50 years of SAAF Reserves

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The Reserve component of the SA Air Force (SAAF) last year marked its 50th anniversary and Colonel Siphiwe Hamilton, Air Force Reserve Council (AFRC) chairman, has called on young professionals to join so their knowledge and skills can be shared with the wider SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

His views are echoed by SAAF chief Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang who writes in the latest edition of Reserve Force Volunteer that the Reserves play a major role in the SAAF.
“They provide an expansion capability for major combat operations, peace support operations, medical evacuations and diplomatic and political missions among others.”

The three star general points out the physical, functional and developmental training provided to reserves and regulars is guided by the SANDF’s one force concept that is “continuously moulding us into one formidable organisation ready to fulfil its Constitutional mandate”.

Msimang told the publication he is “addressing the multiple and unforeseen challenges” that have seen the SAAF Reserve grounded for more than a year.
“I am confident the Reserve squadrons will soon take to the air again, especially now that the SANDF has border protection responsibilities.
“The SAAF is doing everything possible, within our limited resources, to achieve the important Ministerial priority – rejuvenation of the Reserves. Training and development of the Reserves in the SAAF is primarily aimed at this priority and Reserves are continuously being trained to build a force that is disciplined, capable and ready for deployment.”

Hamilton is encouraged by efforts to establish a national policy to serve as a guide for employers in contributing towards the Reserve Force.

He sees the AFRC as “well placed” to advise and assist CAF in all strategic and policy matters affecting SAAF Reserves.

Hamilton is looking forward to optimal utilisation of SAAF Reserves in areas such as border control on both land and at sea as well as in continental peacekeeping missions.

The SAAF Reserve goes back to September 1963 when approval was given to establish 12 Commando Squadrons across South Africa and the then South West Africa. According to Lieutenant Colonel BP Oberholzer, a member of the AFRC, the concept of part-time squadrons to support territorial forces, the now disbanded Commandos, had long been advocated by aircraft owners.

The Commando squadrons were under the control of the Army and operated separately from the SAAF’s Citizen Force squadrons. Squadron members flew civilian aircraft, either owned by themselves or hired from owners, to support the Commandos.

In May 1969, the Minister of Defence announced that the Commando Squadrons were to be placed under the control of Tactical Group and, later, Light Aircraft Command, which was based at AFB Swartkop. The following year the squadrons were allocated to air force bases in their area of responsibility for administrative and operational control.

Of past work done by the SAAF Reserve Oberholzer said: “Typical tasks performed are VIP and IP transport, airborne command and control, Telstar, visual reconnaissance, routine communication flights and medical/casualty evacuation. The Reserve has also played a major role in supporting the police during crime prevention operations.
“From humble beginnings the Air Force Reserve squadrons have grown to an integral part of the SAAF and, by maintaining professional standards have become the most economic force multiplier, increasing the SAAF’s air power excellence,” he writes in the Reserve Force Volunteer.



In 1988 a 25th anniversary parade for the SAAF Reserves was held at AFB Zwartkop with 12 squadrons, including one from the then SWA Territorial Force, taking part. Then SA Defence Force Chief General Jan Geldenhuys hailed the SAAF’s volunteer airmen and women as “one of the cornerstone elements” of the airborne arm of service.