The announcement that fellow member Helmoed Heitman would present his annual State of the African Continent Address, secured us a large audience, and we were not disappointed. Regrettably, since he spoke to us some 16 months ago, nothing much has changed, on the contrary, borders which had been safe until now, are under threat of being sliced open, with political, ethnic and terrorist battles pulling this continent further away from a peaceful solution to its multifacetted problems. From Eritrea and Somalia, the DRC, Uganda and Burundi, just to mention a few, the unimpeded flow of arms and ammunition virtually guarantees disinvestment in our country, and the inefficient UN peacekeepers fail everywhere they are deployed.
Another menacing development is the proliferation of pirate ships or fast motor launches, who ply their trade along the African Westcoast and along the coastlines of Kenya nand Tanzania, making shipping routes unsafe.
To counteract these disturbing situations, South Africa really needs a strong defence force, but here we are dismally lacking. The Army, with its overblown, partially inefficient and top-heavy command structure and racial problems, stemming from forced integration of the old SADF, MK and APLA, will have to be thinned down at the top and reconstructed from the bottom up. This will require sensitive handling, patience and dedication, - and time! The air force needs beefing up, there seems to be little going on, but it is hoped that senior command is gearing itself and all units up to take over the new aircraft, once they have arrived for service. Fortunately, helicopter pilots were able to show their mettle during flood- and fire emergencies.
The Navy appears to be the exception. Expecting to be supplied with four super-modern frigates in 2002 and 2005 and three submarines between 2005 and 2007, they have diligently trained, educated and honed their sailors of all ranks and races to be ready for the day of the hand-over ceremonies Our speaker did not tell us much about the submarines, except that they will have a top speed of 20 knots under water and 12 knots surfaced, and that they will be used, among other things, for the protection of our fishing waters, which are being pilfered at an alarming rate by pirate vessels.
The frigates are built by German construction companies, have a length of 120 m, a 100 men crew and 3 800 tons weight. They are bristling with weapons and rockets, and are designed to be very stable in heavy weather. They have almost no radar reflection by virtue of their indented hull design which deflects radar signals either up into the air or down onto the water surface. Powered by twin diesel engines and a gas turbine, all specially screened against heat-seeking missiles, the warships have a top speed of 27 knots, and also have facilities to repair their own guns and house 2 helicopters on board.
After a lively question and answer session, the evening came to a close. Constraints of space and circumspect reporting unfortunately preclude the writer to repeat the many excellent and telling anecdotes and vignettes, as well as the illuminating and sarcastic comments made by the speaker.
Fellow member Tony Gordon thanked him for another job very well done and expressed the hope that we would see him again next year same time for the presentation of another, and perhaps more positive, update.
9 November 2000
18 January 2001
John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167