Navy teaches disadvantaged children to ‘Roll with the Punches’

Did you know that the South African Navy in the 90’s spearheaded community outreach using the “sweet science”?  In 1998 the SANDF initiated the first boxing clinic on the West Coast to showcase local talent and generate role models for children who might otherwise gravitate to gangsterism.  Seen in the featured image are these children Shadow boxing with Jan Louwrens.

Boxing has always been a key sport in the South African military, with many of our great boxing heroes serving at one time or another in the armed forces, and nothing showcases this remarkable talent than a boxing outreach program to the community.

Equally, boxing has a long history of thriving in deprived areas. What better was to marry the two together by way of an outreach programme?

The first boxing outreach programme for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds ever to be held on the West Coast took place at the Navy base SAS Saldanha in 9 December 1998, with the positive after effects continuing to this day…

Like all outreach programs the purpose of the clinic was to motivate children, making them aware of the benefits of sport as a conduit to physical and mental wellbeing, to make them healthy, confident and self-assured; providing role models and thereby turning them away from negative adult behaviour – alcoholism, drugs and warn them against the evils of gangsterism.

This community outreach programme was organised by the then Chairman of the Military Academy Boxing Club, S/Lieutenant Claudio Chistè a combat officer in the South African Navy, with the support from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, South African National Defence Force (SANDF). More than 70 children attended the training and instruction session which featured boxing stars such as the former world Boxing Champion, Gary Murray, former South African light-middleweight champion, Coenie Bekker, top SANDF trainer and referee, Jan Louwrens. The aim of the project was not only to teach children how to box, but to teach life skills and to facilitate the community building process.

South African military’s proud boxing legacy

1_Gary Murray winning the word championship title

Gary Murray after winning the World Championship

The South African military has a very proud legacy of boxing.  Former World Welterweight Boxing Champion Gary “The Heat” Murray is a leading example of this.  Gary was just 12 years old when he started sparring, but after he knocked out the local champion, he was hooked.  Gary’s family moved from Scotland to South Africa and he boxed for both Scotland and South Africa as a youngster, winning the South African National Title in Cape Town.  He joined the South African military for two years of his national service and won the prestigious “Super Trooper” title for the fittest soldier in the defence force, as well as the crown of Best Boxer two years in a row. After Gary left the army, he turned pro sharing the ring with greats such as all time knock-out king, Buck Smith (120 knockouts to his name), Dingaan “Rose of Soweto” Thobela and tough as teak Rusty Derouen (the fight was billed “War on the Foreshore” and won the “Fight of the Year” award).

2_Coenie Bekker in his army days pre winning SA Light-middleweight title

Coenie Bekker before winning the SA Light Middleweight title

Former South African Light-Middleweight Champion Coenie Bekker had a similar story to Gary Murray.  His family moved to the rough suburbs of Cape Town and after getting into a street fight with a local gang member Coenie resolved to get formally trained as a boxer.  In a long and impressive amateur career Coenie had 87 bouts suffering only 6 defeats, he won many titles in this time which included the Western Province Title as a Junior and Senior and also the South African Coastal Title at Junior level and Senior. Coenie also boxed in the South African army during national service and won many fights while serving as well as representing the then OFS Province, (Orange Free State, prior to 1994). After completing his military service Coenie decided to turn professional, with career highlights being his famous duel with Charlie “the Silver Assassin” Weir (who also served in the SADF) and winning the national championship to be crowned South African champion.

