First black Gripen pilot leaves the SAAF


There has not – and probably won’t be – an official announcement but the first black man to qualify as a pilot on the Gripen, the sharp point of the SA Air Force (SAAF) inventory, is no longer in uniform.

A terse two lines in the Department of Defence Bulletin listing the latest rounds of promotions and transfers at the rank of colonel and captain, in the maritime services of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), has it that Colonel AJ “Cassie” de Castro has been appointed office commanding of AFB Overberg in a vacant post.

The job of base boss at the Southern Cape base which houses the SAAF’s Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) and Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) was given to Lieutenant Colonel Musa Mbhokota in December 2016. This after the now 50-year-old had served in various capacities at 2 Squadron, based at AFB Makhado, including squadron commander. He was one of the first SAAF pilots to go to Sweden for training on the then newly acquired JAS Gripen in the late nineties.

There is no indication of how long the Overberg officer commanding post has been vacant and sources defenceWeb spoke to could not provide any further information. They also had no idea of what Mbhokota was going to do following his resignation from the SAAF.

Mbhokota, known almost universally by his callsign “Midnight”, accumulated well over two thousand flying hours on eight different aircraft types including Gripen, Hawk Mk 120 and its predecessor the Impala. In addition to his test pilot rating, he is also instructor rated on both Gripen and Hawk.

De Castro was previously OC of AFB Ysterplaat, sited within the City of Cape Town municipal area and was at the base, inside City of Cape Town municipal boundaries, for three years. His replacement is Colonel Carl Moatshe, previous OC of 28 Squadron at AFB Waterkloof, who took over with effect from 1 January. He flew the C-130BZ Hercules for more than five years and his love of football saw him successfully coach the Waterkloof women’s soccer team.

The third SAAF base in the Western Cape, AFB Langebaanweg on the Cape West Coast, will see Brigadier General Mac Mathanda remain in charge.

Although not officially acknowledged, AFB Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron will also see a new Officer Commanding take over from Colonel Brian Bell from January this year as Col Bell is retiring. He will be replaced as OC by 15-year airforce veteran Lt Col Khuliso Tshiololi.