William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

SA’s politicians crash and burn on Armed Forces Day

Armed Forces Day this past Monday was marked by what the media described as a “spectacular” show, including a large fly past that included four Gripens, four Hawks, three C-130s and several Oryx helicopters, as well as the Silver Falcons “in tight formation”.

In other words, the South African Air Force (SAAF), which has been reduced to operating mainly as a flying limousine service for African National Congress politicians, has likely blown its entire flying budget for the coming year. And the United States embassy, which ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe last week said meets daily to “advance regime change” in SA, will no doubt have taken note that the fuel tanks are running on empty.

Because military operating budgets have been stripped to the bone, almost half of the SAAF’s 26 Gripens were mothballed three years ago. Most of the SAAF’s 30-strong light helicopter fleet is grounded because of the “almost total lack of flying-hour allocation”, according to the authoritative Defenceweb site.

This has also affected flying hours and pilot training, so that the SAAF reportedly can muster barely a handful of qualified Gripen pilots. A couple of years ago, three of the SAAF VIP-flight pilots lost their international ratings through lack of flight time, while another 13 were unable to travel to the US, which used to pick up the tab for them doing their currency ratings on flight simulators, because the SAAF couldn’t afford the air tickets and accommodation costs.

Fortunately, Jacob Zuma has fine friends in faraway places. SAAF pilots are now training in Cuba and Russia, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula explained this week in the National Chamber of Provinces.

“We have a problem,” she admitted. “Sometimes these young people train and they run short of flying hours before they can get their wings. We can’t give them those flying hours because there are no aircraft”.



The reason the SAAF did not have the necessary aircraft, said Mapisa-Nqakula, was because they had all been stolen by exiting pilots. “I tell you that some of the aircraft were taken by some of the people who left the [SAAF] and they belong to them in their museum … so when you talk about shortages it has to do with the fact that some of the assets were stolen.”

Does politics get more surreal than this? In SA, sure it does. Economic Freedom Fighters representative Leigh-Ann Mathys was outraged at this first-hand evidence of racist colonialist settler plunder.

“We must bring our stolen stuff back. If people stole our equipment we must go and get it back. Just like our land.”

Maybe Mathys is right. In the heyday of British imperialism, faced with such heinous provocation, the call would have gone out, “Send a gunboat!” In this, the dawn of the ANC’s national democratic revolution, the call must be, “Send a submarine!”

The SA Navy has four, although the number that are actually seaworthy fluctuates, depending on mishaps such as unintended encounters with the seabed and the inadvertent frazzling of the vessel’s electronics by plugging into the wrong harbourside socket.

As a naval commander explained in a television interview to commemorate Armed Forces Day, these submarines are damn useful things to have. The interview has since gone viral, but for all the wrong reasons.

Firstly, said the commander, SA is the only one of the Southern African Development Community countries to have such vessels. Secondly, the advantage that had to be communicated “to people on the ground to make them understand why we need submarines” is sharks. Yup, sharks.

“Can we take the risk of people going to where the river or sea is full of sharks? You can’t do that. The submarines provide deterrence,” he explained.

As Mantashe well understands, SA is under desperate threat. From within, it’s the Great Satan’s local embassy, subverting the cream of the nation through ostensibly innocuous student exchange programmes. Then offshore, there are the sharks, both metaphorical and real, in SA’s coastal waters.

Our aircraft are either in mothballs or museums, or ferrying President Zuma to Nkandla. Our pilots are either in Cuba or have resigned to join commercial airliners. So the skies, too, are obviously vulnerable.

On the ground, things are probably just as bad. Our soldiers are either on strike or marching on the Union Buildings. And think of all those tanks that have been purloined to stand guard outside MOTH clubs.

Surely the opportunity is ripe for another multibillion-rand arms deal.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye

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  • SAAF: From fighting force to flying farce
    • Rory Short

      We don’t need a defense force, thank goodness as is shown by the lack of a budget for various activities. Defense forces are politicians playthings anyway and they can, and sadly often are used by politicians against their own people. It would be far healthier for us all if the capacity to defend society against outside aggression was based on developing the capacity of individual citizens to do so. That would also help to ensure that the citizens can stand together to curb any political misuse of power.

    • johnbpatson

      Presumably the pilots in training took a Gripen with them because the Cubans and Russians do not have such advanced aircraft and are banned from buying any of their own for obvious reasons. Maybe that is the stolen aircraft the minister was talking about.
      One wonders too what happened to the 60 Pilatus turboprop trainers bought during the arms deal.
      We know one crashed, but the rest must be out there somewhere.
      Maybe they were sent in a flock to Burundi to fetch the President and the most important members of his jumbo-jet entourage.
      The rest are rumoured to have joined the hippie travellers and decided to cycle home. That way they can avoid the minister (s).

    • Rusty Bedsprings

      I am not sure we would want to repel foreign invaders. They would most likely govern more effectively than our current leaders, and have a positive effect on our economic outlook…

    • Marty

      Seems like the defense minister has lost her marbles ? anyway when the americans land to ‘take over’ – I for one will welcome them with open arms. They will most likely only stay for a short while as I doubt if there is much here of any value to them.

    • RodB

      Good point… The Swiss have the right idea… Swiss males grow up expecting to undergo basic military training, usually at age 20, after which Swiss men remain part of the “militia” in reserve capacity until age 30 (or age 34 for officers). Each such individual is required to keep his army-issued personal weapon (the 5.56x45mm Sig 550 rifle for enlisted personnel and/or the 9mm SIG-Sauer P220 semi-automatic pistol for officers, medical and postal personnel) at home.

      When their period of service has ended, militiamen have the choice of keeping their personal weapon and other selected items of their equipment. In cases of retention, the rifle is sent to the weapons factory where the fully automatic function is removed; the rifle is then returned to the discharged owner as a semi-automatic or self-loading rifle.

      Anyone invading Switzerland can be assured of a strong reaction and… despite the fact that gun ownership is among the highest in the world, gun crime, and crime generally is enough to make us weep in frustration when compared with our own.

    • Don MacLean

      What is remarkable to me, is how galvanized the ANC voters are to these laughably comic antics and accusations of their elected leaders. Are they not at least a little embarrassed?

    • TheRealMidnite

      Sharks? Surely you jest? Please don’t tell me to watch the video… if true, I might laugh myself into a coma.