Rename Cape Town International the Adolph Malan International Airport

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Cape Town International Airport will soon undergo a major upgrade that will cost R7 billion and should be completed by 2021. As part of the process the Department of transport has launched a consultation process to rename the airport. A so far overlooked candidate for the honour is WWII fighter ace and anti-apartheid campaigner Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan.

The name of the airport was highlighted in a recent speech by the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema. His suggestion of the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Airport saw the airport’s name changed on Wikipedia. While his challenge renewed interest in the renaming process, stakeholders have been discussing the issue since March. Minister of Transport Bonginkosi Nzimande has said that the airport should ““be named after one of our liberation icons who fought tirelessly against white supremacy and apartheid”.

Adolph Gysbert Malan not only fulfils this criteria but is recognised as one of the finest pilots that South Africa has ever produced. Unfortunately, due to his political views he was effectively erased from South African history by the apartheid regime following his death in 1963.

Malan was born in Wellington in 1910 to an Afrikaner family and, after becoming a naval cadet at age 14, by 1935 he was a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Navy. This naval connection led to his nickname of ‘Sailor’ when he transferred to the RAF later that year. By the start of the Second World War he was a flight lieutenant with 74 Squadron and he was soon in action and he was credited with five ‘kills’ over the beaches of Dunkirk, leading to the award of the DFC.

Sailor Malan became known as a fighter tactician and gained fame for his 10 Rules of Air Fighting and he was an early adopter of the ‘finger four’ formation. During the Battle of Britain he was promoted to lead 74 Squadron and his tactics were used to teach a generation of fighter pilots around the world. His rules were:-

1.       Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of one to two seconds only when your sights are definitely "ON".

2.       Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of your body: have both hands on the stick: concentrate on your ring sight.

3.       Always keep a sharp lookout. "Keep your finger out".

4.       Height gives you the initiative.

5.       Always turn and face the attack.

6.       Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.

7.       Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.

8.       When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as a top guard.

9.       INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE, and TEAMWORK are words that MEAN something in Air Fighting.

10.   Go in quickly – Punch hard – Get out!

After commanding the Biggin Hill Wing and gaining a total of 27 Kills (and many more probables) he was promoted to Wing Commander and despite standing orders for Station Commanders to avoid combat he remained involved in the conflict, leading the 145 Free French Wing over the beaches on D-Day. He resigned his RAF commission in 1946, leaving the service as a Group Captain.

Returning to his homeland he initially farmed sheep before getting involved with the political situation in South Africa as a direct result of the rise of the National Party and its plans to introduce apartheid. He joined the ‘Torch Commando’, a branch of the Springbok Legion - an organisation of ex-servicemen that held strong liberal, anti-fascist, and ant-racist views that was open to all regardless of gender or colour. His leadership skills came to the fore and he was elected President of the organisation and for the next five years he organised a series of protests and marches in opposition to apartheid. Given his fame, Afrikaner background, and popularity with white youth he was seen a threat to the racial system the National Party was trying to establish. The largest march attracted 75,000 protesters and the fact that it attracted many prominent holders of government offices, such a judges, led to a purge by the National government and the banning of public servants holding membership. Many members of the Torch Commando, such as Joe Slovo and Lionel Bernstein, went on to become prominent members of the ANC.

Sadly, Malan’s involvement in the prolonged struggle was cut short by illness and he died from Parkinson’s Disease in 1963 at the relatively young age of 53. The National regime ensured that he contributions, both to the fight against Nazism and to the freedom struggle, would be hidden from subsequent generations.

For the above, Adolph Malan deserves lasting recognition and his name would be a fitting one for Cape Town International Airport.



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