South African Army

South African Army

The South African Army is the army of South Africa, first formed after the Union of South Africa was created in 1910.

The South African military evolved within the tradition of frontier warfare fought by popular militias and small irregular commando forces, reinforced by the Afrikaners' historical distrust of large standing armies. [Library of Congress Country Study:South Africa] It then fought as part of the wider British effort in World War II, but afterwards was cut off from its long-standing Commonwealth ties with the introduction of Apartheid in South Africa after 1948. The apartheid policy led to friction with neighbouring states that helped to spark the border wars in South West Africa, now Namibia, from 1966. The place of the Army was fundamentally changed by the upheavals of the early 1990s and after 1994 the Army became part of the new South African National Defence Force.It is now becoming increasingly involved in peacekeeping efforts in southern Africa, often as part of wider African Union operations.


After the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, General Jan Smuts, the Union's first Minister of Defence, placed a high priority on creating a unified military out of the separate armies of the union's four provinces. The Defence Act (No. 13) of 1912 established a Union Defence Force (UDF) that included a Permanent Force (or standing army) of career soldiers, an Active Citizen Force (ACF) of temporary conscripts and volunteers as well as a Cadet organization. The 1912 law also obligated all white males between seventeen and sixty years of age to serve in the military, but the law was not strictly enforced as there were a large number of volunteers. Instead, half of the white males aged from 17 to 25 were drafted by lots into the ACF.

Initially, the Permanent Force consisted of five regular mounted regiments and a small artillery section. In 1913 and 1914, the new 23,400-member Citizen Force was called on to suppress several industrial strikes on the Witwatersrand.

World War I

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the South African government chose to join the war on the side of the Allies. General Louis Botha, the then prime minister, faced widespread Afrikaner opposition to fighting alongside Great Britain so soon after the Second Boer War and had to put down a revolt by some of the more militant elements before he could send an expeditionary force of some 67,000 troops to invade German South-West Africa (now Namibia). The German troops stationed there eventually surrendered to the South African forces in July 1915. (In 1920 South Africa received a League of Nations mandate to govern the former German colony and to prepare it for independence within a few years.)

Later, an infantry brigade and various other supporting units were shipped to France in order to fight on the Western Front. The "1st South African Brigade" - as this infantry brigade was named - consisted of four infantry battalions, representing men from all four provinces of the Union of South Africa as well as Rhodesia: the 1st Regiment was from the Cape Province, the 2nd Regiment was from Natal and the Orange Free State and the 3rd Regiment was from Transvaal and Rhodesia. The 4th Regiment was called the "South African Scottish" and was raised from members of the Transvaal Scottish and the Cape Town Highlanders; they wore the Atholl Murray tartan.

The supporting units included five batteries of heavy artillery, a field ambulance unit, a Royal Engineers signals company and a military hospital.

The most costly action that the South African forces on the Western Front fought in was the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916 - of the 3,000 men from the brigade who entered the wood, only 768 emerged unscathed.

Another tragic loss of life for the South African forces during the war was the Mendi sinking on 21 February 1917, when the troopship Mendi - while transporting 607 members of the "802nd South African Native Labour Corps" from Britain to France - was struck and cut almost in half by another ship.

In addition, the war against the German and Askari forces in German East Africa also involved more than 20,000 South African troops; they fought under General Jan Smuts's command when he directed the British campaign against there in 1915. (During the war, the army was led by General Smuts, who had rejoined the army from his position as Minister of Defence on the outbreak of the war.)

South Africans also saw action with the Cape Corps in Palestine.

More than 146,000 whites, 83,000 blacks and 2,500 people of mixed race ("Coloureds") and Asians served in South African military units during the war, including 43,000 in German South-West Africa and 30,000 on the Western Front. An estimated 3,000 South Africans also joined the Royal Flying Corps.

The total South African casualties during the war was about 18,600 with over 12,452 killed - more than 4,600 in the European theater alone.

