We need planes for our brave troops, not for Zuma
A disturbing report in this newspaper yesterday to the effect that hundreds of our troops have been left stranded in Darfur after a peacekeeping mission has driven home the fact that the South African Air Force's heavy airlift capacity has been dangerously eroded.
By rights, the 800 soldiers, part of a UN and AU mission in the volatile Sudanese region - the scene of genocide more than a decade ago - should have been withdrawn when their mission ended at the beginning of this month on the instructions of President Jacob Zuma.
Two weeks later the soldiers are still waiting, reportedly in unhygienic conditions, for the military to arrange chartered aircraft to bring them home.
The SANDF took issue with our report, saying "all planning for the withdrawal of SANDF troops and assets from Sudan is under way" and that its members were "sound and well under the auspices of the UN".
But it is a poor show to expect men and women who have done excellent work in a difficult, dangerous land to have to sit around while the military ponders the transport options.
As we reported yesterday, the mission in Darfur, which has claimed the lives of several of our troops since 2008, has been hindered by lack of air support and obstruction by the Sudanese government, which has withheld landing rights for support aircraft.
Claims that four of the SAAF's fleet of eight C130 heavy-lift aircraft, which date back to 1963, are non-operational must be urgently investigated.
The killing of 15 South African soldiers in Central African Republic in 2013 when their positions were overrun by rebels has been blamed partly on our inability to supply them on time with extra ammunition and equipment.
Admirably, South Africa has stepped up its peacekeeping duties on the continent. But it is a travesty that the aircraft that could save the lives of our troops are not all serviceable.
Finding the money to replace the ageing C130 fleet has to take precedence over vanity projects such as buying a new presidential jet.