Coronavirus puts SAAF HQ temporarily out of service


The Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang, has temporarily withdrawn SAAF headquarters in Dequar Road, Pretoria, from service due to coronavirus cases being recorded there.

He also instructed that the building be evacuated and decontaminated.

“Two people who work at the headquarters building have been quarantined as per the National Department of Health (NDOH) protocols and regulations. As a precautionary measure the building was closed on Tuesday (9 June) until further notice,” according to an air force statement attributed to Brigadier General Hilton Smith, SAAF Director: Corporate Services.

Unconfirmed indications are it will be ops normal come Friday.

The other services of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) – the SA Army, SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) and the SA Navy (SAN) – only once made public any screening, test or deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic since the national state of disaster was declared late in March. In April the SANDF indicated four positive cases of the virus without giving further details. Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is vague when questioned on positive coronavirus cases among men and women in uniform. She was reported as saying there are “a few” cases recently.

Against this background, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Kobus Marais, who is the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister, wants this information made public.

“Soldiers and others in the SANDF are actively involved in the national coronavirus campaign and they, as well as the South Africans they are helping, deserve to know the virus status of ‘their’ national defence force,” he said.

Another who feels military coronavirus stats should be public knowledge is the head of the country’s largest military trade union, Sandu (SA National Defence Union).

“As far as we know there is some testing at some bases for soldiers and families moving in and out of bases. Our understanding is this is not in every base,” union national secretary Pikkie Greeff said, adding he was under the impression the national defence force was “obliged” to disclose its own testing results and status.

“As far as we know there is a protocol issued by the Surgeon General for dealing with COVID-19 in the military community. It basically mirrors that of the Department of Health. We’re attempting to get our hands on it because it seems there is widespread confusion among ordinary rank and file as to the military command’s obligations in this respect,” he said.

The SAAF said that as soon as the nationwide lockdown was announced earlier this year, it instructed all facilities to follow health and safety protocols, and this included the use of masks and hand sanitiser and the deactivation of fingerprint scanners. It said because strict measures were taken, the SAAF has recorded only a couple of coronavirus cases.