The interwar period

Wartime casualties and postwar demobilization weakened the UDF. New legislation in 1922 re-established conscription for white males over the age of 21 for four years of military training and service. UDF troops assumed internal security tasks in South Africa and quelled several revolts against South African domination in South-West Africa. South Africans suffered high casualties, especially in 1922, when an independent group of Khoikhoi - known as the Bondelswart-Herero for the black bands that they wore into battle - led one of numerous revolts; in 1925, when a mixed-race population - the Basters - demanded cultural autonomy and political independence; and in 1932, when the Ovambo (Vambo) population along the border with Angola demanded an end to South African domination.

As a result of its conscription policies, the UDF increased its active-duty forces to 56,000 by the late 1930s; 100,000 men also belonged to the National Riflemen's Reserve, which provided weapons training and practice.

World War II

South Africa's contribution to World War II consisted mainly of supplying troops, men and material for the North African and Italian campaigns. Numerous volunteers also flew for the Royal Air Force.

The South African 1st Infantry Division took part in several actions in North Africa in 1941 and 1942, including the Battle of El Alamein, before being withdrawn to South Africa.

The South African 2nd Infantry Division also took part in a number of actions in North Africa during 1942, but on 21 June 1942 two complete infantry brigades of the division as well as most of the supporting units were captured at the fall of Tobruk.

The South African 3rd Infantry Division never took an active part in any battles but instead organised and trained the South African home defence forces, performed garrison duties and supplied replacements for the South African 1st Infantry Division and the South African 2nd Infantry Division. However, one of this division's constituent brigades - "7 SA Motorised Brigade" - did take part in the invasion of Madagascar in 1942.

The South African 6th Armoured Division fought in numerous actions in Italy from 1944 to 1945.

Of the 334,000 men volunteered for full time service in the South African Army during the war (including some 211,000 whites, 77,000 blacks and 46,000 "coloureds" and Asians), nearly 9,000 were killed in action.

The postwar period

Wartime expansion was again followed by rapid demobilization after World War II. By then, a century of Anglo-Boer clashes followed by decades of growing British influence in South Africa had fueled Afrikaner resentment. Resurgent Afrikaner nationalism was an important factor in the growth of the National Party (NP) as the 1948 elections approached.

After the narrow election victory by the NP in 1948, the government began the steady Afrikanerization of the military; it expanded military service obligations and enforced conscription laws more strictly. Most UDF conscripts underwent three months of Citizen Force training in their first year of service, and an additional three weeks of training each year for four years after that. The Defence Act (No. 44) of 1957 renamed the UDF the South African Defence Force (SADF) and established within it some quick-reaction units, or Commandos, to respond to localized threats. The SADF, numbering about 20,000 in 1958, would grow to almost 80,000 in the next two decades.

Following the declaration of the Republic of South Africa in 1961, the "Royal" title was dropped from the names of army regiments like the Natal Carbineers, and the Crown removed from regimental badges.

The "Border War" (1966 - 1989)

The 1960s ushered in a new era in military history. South Africa's growing international isolation and the intensified black resistance to apartheid prompted the government to increase military service obligations repeatedly and to extend periods of active duty. The Defence Act (No. 12) of 1961 authorized the minister of defense to deploy Citizen Force troops and Commandos for "riot" control, often to quell anti-apartheid demonstrations. The Defence Act (No. 85) of 1967 also expanded military obligations, requiring white male citizens to perform national service, including an initial period of training, a period of active duty, and several years in reserve status, subject to immediate call-up.

From 1966 to 1989 the SADF, with its SWATF auxiliary, fought a counter-insurgency campaign against SWAPO rebels in South-West Africa (Namibia). These operations included the raising of special units such as the South African 32 Battalion. They also carried out operations in support of UNITA rebels in Angola and against the Cuban troops that supported the Angolan government.

As the military expanded during the 1970s, the SADF general staff was organized into six sections - finance, intelligence, logistics, operations, personnel, and planning; uniquely, the South African Medical Service (SAMS) was made co-equal with the South African Army, the South African Navy and the South African Air Force. Also during the 1970s, the SADF began accepting "non-whites" and women into the military as career soldiers, not only as temporary volunteers or reservists; however, the former served mostly, if not exclusively, in segregated units while the latter were not assigned to combat roles. By the end of the 1970s, the army had become the principal defender of the apartheid regime against the rising tide of African nationalism in South Africa and the region.

