Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Some Major Factors Influencing Military Efficiency in the South African National Defence Force *

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Some Major Factors Influencing Military Efficiency in the South African National Defence Force *

Article excerpt


The South African military establishment was formalised as the Union Defence Force (UDF) as early as 1912. It changed its name to the South African Defence Force (SADF) and then to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), but it never ceased to exist. It is thus a mature force with a long tradition of successful military operations. The force has a long standing British heritage of subordination of the military to civil-political authority. It began its life under the tutorship of British officers and non-commissioned officers and included regiments which were part of the Cape and Natal's colonial forces prior to 1910. Of course military traditions of the forces of the Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State were inculcated in the UDF, not least of which were the emphasis on accurate fire, expert field craft and tactical innovation.

Prior to 1994 the South African defence establishment consisted largely of reserve forces. The Air Force and Navy had a considerable number of regulars but the Army, by far the largest force, had no regular units at all. Units were either commanded by regulars and manned by national servicemen or consisted purely of reserves known as citizen force units. With the advent of the new expanded democracy it was deemed necessary for peaceful transition, to include the forces of the Homeland Armies and the military wings of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in the South African Army, as part of the SANDF. The personnel from these forces now fill the units previously manned by national servicemen.

What the legacy of the 'non-statutory forces' will be, as the armed wings of the anti-apartheid parties were known, remains to be seen. Hopefully it will not be the politicisation of the military. Indications are that in the long run it will not be the case. It is noteworthy that a British team of military personnel known as the British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT) were made available to the Department of Defence (DOD) to monitor the integration process. The British forces are well known for their professionalism, non-party political stance and the maintenance of a healthy civil-military divide.

The non-statutory forces were brought into the SANDF as regulars. This is in fact the first time in South African military history that regular units have become the norm. During the world-wide depression of the 1930s the Special Service Battalion was established with the sole aim of giving people employment and training. They were enlisted, it is said, for 'a bob a day', but it lasted only as long as the need for some sort of employment was a priority.

An earlier effort to establish one truly regular unit, namely the Mobile Watch in the 1960s was not successful and the unit was disbanded. The main reason was that the right type of enlisted personnel could not be recruited. The 1994 enlistments also had the problem that most of the human resources were not suitable for a modern conventional army. However, it would seem that the right type of enlistment is now taking place and being trained at the basic and initial training units. Over time the regular army should thus improve considerably.

Whilst the SANDF is busy integrating and transforming itself to defend the new expanded democracy, the South African government is executing a policy of enhancing an African Renaissance. The first step is rightly to influence African countries to concentrate on legal economic endeavours, some form of democratisation and to foster peace in their areas of influence and interest. However, most of Africa is not rejuvenating itself at all. Since 1960 wars on the continent have killed more than seven million people and created 19 million refugees. In 1998 the Economist stated that the biggest threat to Africa came from war and that nearly a third of sub-Saharan Africa's 42 countries were engaged in international or civil wars. …

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