Inspiration leading to first Community Outreach

One particular moment in the early part of Claudio’s life would prove to be rather poignant in demonstrating the power of the sweet science to bring a community together. Back in 1991 when he visited the then Ciskei with his grandmother, Selma, at the invitation of her close friend, the late Chief Lent Maqoma, Chief of the amaJingqi (for a period served as Acting Paramount Chief of the amaRharhabe Royal house after the death of Inkosi Enkhulu Mxolisi). During this visit,  they were invited by a local to a boxing match in nearby Mdantsane (where over 23 world champions and 50 national champions hail from, amongst them Nkosana “Happy Boy” Mgxagi, Vuyani “The Beast” Vungu, Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita, Nkosinathi “Mabhere” Joyi).  The atmosphere was electric, with the community in full spirit behind the two sportsmen in the ring. The power of the sweet science was clear. Claudio’s dad, Diego, being a former Italian welterweight title contender, reinforced the affinity with the sport.

Claudio joined the South African Navy immediately after school, taking up boxing as a sport, going  on to have 10 bouts ranging from development tournaments in townships to representing the SANDF at provincial level. Being trained by top defence force coaches John Jantjies (former SA Kickboxing Champion & SA boxing contender, who had taken over from Steve Kalakoda as coach of the SA Navy team)  and Jan Louwrens,  with SA Kickboxing Middleweight Champion, Chad Alexander, as his sparring partner. Subsequently Claudio went on to win the Western Cape & Western Province championship.

3_Claudio being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar

Claudio Chistè being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar.

Legacy of Community Outreach makes social impact

It was these experiences which led Claudio to hold training camps for military personnel assisting in training aspiring paratroopers in preparation for their gruelling parabat selection, and to organise this community outreach programme which has since gone on to be an inspirational training ground for aspiring Olympic boxers and South African national champions. This project received praise from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, SANDF for community service in social upliftment, consequently promoting the perception of the defence force amongst the local community.

At the time, organiser Chiste stated with what now seems a prescient understatement, “I think it was very successful. There were about fifteen kids who really showed talent and if we got them interested, we’ve achieved our goal”, adding: “The idea was to let them have fun while learning a skill to exercise their bodies and develop their minds”. This laid the seeds for follow on outreach programmes, which indeed provided a learning environment for the acquisition of these skills. A case in point being  Gregory “The Hitman” Gans, where at the age of only 13 he attended one of the follow-on outreach programmes, showing tremendous talent. With extremely hard work and dedication he obtained his National Colours (Protea) for Kickboxing within the first year of starting with the sport. He won the SA Kickboxing Championships and was selected for the National Team where after he represented South Africa in an international bilateral competition against Mauritius and won his fight with a spectacular knock-out. He went on to represent South Africa in numerous international events, including two World Kickboxing Championships in 2012 and 2014 whereby he brilliantly achieved second place during both World Championships (1).

The link in South Africa with the military and boxing are deep rooted.

Fist-fighting as a sport came to South Africa only during the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795 (preceding even soccer and rugby 1862), with boxing as a sport being one of the legacies of colonialism. Bouts were conducted under the London Prize Ring rules for close on a century but illegal bare-knuckle fights-to-a-finish were common in military camps in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. In fact, one of the earliest references to boxing in South Africa is a report about the arrest of two characters, Japie and Mahmoud, after a fight in Cape Town in the early 1860s (2).

Perhaps the overall impact of this sport was best summed up by Professor Njabulo Ndebele who researched extensively the effect on the community when he said at a recent seminar, “What is also fascinating is to reflect on the contribution of boxing to one’s moral compass and character. The values espoused in the ring. The restraint of power. The demonstration of discipline and self-control. A code of conduct. These men have huge potential to injure but instead there is an instinct to protect – to win through technical skills, thought and the following of the rules”.


Sources:
Sunday Times, Die Weslander, Boxing World, Military Academy Yearbook, Department of Defence, Supersport.
(1) Source: http://www.dod.mil.za/defence_people/PteGans.htm
(2) Source: https://www.supersport.com/boxing/blogs/ronjackson/SA_boxings_Happy_Anniversary

Cpl. Ngobese joins a proud legacy of bravery in 7 Medical Battalion Group

Celebrating South African heroes – here Corporal Mandla Maxwell Ngobese from 7 Medical Battalion Group – South African Military Heath Service looks down on his newly presented decoration for bravery – the Nkwe ya Boronse (Bronze Leopard) decoration for valour and joins a proud tradition of this special unit.