In 1973 two new infantry units were established: 7 Infantry Battalion (Bourke's Luck) and 8 SA Infantry Battalion (Upington), as well as 11 Commando (Kimberley), which to a great extent took over the functions of the Danie Theron Combat School's training wing. In 1973 the SADF also took over responsibility for the defence of SWA from the SA Police, and during the succeeding months the SA Army became involved in combat operations for the first time since the Second World War, clashing with groups of SWAPO terrorists infiltrating into South West Africa. It was decided in 1974 to organize the Army's conventional force into two divisions: 7 SA Infantry Division (71, 72 and 73 Motorized Brigades) and 8 SA Armoured Division (Durban) (81 Armoured Brigade, 82 Mechanized Brigade and 84 Motorized Brigade). The HQ's of the two divisions were established on 1 August 1974.

During the 1980s, the legal requirements for national service were to register for service at age sixteen and to report for duty when called up, which usually occurred at some time after a man's eighteenth birthday. National service obligations could be fulfilled by volunteering for active-duty military service for two years and by serving in the reserves, generally for ten or twelve years. Reservists generally underwent fifty days per year of active duty or training, after their initial period of service. The requirements for national service changed several times during the 1980s and the early 1990s in response to national security needs, and they were suspended in 1993.

From the early 1990s (after 1992) to 1 April 1997, the SA Army maintained three small divisions, the 7th, 8th and 9th. [See Jane's Defence Weekly 20 December 1992 and, earlier, 20 July 1991] They consisted of a reconnaissance battalion, two anti-aircraft defence battalions (AA guns), two battalions of artillery (G-5s and G-6s), a battalion of 127 mm MRLs, an engineer battalion, two battalions of Olifant MBTs, two battalions mounted in Ratel ICVs, and finally two battalions mounted in Buffel APCs. They were all amalgamated into the 7th Division on 1 April 1997, and became the 73rd, 74th and 75th Brigades respectively. [ [ Corps History 1988-98 ] ]

Though non-white personnel did serve as unarmed labourers with the army in both World Wars, and a number of units were completely desegregated during the Border War, it was not until 1994 - when South Africa achieved full democracy - that the army as a whole was made open to all races. Today the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has racial quotas to make sure that White, Black, Coloured, and Indian South Africans are equally represented in the armed forces.

Current Status

The current commander of the South African Army is Lt. General Solly Shoke.

The South African Army is composed of roughly 30 500 regular uniformed personnel, augmented by 4 500 civilians. The rank/age structure of the army that deteriorated desperately during the 1990s is greatly improving through the Military Skills Development (MSDS) voluntary national service system. Through this system young healthy members are being inducted into the regular and reserve forces every year.

Due the restructuring of the Reserves the exact number of reserves is difficult to ascertain. However Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota in his 2007 budget speech to the National Assembly indicated there currently are roughly 11 000 reserve force members in the army regular reserve.

There are several thousand other members in the army territorial reserve (commandos), however these units are being disbanded and the process should be complete by 2009.

A budget of approximately R6.8 billion (roughly US$860 million in 2008 exchange rates) was allocated for fiscal year 20082009. [South African Treasury, [ Defence Section, Budget 2008] ] Included in this amount is payments for new acquisitions.

The vast majority of army equipment is nearing the end of its service life, with some items (like the Olifant Main Battle Tank) dating from decades ago.

The South African National Defence Force has however started to remedy the situation with the procurement of 264 Patria AMV infantry fighting vehicles under the Hoefyster programme. Other procurements are planned and should follow in line with the guideline document - Army Vision 2020.

Most of the post-1994 military involvement of the South African Army has been with peacekeeping operations under United Nations and African Union command in other African countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Future Plans

The South African Army released its ARMY VISION 2020 guidelines document during 2006.

