While dozens of people have already lost their lives due to the floods in KwaZulu-Natal and many more are missing, neither the police nor the Defence Force has any helicopters available for disaster management or rescue operations.
The police's air force unit in Durban reportedly has one working helicopter available, but the pilot is sick, so another pilot from Nelspruit had to be called in to help.
Airworthy helicopters are currently a national problem. In Bloemfontein, only one of the three police helicopters is reportedly in a working condition.
The South African Nation Defence Force's (SANDF) fifteenth squadron also does not have an available helicopter to help.
This squadron supposedly has two working helicopters, but according to the FF Plus's knowledge, these two helicopters are currently being used in Port Elizabeth, where there has not been a single working police helicopter available since the beginning of last year (TimesLive; 8 March 2021: Police wings clipped as helicopters don’t fly in Eastern Cape).
Clearly, the police's service in the air is in many cases just as poor as on the ground. This situation is unacceptable and lets the public down.
The lack of air support during the floods may directly contribute to people dying, who could otherwise have been saved.
The new Police Commissioner, Gen. Fanie Masemola, must treat the helicopter situation as a priority seeing as the police's air force, and helicopters in particular, plays a significant role in fighting crime.
Air support is especially valuable when looking for suspects who are on the run after committing crimes like truck- and carjackings.
Recent briefings delivered by Denel and Krygkor to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Defence also clearly showed that the SANDF's air power has deteriorated significantly.
According to this, only 21% of the Defence Force's entire air force is currently operational (BusinessTech; 17 February 2022: Only a fraction of South Africa’s airforce is operational right now).
It includes, among other things, 4 of the 11 Red Falcon Helicopters that are airworthy and 17 of the 39 Oryx helicopters.
What is alarming about all this is that the situation keeps deteriorating and if left unchecked, the country will have no air force to speak of in the very near future.