SAAF Gripens patrol the skies over Johannesburg’s Soccer City during the 2010 Fifa World Cup. (Image: Gripen) Major Catherine Labuschagne completed her maiden solo flight in October 2010 in the South African Air Force’s (SAAF) Gripen Jas 39C.When Labuschagne touched down at Makhado Air Force Base in Limpopo province, she had become the first woman fighter pilot ever to fly solo in the supersonic aircraft.Formerly known as Air Force Base Louis Trichardt and today also called the Fortress of the North or Castrum borealis, Makhado is the most northerly of South Africa’s bases.Labuschagne, who is identified by her call sign of Siren, is now the only female member of the SAAF’s elite 2 Squadron. The squadron, which flies the single- and dual-seat Gripens, is based at Makhado.Established in the 1940s, 2 Squadron has earned many battle honours, including El Alamein in 1942, South East Europe in 1944 and 1945, and Korea from 1950 to 1953. Lieutenant Colonel Glen Gibson is the unit’s officer commanding (OC).Labuschagne trained on the venerable Impala jet before graduating to the Hawk 120 lead-in fighter trainer in preparation for the step up to South Africa’s most formidable aircraft. Pilots are required to accumulate about 430 hours on the Hawk and pass several courses before they can sit behind the controls of a Gripen.Dedicated and meticulousShe got her wings in 2000 and a decade later is one of South Africa’s most highly skilled women pilots. Although she’s never felt that she’s had to work as hard as her male colleagues, the going has been tough, Labuschagne admits.“You need to be dedicated; you need to be meticulous; you need to work hard, be committed to what you do; and definitely must have passion for what you do,” she said in a recent television interview.Labuschagne boasts 1 900 flying hours, of which 1 000 are on military jets.Back in 2004 she made military history as the first woman to fly in a Gripen, but it was from the back seat of the two-seater 39D. Today she is among the first group of locally trained Gripen pilots to complete their operational conversion course – the initial six received their training in Sweden.The other local graduates are Lieutenant Koobendra Chetty (Saffron) and Lieutenant Colonel Gys van der Walt (Samurai). The three will complete their training in 2011, with Major Lance Mathebula (Lancelot) who trained in Sweden.Gripen instruction takes place at 85 Combat Flying School, based at the Centralised Training Centre at Makhado and operating under the motto Detrimento sumus (Destruction is our business). The centre offers a computer-based instruction system and a virtual aircraft training facility, also known as a simulator.According to 2 Squadron’s OC Gibson, the approximate ratio of air and simulator sorties is 50:50.SAAF setting the exampleThe Gripen is a single-engine fighter built by Swedish manufacturer Saab. Besides the SAAF, which was Gripen’s first export client, the craft are currently in service in the Czech, Hungarian and Swedish Air Forces.The SAAF has placed an order for 17 single-seater 39C craft and nine two-seater 39D craft, and in April 2008 took delivery of its first Gripen.To date 15 of the nimble fighters have arrived in South African airspace and the order is expected to conclude in 2012. The Gripens will replace the fleet of Cheetah fighters, some of which have been in service since 1986. The Cheetahs, which are basically refurbished Mirages, have now been retired.Before the Gripens could formally join the SAAF fleet, they had to pass a stringent two-year test programme to adapt the craft to local systems.“South Africa was the first export customer to select Gripen, and its recognition of Gripen’s capabilities and its faith in Saab has inspired other new Gripen customers,” said Saab president Åke Svensson, “including the Czech Republic, Hungary, the UK’s Empire Test Pilot School and more recently, Thailand.”Svensson added that the success of future negotiations with other countries depends to a degree on the performance of the aircraft in South Africa.BAE Systems South Africa CE Mike O’Callaghan said that the purchase of the Gripens and Hawks has revived the country’s defence and aerospace industry, and enhanced its reputation internationally. The UK-based BAE Systems is that country’s biggest defence contractor, and manufactures the Hawk fighters.With a maximum speed of Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound or about 2 400km/h – and a highly advanced sensor system, the Gripen is widely regarded as the world’s top medium-weight fighter aircraft.During the recent 2010 Fifa World Cup, Gripens and Hawks were responsible for much of the security in the air.
Play Your Part’ Rugby Activation in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, gave local children the opportunity to learn life skills through sport and fitness. (Images: Shamin Chibba)Brand South Africa, in conjunction with the NGO Sporting Chance, hosted the Play Your Part Rugby Activation at the Khayelitsha Rugby Stadium, in Cape Town, on Friday, 2 October. And with the Rugby World Cup currently under way, there was no better time to get the learners enthusiastic about the game.A former professional rugby player and Sporting Chance coaches taught dozens of children from the area rugby techniques and rules. Furthermore, the children learned about the health benefits of an active lifestyle.“I call sport the MBA of life,” said Mpho Mbiyozo, a former World Series champion with the Springbok Sevens, “firstly because of the discipline required to be in a team and secondly, the desire to succeed and to keep getting up and going.”Mbiyozo wanted to spread the message that sport could improve one’s quality of life and unite a community. Hailing from Lusikisiki in the Transkei, Mbiyozo grew up playing sport. After starting with football as a child, he got hooked on rugby at the relatively late age of 14. He said playing sport from young was important as it became a pattern that was carried throughout one’s life.The rugby activation, he said, should not begin and end on the same day but act as a springboard to future events centred on sport. “Things like [the rugby activation] bring hope. Hopefully Brand South Africa can continue. This event is a seed but we need to water it to germinate.” Former Springbok Sevens player, Mpho Mbiyozo, believes that sport is the “MBA of life” because it teaches discipline and what is needed to succeed.SUPPORT FROM PARENTS, TEACHERSKhayelitsha local Lelona Daweti, who is an attacking midfielder in the South African Women’s U20 football team, was also on hand to pass on her sporting wisdom to the young boys and girls. Her message was that they must fulfil their dreams.When asked how she realised her dream of playing for Basetsana, she was quick to reply: “Support from my parents and the teachers at school. Some parents think, ‘My child wants to play sport, so it’s fine, she’s keeping herself busy’. But they are not supporting them. So if the child needs boots the parents will say: ‘You’ll only play this sport for two minutes and then you’re going to leave it.’“So you kind of need motivation from your parents who say: ‘Keep on doing what you are good at and I’ll keep on supporting you step-by-step.’” Coaches from Sporting Chance were on hand to give learners vital fitness and training advice at the Play Your Part Rugby Activation.Bulelani Menze, a Sporting Chance coach and co-ordinator in Khayelitsha, said sport taught discipline and guided one through life. “It gives you direction and life skills. The more you grow into sport, the more your skills are honed.”He told the learners that they should remain positive and always do what was best for them. “Play sport because it can change your life like it changed mine.” Youth from disadvantaged areas such as Khayelitsha are rearely given a chance to hone their athletic ability and pursue sport as a pastime or career. Sporting Chance believes talent can come from such places if children are given the opportunity to make sport a daily part of life.ABOUT SPORTING CHANCESporting Chance project manager Bradlyn Stuurman explained that the organisation aimed to coach and develop children between the ages of four and 13 throughout the country through all sporting codes. It wanted to get children to lead active and healthy lifestyles.“The beauty of our coaching is the combination with life skills that we do, such as discipline, importance of nutrition, eating the right types of food, keeping physically active, and personal hygiene. We also cover environmental awareness, looking after and taking pride in your community.” read more