SAAF Composite Helicopter Unit in DRC pays tribute to fallen colleague

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SA Air Force (SAAF) and other former colleagues in uniform came together in a sombre gathering at the South African Composite Helicopter Unit (CHU) in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to mark a year since the death of Sergeant Vusimusi Mabena.

The former 15 Squadron flight engineer was hit when an Oryx flown by Captain Mathew Allan and co-pilot Major Omolemo Matlapeng came under fire from rebels on February 5 2023. His death was the first fatality in the CHU’s 15-year existence.

Mabena will be honoured posthumously with the Dag Hammarskjold medal on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers in New York on 29 May this year.

CHU personnel were present to remember their colleague and friend in a ceremony led by Officer Commanding Lieutenant Colonel L Mahada, who quoted former South African president Nelson Mandela in memory of the three-striper’s courage and attitude. Mandela’s quote: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it” was an example of Mabena, his dedication to duty and always flying the South African flag high.

Prior to his Operation Mistral CHU posting, Mabena completed a tour of duty in Mozambique as part of the South African contingent to SAMIM (Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique).

Almost exactly a year after Mabena was killed, another SAAF Oryx was hit by enemy fire in the DRC. On 2 February, ground forces of the M23 rebels fired at an Oryx, hitting it at least 43 times. One shot injured the hand of Oryx commander, Major Jannie Augustyn, and another peppered his leg with shrapnel. A medical orderly in the back, who was taking care of a patient whom the crew had just evacuated, was hit by a bullet that came through the floor and hit him under his body armour.