As you approach the South African Air Force Memorial, you cannot but stand in awe at its simplistic yet intricate beauty. The design of straight lines and complex triangles radiates a life of it’s own. Walking down the first set of steps from the parking area takes you into a small World
of immense significance. No real airman can ascend these steps without the feeling that he is walking on sacred ground, surrounded by the memories of heroes and akin.
The Memorial, dedicated to those that gave their lives in the service of their country, in war and in peace, was opened on September 1st 1963 by the then state President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr CR Swart. The winning design chosen from 38 entries under the auspices of the Institute of SA Architects and jointly promoted by the SA Air Force Regimental Fund and the SA Air Force Association saw construction starting in October 1962 with completion at the end of August 1963. A total of R16,000 was spent on a specially reinforced foundation, while the construction of the Memorial itself amounted to R57,000.
The site of the Memorial commands a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and is itself a dominant feature in the landscape. The promoters chose this site as it overlooks the buildings and runway of Swartkop, the first Air Force Station in the Republic and the cradle of the SAAF as well as the departure point during World War II for the majority of SAAF personnel going North.
The Memorial was designed to obtain a shape sculpturally symbolic of flight when viewed both from the ground and from the air. To this end the building was planned in three wings comprising the accommodation called for: a small non-denominational chapel for family services, caretakers office and a machine room for fountain pump and filter plant, with a separate folded slab roof over each. These wings intersect over and enfold a central hall housing a Cenotaph, Rolls of Honour and illuminated scripts.
The Cenotaph, the centerpiece of the design, is three sided to accommodate the SAAF motto, “Per Aspera Ad Astra”, and the two biblical quotations used by them. It is lighted from above by means of perforations in the roof. The Memorial hall can be opened completely by folding glazed doors to permit public access for placing wreaths on the Cenotaph during the large annual Memorial services. Three triangular pools, one underneath each wing, completes the structure.
The basic element used throughout the design is that of the equilateral triangle (the form of the contemporary delta aircraft wing profile) and multiples or subdivisions thereof, all proportions being governed by 60, 30, 15 or 7½ degrees angles. This triangular shape was used not only in the form of the building itself, but is echoed in the various components, paving, window lights, door panels, door handles and grille members.
As the building is situated on top of the highest natural vertical feature for some kilometers around, a single tall tapering copper lightning conductor was incorporated at the apex of the tripod.
This magnificent building was not the first official SAAF Memorial. This honour befell the SAAF Memorial that stood at the gates of Waterkloof Air Station from inauguration on May 31st 1950 to 1962.
The decision to proceed with the establishment of a SAAF Memorial and the necessary policies in all matters relating thereto were taken by the SA Air Force Association on the one hand and the SA Air Force on the other.
With the end of Apartheid in 1994 and the subsequent amalgamation of the various Air Forces into the new SA Air Force, the memorial was found not to be representative of the relevant history, as it did not include all groups. To this end a Commemorative Stone with an Eternal Flame was designed and built in the center of the main entrance walkway to the SAAF Memorial. It lists the forces that became the new SA Air Force as:
Azanian Peoples Liberation Army
Bophuthatswana Air Force
Ciskei Defence Force
Air Wing Mkontho We Sizwe
SA Air Force
Transkei Defence Force Air Wing
Venda Defence Force Air Wing
The Commemorative Stone is situated in the center of the main walkway from the parking area to the Memorial, giving due prominence to the memory of the “Unknown Airman”.
On 5 May 2002, the Chief of the National Defence Force, Gen S Nyanda, SSA, DMG, MMS, MMM unveiled this addition to the SAAF Memorial during the Air Force Memorial Day of that year.
The Air Force Memorial site is open from 09h00 to 15h00, Monday to Sunday except Good Friday and Christmas Day. Entrance is free
The Chief of the Air Force, Maj Gen BG Viljoen appointed a committee to oversee the erection of the Memorial.
The committee also included representation from the SAAF Association:
Col GT Moll, SAAF, Chairman
Col DA Du Toit, SAAF, Vice Chairman
Officer Commanding, Swartkop Air Station
DS Rogan, President of SAAFA
Dr JVA Leppan, Past President of SAAFA
VB Ruiter Maj Samuels, SAAF, Secretary
The committee met for the first time on November 14th 1960 to formulate a program. The also appointed the following professional team:
Architects: Taylor & Taylor
Quantity Surveyors: T Moore & Bell
Consulting Structural Engineers: Ove Arup & Partners
A plaque on the Memorial reads: “Erected by the South African Air Force and the Air Force Association. In remembrance of all who offered up their lives in peace and in war”.