The ceremonial guard of honour, all decked out in smart red jackets and black trousers with gold braiding, set the tone with their military parade on Freedom Day at Miki Yili stadium.
They shouldered arms with a snap movement of vintage rifles and silver bayonets flashing in the sunlight. The soldiers moved as one in sharp formations of left, right, left, right … they manoeuvered from one side of the field to the other as the audience peered through a fence on the side of the main marquee.
Their marching was strictly coordinated as they joined up with the military band to synchronise formations in time to the music. Up and down they went on the soccer field that only days previously had been a marshy swamp of sewage.
When the President had settled down in his large chair on the raised and covered podium, the air display began.
First came two helicopters slowly hovering across the Makhanda sky while trailing two large South African flags. Then came the Silver Falcons, five propeller-driven training aircraft of the South African Air Force swooping over the parade.
The Silver Falcons fly five Pilatus PC-7 Mk 11 trainers for the aerobatic display team that is guaranteed to impress the crowds, and they did not fail on Freedom Day.
Their website says that the “main purpose of the Silver Falcons is to enhance the image of the South African Air Force, encourage recruitment and instil national pride through public display”.
They maintained a tight array as they flew at low altitude spraying out fluffy trails of cottony smoke over the stadium and wowed the appreciative audience. As a grand finale, the Silver Falcons approached the stadium at high speed in close formation and then suddenly broke out in five different directions giving the impression that multiple fireworks displays had miraculously erupted.
The final part of the military display almost certainly happened too quickly for anyone to know what had happened. A formation of four fighter jets, two Saab Gripens and two British Aerospace Hawk Mk.120s, streaked across the sky at an incredibly high speed.
There were only two fly pasts in the jets’ routine and they happened so quickly that few people were able to comprehend what had happened or take photographs.
Perhaps for future reference the jets’ display could take place a little further from the main venue so that people can better appreciate their extraordinary abilities.