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Current and former CAFs. Lt Gens Muller and Van Loggenberg, Mrs Msimang, Mrs Muller and Lt Gen F Msimang (current CAF). Lt Gen Hechter was also in attendance at the airshow (Photo: via Lt Gen Msimang)

2020: Airforce looks to celebrate centenary through 25 years of Democracy

Date: 8 September 2019

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By Dean Wingrin

The South African Air Force (SAAF) is planning on hosting a number of activities during 2020 to celebrate the official founding of what is commonly referred to as the second oldest Commonwealth air force.


Speaking at the opening of the SAAF Museum Airshow at AFB Swartkop on Saturday 7 September, Air Force chief Lt-Gen Fabian Msimang noted that the airshow was being held during Heritage Month.


“One of the fundamental elements in nation-building and cultivating a cohesive society,” Msimang explained, “is the reconfiguration of the heritage landscape to ensure that it reflects the diversity and the incredible efforts of the unity of our society.”


Msimang then confirmed that “the SAAF is committed to the preservation and promotion of our Air Force heritage.”
The purpose of the 2019 Museum airshow, he said, is primarily to celebrate South Africa’s collective heritage, as well as a build up towards the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exposition in September 2020. Whilst the history of the South African Air Force dates back to 1920, the democratic and all-inclusive Air Force is only 25 years old.


“So, next year we will be recognising the centennial history of the SAAF, through a post-apartheid outlook,” he noted. Thus, “the theme of the SAAF on the 1st of February 2020 shall be ‘100 years of Air Power, through 25 years of Democracy’”.


Said Msimang: “Beyond the display of our air power and expertise, what marks this event today is the need to begin to embrace our collective history with an element of sincerity and compassion. For a very long time, the SAAF history has been one dimensional, told from the perspective of our erstwhile predecessors. Such an approach of our history has managed to diminish and undermine the cold weight of oppression and humiliation that was felt by the majority.


“The roots of our collective story spread far wider and much deeper. We all have an obligation to better understand ourselves and each other if our nation is to heal. We have to embrace and be accountable for our collective heritage, if our children are to be more forgiving, more understanding and compassionate.”


Explaining that a true reflection of South Africa’s history can be uncomfortable, Msimang said that “the discomfort is meant to make us learn, grow and help us mature.”


“It is in the ability to embrace and to celebrate our collective heritage where the power of real patriotism lies. To speak of collective heritage is indeed an act of patriotism.”


Msimang also took the opportunity to reflect upon the rise of femicide in South Africa, saying that parents should set a good example to their sons as a brave man treats women with respect and appreciation, whilst a coward abuses women emotionally and physically.


“I do hope that no SAAF member will ever stoop that low, if anything I expect us to be more conscious and exemplary,” he implored his airmen.


Whilst the main Centenary celebrations will be held at the AAD public airshow days in September next year, commemorations will kick off at the Air Force Prestige Day in February 2020.


The Chief of the SAAF told the author that a team has been put together to map out a host of activities. This will include a detailed aviation history of APLA and MK, with the team reporting back in a month's time.


Lieutenant Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld was given temporary rank of Colonel and appointed Director of Air Services while tasked with setting up an air force from the Imperial Gift aircraft. Van Ryneveld’s appointment occurred in June 1920 and was backdated to February, with the title ‘South African Air Force’ not used officially until 1 February 1923.
According to the late Dave Becker, historians failed to find one official formation date of the SAAF and have taken van Ryneveld’s date of appointment as Director Air Services as the most suitable date, thus for all practical purposes the formation date of the SAAF is 1 February 1920.

 


 
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