside Rustenburg. He attended schooling at Swartklip Primary and Thabazimbi High School.

De Bod began his military career in July 1979, doing his Basic Military Training at 8 South African Infantry Battalion in Upington. This was part of the government’s National Service policy which compelled all white males to participate in the country’s armed forces. “Although it was the government’s policy, it inculcated discipline in young people and promoted a sense of responsibility and patriotism in many of us”, he said.

De Bod joined the SA Air Force in September 1979 as a pupil pilot and underwent flying training at the Central Flying School, then based in Dunnottar, qualified in 1981 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Between 1981 and 1985, he flew Pumas at 19 Squadron at Air Force Base Swartkop, appointed as a training officer at the SA Air Force Gymnasium and later transferred to 17 Squadron, also at Air Force Base Swartkop, flying Alouette IIIs. He recalled that due to the organisational need for helicopter pilots, his group was the first to transfer directly from Harvards to Alouettes. He participated in several external operations, including Operation Protea in 1981. Operation Protea’s objectives were to destroy the SWAPO (South-West Africa People’s Organization) command and training centres at Xangongo and its logistic bases at Xangongo and Ongiva.

In 1986 he resigned from the SA Air Force and joined the Bophuthatswana Defence Force as a Captain. He rose through the ranks until he became a Lieutenant Colonel, assuming a variety of responsibilities, including being the Second-in-Command of Air Base Mafikeng, Acting Officer Commanding of the Air Base and Operations Officer. During his time at the Bophuthatswana Air Force, he flew the Alouette III, CASA 212 and 235, AS365 Dauphine and Partenavia P68.

He integrated into the SA Air Force in 1994 as a Lieutenant Colonel and was posted to the Directorate Management and Renewal Services. Like many other members who had joined the SA Air Force from either the Non-Statutory Forces or the TBVC (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei) states, he felt that they had been merely absorbed into the old and existing structure with its norms and cultural practices. In 2002 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and appointed as Director Management and Renewal Services. He was thus responsible for the Air Force’s continuous evaluation of regulations that informed the governance of each environment and determined the rank level for each position.

In 2005 he was appointed Officer Commanding SA Air Force Headquarters Unit. “It was a privilege to serve at that level. Being appointed to such a position shows the appreciation and trust that the organization has in the individual. I was entrusted with the administrative control of many senior ranks of the SA Air Force”, he said. In 2017 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and appointed Director Helicopter Systems. “It was amazing working with the ‘Chopper Boys’. Together, we supported and contributed to the realisation of the Air Force’s objectives. It is always fulfilling to have capable assets with committed crew”.

He retired from the SA Air Force in 2019 and is currently at home with his family. At 62, Brigadier General Ettienne de Bod continues to make a meaningful contribution towards the country’s economic development, the SAAF said. He is currently with AME Power Solutions, where he advises on managerial and business solutions.

Information supplied by Major Ntokozo Ntshangase.