Women rule at AFB Zwartkop


A change of command parade at AFB Zwartkop means the SA Air Force’s oldest base now has a woman officer commanding for the first time with another woman taking charge of the base’s lone operational squadron.

Colonel Johanna Schoeman was presented with the symbol of command by outgoing Zwartkop Officer Commanding, Brigadier General Jacobus Crous, during an evening parade at the base’s western parade ground, formerly the SAAF Gymnasium.

The parade also saw a new boss for 17 Squadron with Lieutenant Colonel Bianca van Vollenstee taking over from Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Moreetsi. She becomes the first woman in command of a SAAF helicopter squadron and will oversee and manage operations of the squadron’s Agusta A109 light utility and Oryx medium transport rotary-winged aircraft.

The new base commander hails from Wolseley in Western Cape and joined the SAAF in 1982 and successfully completed her officer’s forming course in 1991. Numerous postings in the air force’s ICT section were followed by the position of Officer Commanding Mobile Communications Unit in April 1999. In 2003 Schoeman completed the joint Senior Command and Staff programme and subsequently served as a staff officer at Air Command until being named Officer Commanding Bushveld Airspace Control Sector in in 2012. She also completed the Executive National Security Programme (ENSP), now run as the Security and Defence Studies Programme (SDSP) at the SANDF College.

Schoeman has also been deployed operationally internally and externally. One of these was as aviation element commander for the UN in Burundi.

Van Vollenstee joined the SAAF in 2002 with one aim in mind – to become a military aviator. She qualified as a pilot in December 2003 and went on to earn her Oryx co-pilot rating in 2004. She is an operational Oryx commander and holds an instructor’s rating on the PC-7 Mk II.

While at 17, she has done all operational flying tours and has also been deployed continentally on UN peace support missions.

The change of command parade was held on Friday, March 3, five days before International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

Zwartkop also witnessed other changes of command on Friday, with the protection arm of the base, 500 Squadron, welcoming Lieutenant Colonel Rapule Boshomane as the new Officer Commanding.

After leading the SAAF Museum into the best SAAF Training Unit for the year 2016, Lieutenant Colonel Thor Fredericks handed over the reins to the new Officer Commanding of the Musuem, Major Gavin Bruintjies.