Mbambo promises action on SAAF HQ air conditioning problem

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Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, has said efforts are being made to address the issue of air conditioning units at SAAF Headquarters in Pretoria being broken, resulting in inside temperatures reaching over 40 degrees on warm days.

Speaking to the media following last week’s Prestige Day parade at Mobile Deployment Wing, Mbambo said the SAAF is working hard to address the issue, particularly with other relevant stakeholders it relies on, notably the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure. He expected “a clear direction on resolution” soon.

City Press in January reported that SAAF headquarters in Pretoria gets so hot that computer servers frequently overheat. This has been the situation for more than a year now, with problems making headlines as far back as February 2022. Consequently, the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) issued an ultimatum last month that Mbambo must provide an outline of how the situation will be brought into line with occupational safety regulations, or the union would ask the Department of Employment and Labour to intervene.

SAAF headquarters, commissioned 30 years ago, has room for 1 200 employees on two floors above ground and three floors below. Only one of six temperature control systems on the roof is currently in working order, according to City Press. Of the three systems that must control the temperature of the floors underground, two are operating at 50% capacity and one is completely unserviceable because it has reached the end of its life.

Components for the systems are so out of date that they are no longer repairable, the publication added. It is estimated that replacing the systems could cost up to R5 billion. But with the budget currently so tight that more than three-quarters of the SAAF’s aircraft are unserviceable, the replacement of air conditioning systems is low on the priority list.

According to Sandu, the problem has been an issue for years and its members in the building are exposed to “inhumane, unsafe and illegal” working conditions at the expense of their own health. According to defence force spokesperson Brigadier-General Andries Mahapa, the SAAF is trying to remedy the situation with the installation of mobile air conditioners.