Elements of 7 Medical Battalion partook in the Battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic. The battle has been described by military analysts as one of the hardest-fought actions ever by the South African Army. During this battle which lasted from 22 March 2013 – 24 March 2013 a company of about 200 South African paratroops supplemented by a small number of Special Forces members was attacked, near their base in the outskirts of Bangui, by a reb10676374_353960348107037_5707337649502288620_nel force estimated to be up to 3000 strong. During this action 13 South African paratroopers were killed and a further 27 wounded. Rebel losses are estimated to have been well over 800. For their actions during this battle three members of 7 Medical battalion; Sergeant Mampa Serole Colman, Corporal Ngobese Mandla Maxwell and Corporal Nkoana Molatelo Alphina were awarded the Nkwe ya Boronse decoration for valour on 21 February 2014,

Also, together with 1 Parachute Battalion and 5 Special Forces Regiment, 7 Medical Battalion Group received battle honours for the first time.

7 Medical Battalion Group is the specialist Airborne Medical Battalion of the South African Military Health Service. The Battalion’s main task is to render medical support to the South African Special and Airborne Forces

These men join a proud tradition of recipients for valour from this Battalion, starting with Corporalfidler Bruce Andrew Fidler in 1985.  Bruce, also from 7 Medical Battalion Group was attached to 44 Parachute Regiment during Operations in Southern Angola.  A true hero who laid down his life for his friends. His unit was ambushed and in the ensuing firefight, he was captured by enemy forces on 15 September 1985 and subsequently Reported Missing.

Bruce was brutally tortured and interrogated by the enemy before being executed but he never once revealed the presence of his nearby unit thereby enabling the 7 Medical Battalion Group Surgical Team of between 5 and 10 doctors to successfully evade capture and reach South African lines. His remains were repatriated back to South Africa in June 1992. Corporal Bruce Fidler was posthumously awarded the Honoris Crux for his bravery and selfless devotion above and beyond the call of duty in the face of brutal torture. He was 21.

The Nkwe ya (Leopard) series – Bronze, Silver and Gold decoration series for the highest bravery in the military replaced the Honoris Crux – Bronze, Silver and Gold decoration series from 2003.

Thank you to Graham Du Toit for the reference on Bruce Fidler.

One Major accomplishment!

On Friday 23rd March 2017, this 31 year old Major not only touched down flying a C-130  military cargo plane at Waterkloof Air Force base‚ as part of her evaluation, she also went in the record books as the first black woman to qualify to fly this particular aircraft in the South African Air Force.

Her task was to fly the C-130 and be responsible for the safe arrival of both the aircraft and crew members on board from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congratulations Major Nandi Zama on breaking new ground for black female pilots and female pilots the world over.  You exemplify the fine values and traditions of your Squadron – 28 Squadron SAAF.

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South African Air Force Lockheed Hercules C-130BZ from 28 Squadron with grey paint scheme

Article and image reference Times Live

War in Darfur – Operation Cordite

Looking into South Africa’s more recent involvement in Peacekeeping Missions in Africa.  Here, on  2 August 2010. South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Lieutenant Justin Heath, from Boksburg (greater Johannesburg), forms part of the UN peacekeeping mission to the Sudan for 7 months.

He is seen here patrolling in Tiksas, a village abandoned by the population some years ago due to the war in Darfur.

The War in Darfur is a major armed conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, that began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel groups began fighting the government of Sudan, which they accused of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population. The government responded to attacks by carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur’s non-Arabs. This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the indictment of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Estimates of the number of human casualties range up to several hundred thousand dead, from either combat or starvation and disease. Mass displacements and coercive migrations forced millions into refugee camps or across the border, creating a humanitarian crisis.

