By Garth Calitz

Tsoku M Khumalo was born in Orlando West, Soweto on the 26th of August 1964, and from his first childhood memory he remembers wanting to fly, constantly walking with his head turned skywards watching every aircraft that made its way across the Soweto sky. As many departures from the then Jan Smuts Airport routed Northwards via GAV and around the bulge of Africa, the airspace over the sprawling dusty township was very busy. Unfortunately he did not hold out much hope of realising this dream as Apartheid was in full swing.

Tsoku started his schooling at Mzamo Junior Secondary school in Blaaubosch, Newcastle and later attended Orlando West High School or Matseke High School as it was known. In 1983 he left South Africa with the rest of the family to join his father who had left after the Soweto Uprising in 1976 in exile in Mozambique. The family crossed the Komati border into Mozambique and spent the next few months there. Tsoku and his two younger brothers were then sent to Morogoro, Tanzania to continue their schooling at Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO). After matriculating in SOMAFCO in 1985, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe the Military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) and was briefly sent to attend a training camp in Angola. Ethiopia was his next destination where he continued his military training in the Ethiopian Armed Forces as a Ranger Commando. Afterwards he returned to Angola.

The young man soon showed his exceptional leadership abilities and was noticed by the late Joe Modise former Minister of Defence. Tsoku was offered an opportunity to fulfil his lifelong dream of flight. He was selected to undergo training as a pilot in the former Soviet Union. Early in 1988 he left for the Tokmak basic flying school at Frunze, Bishkek in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The first step to realising his dream was to learn the local language as all the training was to be conducted in Russian.

As the Soviets did not believe in propeller driven lead-in trainers, the first aircraft Tsoku took control of was a Czechoslovakia Aero L-39 Albatros, a twin seat jet trainer. Tsoku excelled in his training quickly accumulating over 200 hours. He was about to be transferred from basic flying school to Kant Advanced flight training school to continue his training in the legendry Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig 21BIC, when the whole group was withdrawn from further training as a result of the attempted coup d'état when members of the Soviet Union's government attempted to take control of the country from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

The group never returned to Angola as all the Umkhonto we Sizwe camps in Angola had been closed down as part of United Nations Resolution 435. This resolution also facilitated the withdrawal of all South African Forces from Angola and Namibia. Tsoku once again found himself in Tanzania and in 1992 he returned to South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela.

In April 1994 he was integrated into the South African Air Force and commenced his ground training on Atlas Impala Jets at AFB Hoedspruit. He spent the next two years there accumulating over 300 hours on this type before being transferred to 41 Squadron based at Waterkloof AFB, where he flew Cessna 208 Caravans. In 2000 he was transferred to Central Flying School AFB Langebaanweg to commence his instructors rating which he unfortunately did not complete.

The now Lt Col Khumalo in 2003 was selected to attend a Joint Senior Command Staff Course and in 2004 was promoted to Senior Staff Officer Strategic Planning a position he held for a year. On 1st January 2005 he was appointed as Officer commanding AFB Langebaanweg, which would become his home for nearly two years. October 2006 saw him being transferred to AF HQ in Pretoria to head the Directorate Air Transport and Maritime Services. In 2010 he was promoted to the rank of Major General as Chief Director Force Preparation where he remained until his retirement from the SAAF in February 2013.

Many members fondly remember serving under his command and continuously refer to his “No Nonsense” but fair leadership style and always having time to crack a joke.

Tsoku is currently involved in a number of business ventures in the Security and Defence industries. General we wish you all the best for the future and hope to see you in the air soon again, “Skop the tyres and gooi petrol”.

SA Air Force

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