With the South African government committing their armed forces to greater roles in the Congo and Burundi, there is a growing body of evidence that they may not be up to the task - in supplies, aircraft or personnel.
"Negligence" has been blamed for up to 3.9 million gallons of jet fuel leaking into underground water supplies at Louis Trichardt air force base in Limpopo. Although rehabilitation efforts have been under way for two years now, the South African Air Force (SAAF) only admitted to the loss last week. Groundwater was coated with a
thin layer of oil after any rain and a number of nearby wells supplying employees on the base with household and drinking water were contaminated. It is not clear how long the fuel has been leaking, but could well have started 15 years ago.
The Air Force blames "poor workmanship" on a welded seam but the local version of the Environmental Protection Agency said that contamination for such a long period could only have been caused by "insufficient interest in controlling fuel supplies" (otherwise known as sloppy bookkeeping). Pilots claim to have complained "for years" about the leak, but to no avail. The loss, calculated at current fuel prices, the loss runs close to $5.68 million and translates to at least 3,000 flights for the Cheetah jet fighters stationed at the base.
Meanwhile, as South African troops sit at Kindu waiting for air transportation to Bunia, the SAAF is selling off extraneous aircraft. Word is that the ex-SAAF Puma helicopters owned by the British government were taken Romania for an overhaul.
Armscor now has the following ex-SAAF aircraft for sale:
2 Boeing 707s in cargo configuration
18 Mirage F1 Fighters
12 Cheetah Fighters
10 Oryx Helicopters
9 Impala MK1 (MB326) Dual (sic) light attack aircraft
3 Impala MK1 (MB326) Single light attack aircraft
They are also offering 30mm DEFA rounds, DEFA re-arming cartridges and 20mm Linked belts (Hispano), as well as unprocessed CHAFF, 68mm SNEB rockets and 250kg aircraft bombs.
Furthermore, the SAAF has to reduce its staff by about 1,500 personnel to reach a figure of 10,000 in three years time, but four student pilots were apparently being given special treatment at the air force's Central Flight School. Senior officers believe they have the "potential to pass", no matter how many times they have to take the tests. - Adam Geibel