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Article and photos by Cpl Tebogo Kekana, Ad Astra Magazine

More than a thousand school learners, accompanied by parents and teachers, flocked to the Umzimvubu Sports Ground at Mount Frere, in the Eastern Cape, over the period of 18 to 22 June 2012. This was in response to a career exhibition and force capability demonstration call in which the South African Air Force (SAAF) was to be the main exhibitor for the second year.

The tent was filled to capacity with learners who were eager not to miss a thing

The event was also to honour the agreement by the then acting Chief SANDF, Lt Gen T.T Matanzima, during the 2011 air display and career exhibition by the South African Air Force (SAAF). The 2012 event, emanated from the Mount Frere Educational Summit held on 25 and 26 of January 2012. It was attended by the Department of Education in conjunction with the South African Air Force, spearheaded by Lt Col August Lekalakala, SO1 Marketing and Recruitment together with the Kwa-Bhaca Traditional Authorities . The parties committed to host a pilot career exhibition programme over a period of three years for the children of the Alfred Ndzo district, where aviation and other career paths would be exposed to the youth in the Eastern Cape’s rural areas that included ema-Xesibeni, ema-Hlubini and eMapondweni.

The team that made the career exhibition to be the success that it was

The SAAF had helicopters on static display and flight simulators were also available for the learners to look at and touch in amazement. A flypast by the Silver Falcons also made the learners shout their lungs out in exhilaration.

During the whole excitement one of the learners asked SAAF’s female pilot, Captain Phetogo Molawa, how it felt to be a flying soldier. In her response, she said: “Above all, soldiers get things done, we protect our country’s airspace and also contribute in building a better world during our external deployments.”

Captain Phetogo Molawa did not know which question to answer first to quench the learner's curiosity

In addition, Capt Molawa told the learners that they needed to concentrate on making their future look brighter for themselves by learning leadership skills in order to develop the kind of self-confidence and self-respect that comes from serving their country once they joined the military world.

She told them that they would gain valuable interpersonal skills such as teamwork, time management, problem-solving skills in their professional endeavour. She, however, warned them that there would always be challenges in accepting a new sense of discipline and responsibilities.

Col Lumko Nkumanda, Lt Col August Lekalakala and Captain Phetogo Molawa were flanked by high school learners

Senior Staff Officer (SSO) Recruitment, Col Lumko Nkumanda, on his part, told the parents that whatever their children’s career aspirations may be, chances were that the SAAF offered jobs and the training that would be suitable to help them realize their potential.

High School learners seized the moment by enjoying the display

Col Nkumanda, on the other hand, said that if the learners did not have any career aspirations, then the SAAF would help and guide them in a positive direction in an effort to develop them. He said career choices should be based on a cordial agreement between the parent and the child. He said, once a child is filled with honour, pride, ability and strength, that child would achieve great things.

The colonel opined that the strength of the Department of Defence came from creating a team of talented, dedicated and well-trained soldiers who would perform over 100 equally important and very specialised jobs. He said, in other words, the defence would need to actualise these functions, so that each and every individual’s career aspirations and interests would assist in terms of placement.

Captain Phetogo Molawa, King Thandisizwe Madzikane II and Lt Col August Lekalakala at Mount Frere

He further explained that several factors were considered when assigning careers or absorbing recruits into the Military Skills Development System (MSDS). Among other things, he said, was the current and anticipated needs of the defence, together with the career aspirations of the learners, as well as their skills and academic qualifications.

Both the Directorate Human Resource Services’ (DHRS) recruitment section and the Siyandiza National Office explained to the community the kind of job opportunities that could be found in the SAAF and the Department of Defence (DoD) in general, while other private organisations and institutions of higher learning also took part in trying to make this plan a reality.

The sight of a female pilot sparked serious interest in kwaBhaca

The Kwa-Bhaca Traditional Council Project Coordinator, Akhona Kwenyama, said that the Department of Defence had managed to change the negative perception that the youth might have had about the military. He urged the learners to go back to their classrooms and focus on pure Maths and Science, in order for them to produce good results, which would enable them to become pilots, navigators or technicians.

Lt Col August Lekalakala, SO1 Marketing and Recruitment from DHRS, put all fears to rest when he mentioned that the SAAF knew that the decision to join the organisation was never a solo one since it always required the support and encouragement of the family.

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