The Sudanese government and the JEM signed a ceasefire agreement in February 2010, with a tentative agreement to pursue peace. However, talks were disrupted by accusations that the Sudanese army launched raids and air strikes against a village, violating the Tolu agreement. The current situation is that the JEM, the largest rebel group in Darfur, vowed to boycott future negotiations.

Operation Cordite in Sudan began in July 2004 with the deployment of South African National Defence Force staff officers and observers to Darfur, Sudan, in support of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) It was an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force operating primarily in the country’s western region of Darfur with the aim of performing peacekeeping operations related to the conflict in Darfur.

The AU mission was terminated in December 2007 when it was integrated into the United Nations mission to form the UN African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in January 2008. it was the first African Union-United Nations hybrid mission. An Infantry Protection Company and an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit were added to the deployment, which was increased further in February 2005.

Operation Cordite made an immense contribution to the successful referendum on the future of Sudan, which resulted in the relatively peaceful division of the country into two: Sudan and South Sudan. Additional South African soldiers were sent to Juba, the capital of the new country, South Sudan, to assist with security for the independence celebrations in July 2011. In addition to this, South Africa also helped secure the air space for the duration of the celebrations. South Africa also trained police, prison officials and air traffic controllers: currently stationed at Juba International Airport

However typically, successful military operations are so often undermined by political antics of governments and Operation Cordite is no different.

In April 2016, South Africa withdrew it UN forces from Sudan, ending Operation Cordite after a short and unspecific Presidential statement – coincidentally and unsurprisingly it was marred with controversy and against a backdrop of political scandal which started in June 2015 when President Omar Al Bashir – who was visiting South Africa to attend an African Union summit, was allowed to escape South Africa in a private jet.

His escape, allegedly with the connivance of President Jacob Zuma, came in defiance of an order by the South African High Court, pending a decision on whether to hand Al Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in accordance with international arrest warrants for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The decision remains highly controversial in South Africa today, so too South Africa’s strained relationship with the ICC (South Africa taking the standpoint that the ICC should not interfere in South Africa’s legitimate obligations to African Union AU).

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The repercussions on how South Africa sees its compete military role in United Nations Peacekeeping remains to be seen, hopefully in future it will positively underpin the great work of the majority of good South African men and women who enter the armed services and have the privilege of wearing the United Nation’s “Blue Beret”.

Photo copyright Albert Gonzalez Farran / Unamid

The sad fate of Pelican 16

South African Air Force Shackleton – Pelican 16. This iconic image by photographer Dietmar Eckell for his photo book ‘Happy End’ – stories about miracles in aviation history, says it all.  The fate of Pelican 16 carries with it a tale of heroism and sadness.

Restored to flying condition by volunteers in 1994, Pelican 16 was offered to take part in a air show tour in the United Kingdom and departed South Africa for England on July 12th, 1994.

Flown by a group of active SAAF pilots, Pelican 16 was operating over the Sahara desert in temperatures exceeding 38*C on the night of July 13th when her #4 engine began to overheat from a coolant leak and had to be shut down. Moments later, a bolt connecting her two contra-rotating propellers in her #3 engine failed, causing the assembly to overheat and melt and leaving the fuel-laden plane without any functional engines on its right wing. Left with no option but a controlled ditching in the desert below.

Pelican 16’s pilots successfully belly-landed their aircraft on flat sands where it slid to a stop at this location. Though none of the crew were seriously injured by the landing, all 19 men were miles from any assistance and in the middle of an active warzone. The crew of Pelican 16 where quickly located and returned safely to South Africa.

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This is the photo taken from the French rescue aircraft “Pelican 16” shortly after the belly landing in the Sahara desert – the ’19’ written on the ground is to inform any rescue aircraft of the number of surviving souls from the crash.

She is still where she landed – located about 2 hours drive from Zouérat in northern Mauritania in contested territory – lying open to the desert elements and subject to decay as there is no means of retrieving this beautiful aircraft.

Image Copyright Dietmar Eckell