According to this, the army plans a return to a division based structure, from the current formation structure where units are simply provided as needed and assigned to the two active brigades. (43 SA Brigade and 46 SA Brigade) The last South African division, 7 Division, was disbanded in mid 1999. [ [ Index of South African Army formations ] ]

In many respects the restructuring is an attempt to undo the effects of a force design that came into effect in 2001. [Deane-Peter Baker, [ 17 October 2007: South African Army Restructuring A Critical Step] , Institute for Security Studies] That force structure was implemented in accordance with the recommendations of auditing firm Deloitte and Touche, who were contracted to draw up a plan to make the SA Army more economically efficient. The Deloitte and Touche plan had the army separate its combat forces into ‘silo’ style formations for armour, infantry, artillery, and engineers. Deane-Peter Baker of the South African Institute for Security Studies said that the earlier D&T plan, while alleviating, to an extent, the mistrust of the new South African leadership of the remaining apartheid-era South African Defence Force personnel in middle management positions, reduced the combat effectiveness of the Army, which is now being seen as a mistake. [Ibid.]

The new plan is to create two divisions, a Mechanised Division for home defence and a Motorised Division to be used primarily for external peacekeeping operations. Additional to this, a Special Operations Brigade will be created to conduct mountain, jungle, airborne and amphibious operations.

Mostly this will require only administrative changes as the units already exist. Specialised training will have to be carried out though, as and when funds become available.

A works regiment is to be created also, to help with the maintenance of army and Defence Force buildings and infrastructure. Older troops will be used for this, supplying them with work, whilst at the same time saving on contractor fees and catching up on the backlog of building maintenance. The technical support for certain vehicles is also to be brought back in house, to save on contractor fees.

On 19 September 2007 Jane's Defence Weekly published more details of the implementation plan for Vision 2020, which is to be carried out in four stages. [Helmoed-Romer Heitman, 'South African Army outlines restructure plan', JDW Vol. 44 Issue 38, 19 September 2007] Phase 1, to be carried out in 2008, will see the army HQ reorganised in standard NATO-style staff divisions (G1, G2, etc), and the Works Regiment established. The Works Regiment will be created under the Army's Engineering Corps, and will have one squadron in each of the country's nine provinces. Phase 2, in 2009-10, will include the establishment of three Pretoria-based commands, Land, Support, and Training, and ten brigades (Contingency, Armoured, Mechanised, and seven Motorised) which will incorporate regular and some reserve units.

In 2011 under Phase 3 the two division HQs and their divisional troops will be established. The Mechanised Division, the core deterrent force, will be headquartered at Mafikeng, with an armoured brigade at Bloemfontein, a mechanised brigade at Kimberley, and a motorised brigade at Potchefstroom. The Mechanised Division will be the primary home defence formation and the Motorised Division will provide troops for peacekeeping operations. Its HQ will be at Pretoria, with brigades at Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg), Nelspruit, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Finally in Phase 4 from 2011 onwards the remaining reserve units required for the army's combat force will be rejuvenated.

Regular Formations and Units

*43 SA Brigade Headquarters
*46 SA Brigade Headquarters

- Each of these units are organised to provide four headquarters groups- two of these should be available for deployment at any one time whilst the other two are on leave and in training

South African Armoured Corps
*1 Special Service Battalion(Bloemfontein)
*1 South African Tank Regiment(Bloemfontein)

South African Infantry Corps

*44 Parachute Regiment (South Africa)(Bloemfontein) - a multi-battalion unit

*1 South African Infantry Battalion(Bloemfontein)
*3 Infantry Battalion Training Depot - (training only)(Kimberly)
*4 South African Infantry Battalion
*5 South African Infantry Battalion
*6 South African Infantry Battalion(Grahamstown)
*7 South African Infantry Battalion(Phalaborwa)
*9 South African Infantry Battalion (Cape Town) (Preparing to convert to an amphibious battalion)
*10 South African Infantry Battalion
*14 South African Infantry Battalion
*15 South African Infantry Battalion
*61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group (merged with 8 SAI) (Upington)
*115 South African Infantry Battalion
*116 South African Infantry Battalion
*118 South African Infantry Battalion
*121 South African Infantry Battalion(Mtubatuba)
*2 South African Infantry Battalion ( [Zeerust] )South African Artillery
*4 Artillery Regiment (Potchefstroom)
*10 Air Defence Regiment

South African Engineers
*2 Field Engineer Regiment
*14 Engineer Regiment
*35 Engineer Support Regiment
*1 Construction Engineer Regiment
*1 Military Printing Regiment
*4 Survey and Mapping Regiment

