May the Force be with you

The skydiver blaps aside – the 21-gun salute for Cyril and the flypast by Gripen fighters underlined the fact that our armed forces are not Mickey Mouse.

It saddened, but did not surprise me, that there was so much mocking comment on social media after one of the SA Army skydivers smashed into a display tube landing in the Loftus stadium during Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration on Saturday.

Most of those armchair critics have never parachuted, let alone skydived from 12,000 feet into a stadium with its swirling and unpredictable winds. I’ve only ever jumped out of a helicopter and that was, at most, from a height of 4m. But I have the utmost respect for paratroopers. And even those trained in the art recognise its perils.

A former special forces operator I know was trained in Haho (High Altitude, High Opening) and Halo (High Altitude, Low Opening) skydiving techniques for insertion behind enemy lines – but he preferred to walk, even hundreds of kilometres, rather than becoming a “meat bomb”.

Interestingly, in our racially divided country, those laughing at the skydiver were from all races … although the whites grabbed the opportunity with both hands to continue the “these people stuff up everything” narrative. Mistakes and errors happen, even in the best trained military … and stadium parachuting is always chancy.

So it was ironic, as someone else pointed out, that the stadium blaps by the new guard happened almost 48 years to the day since three South African Air Force executive jets slammed into Devil’s Peak in Cape Town while practising for a formation flypast, killing all nine on board the planes …

The skydiving incident aside, the SA National Defence Force – and its colleagues from South African Airways – put on a superb show at the inauguration.

There are few airlines in the world who possess the skill, and the experience of SAA, when it comes to formation flying in huge airliners, as was done with two Airbus A340s over Pretoria. (Even more fascinating, to aviation nuts like me, was a video of the two four-engined planes doing a split, a la fighter planes, far more spectacular than they did over Pretoria when they returned to home base at OR Tambo airport in Joburg.)

The parade was also well executed by a few hundred troops in the comparatively confined space of a rugby field. The 21-gun salute for Cyril and the flypast by Gripen fighters underlined the fact that our armed forces are not Mickey Mouse … and the tableau made the additional point that the real Commander-in-Chief (not the silly name Julius Malema calls himself) is Ramaphosa. Zuma and chommies – please take careful note.

Still, the entertaining SANDF show masked the realities that it is being under-financed and, consequently, run down. With all the looting going on, there hasn’t been enough money to go around and military budgets are at the bottom of the priority list. We don’t really need Gripens.

We need capable helicopters and transport aircraft. Our armed forces are more likely to be fighting natural disasters such as droughts and floods than they are repelling enemy tanks at Beitbridge.

We need maritime patrol aircraft and ships to ensure our marine resources are not looted by pirates as our domestic coffers have been stripped by the “comrades”.

And maybe one day, we can imagine, as John Lennon did, that we might not need a military at all. Costa Rica has no army … and yet its people are consistently rated some of the happiest in the world. Use it, don’t use it …

Brendan Seery.

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