Another apparent security transgression at a military base, with an as yet unidentified dead body the only possible proof, has again raised questions about how well guarded the country’s military installations are.
The discovery of a dead woman in a swimming pool at AFB Makhado, better known as “Fighter Town” in military aviation circles this week is, according to opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister David Maynier, another example of “very little security” at National Key Points occupied by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
Air Force Base Makhado is home to the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) only operational fighter squadron and also houses 85 Combat Flying School, where fighter pilots hone their skills on the Hawk Mk 120 Lead-In Fighter Trainer before moving onto the Gripen. It is, along with other high value military installations such as AFB Waterkloof, listed as a National Key Point.
In a terse statement on the Makhado incident, SAAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Maseko said the body was found in a swimming pool in the base adding “she has not been identified as a member of the SAAF or the SANDF”.
The discovery comes just over seven weeks after it became public knowledge that substantial quantities of copper cable had been stolen from the SA Navy communications centre at Silvermine. At that time the SANDF downplayed any suggestions the theft could have impacted on naval communications.
“The theft is not adversely affecting the country’s maritime safety and we are communicating with our ships at sea, including the Valour Class frigate SAS Mendi currently in the Mozambique Channel on an Operation Copper deployment,” SANDF director: Corporate Communications Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said then.
The installation was publicly identified as a National Key Point by Maynier. Another public declaration of one of these strategic locations was made by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe when he publicly sounded off about the then apparently unauthorised landing of a privately owned, chartered jetliner at ABF Waterkloof last week carrying Gupta family wedding guests.
In terms of the National Key Points Act of 1980, South Africans are not allowed to know which buildings, installations and facilities have been rated key points.
Within the space of two months, public representatives have openly identified both Silvermine and AFB Waterkloof as key points, while the Presidential Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal was added to this public list earlier in the year.
Mantashe’s statement on what has become known as “Guptagate” said, in part: “A National Key Point is declared on the basis of being ‘so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may prejudice the Republic’. National Key Points are further designated as such on the understanding that the safeguarding of their sanctity is integral to the protection and upholding of the safety and sovereignty of the Republic”.
South Africans now know of three of these strategic assets thanks to apparent security breaches and Maynier’s comment that “National Key Points seem to be almost as porous as South Africa’s borders” again points a finger at those who should be responsible for their safeguarding.