Reserve units


*Light Horse Regiment
*Natal Mounted Rifles
*Umvoti Mounted Rifles
*Pretoria Regiment
*Regiment Mooirivier
*Regiment Oranjerivier
*Regiment President Steyn


*Cape Town Highlanders
*Cape Town Rifles
*Durban Light Infantry
*Durban Regiment
*Johannesburg Regiment
*Buffalo Volunteer Rifles
*Kimberley Regiment
*Natal Carbineers
*Prince Alfred's Guard
*Rand Light Infantry
*Regiment Bloemspruit
*Regiment Boland
*Regiment De La Rey
*Regiment Skoonspruit
*Regiment Westelike Provinsie
*South African Irish Regiment
*Transvaal Scottish
*Witwatersrand Rifles
*First City Regiment
*Regiment Piet Retief


*Cape Field Artillery
*Natal Field Artillery
*Transvaal Horse Artillery
*Regiment Potchefstroom Universiteit
*Transvaalse Staatsartillerie
*Vrystaatse Artillerie Regiment
*Pretoria Highlanders
*6 Light AA Regiment
*Cape Garrison Artillery
*Regiment Oos Transvaal
*Regiment Vaalriver
*Cape Garrison Artillery


*3 Field Engineer Regiment
*6 Field Engineer Regiment
*19 Field Engineer Regiment

pecial Forces

* South African Special Forces Brigade - this unit is under the command of the Chief of Joint Operations and is strictly speaking independent from the army.


* The South African Commando System is a voluntary, part-time force of the South African Army. Each Commando is responsible for the safeguarding and protection of a specific community (both rural or urban).


*Star 9 mm automatic pistol (being replaced with the Vector Z88 (licence-built Beretta) and/or the Vector SP1)
*Vektor R4 5.56 mm assault rifle (similar to the Israeali Galil) replaced the R1 (license-built FN FAL) 7.62 mm assault rifle.
*Vektor R5 and R6 assault rifles (shortened barrel R4)
*Vektor SS-77 7.62 mm general purpose lightweight machine gun replaced the 7.62 mm FN MAG
*Milkor MGL Mk-1 six round 40 mm grenade launcher
*A new lightweight Anti-tank guided missile launcher replacing the RPG-7
* MILAN 3 - Anti-tank guided missile with the ADT launcher
*Starstreak man portable surface to air missiles
*Denel BXP 9 mm parabellum sub machine gunCombat vehicles
*Olifant 1A/1B series main battle tank (250 total) (38 active)
*Rooikat 76 wheeled armoured fighting vehicle (160 total) (80 active)
*Ratel 20/60/90 family of infantry fighting vehicles (1200). Will be replaced by Badger IFVs (264)
*Mamba MKIII and RG-32 Nyala Mine protected patrol vehicles - used on large scale for internal operations and on a small scale on peacekeeping duties in Sudan's Darfur region
*Casspir Mark III mine protected patrol vehicles - used on peacekeeping duties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi
*Various air deployable paratroop and South African Special Forces Brigade vehicles

*GV6 155 mm self-propelled howitzer (20)
*GV5 155 mm howitzer (75) replaced the G4 155 mm gun and the G2 140 mm gun
*G7 105 mm gun(still under development - a contract was awarded to Denel for this during April 2007) to replace the G1 88 mm gun
*Bateleur 127 mm 40 tube multiple rocket launcher
*Valkiri-22 24 tube self-propelled multiple rocket launcher
*Bofors 40 mm gun 40 mm anti-aircraft autocannon

Non-combat vehicles
*SAMIL 20 upgraded Magirus Deutz 130M7FAL 4x4 truck
*SAMIL 50 upgraded Magirus Deutz 192D12AL 4x4 truck
*SAMIL 100 upgraded Magirus Deutz 320D22AL 6x6 truck
*MAN heavy duty trucks
*Various engineer vehicles (combat bridgelayers etc.)

*13 General Support Bases (to be reduced to 10 by 2009)

See also

*South African Army corps and branches

External links and References

* [ Official South African Army Website]
* [ South African Army in globalsecurity]
* [ South African Department of Defence]


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