Military Wiki
South African Defence Force
File:Emblem of the South African Defence Force 1981-2003.svg
Official emblem, SADF
Founded 1910
Current form 1957
Disbanded 1994
Service branches South African Army
South African Navy
South African Air Force
South African Medical Service
Headquarters Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa
Conscription (white males) 17-65 years of age[1]
Active personnel (1986) 82,400[2]
Budget $3,092 billion US$[2]
Percent of GDP 4.1[2]
Domestic suppliers South Africa ARMSCOR[2]
Foreign suppliers  Belgium[3]
 United Kingdom[9]
United States[10]
Related articles
History South African Border War
Namibian War of Independence
Rhodesian Bush War
Angolan Civil War
Mozambican Civil War
Soweto uprising

The former South African Defence Force base in Outapi, Omusati, Namibia.

The South African Defence Force (SADF) comprised the South African armed forces from 1957 until 1994. Shortly before the nation reconstituted itself as a republic in 1961, the former Union Defence Force was officially proceeded by the SADF, which was established by the Defence Act (No. 44) of 1957. The SADF was, in turn, superseded by the South African National Defence Force in 1994.

South African military units were involved in the long-running Angolan and Mozambican civil wars throughout the 1980s,[11] frequently supporting Pretoria's allies in the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)[12][13] and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO).[14] SADF personnel were also deployed during the related South African Border War and attempted, unsuccessfully, to crush Namibia's bid for independence.[15]

Within South Africa itself, the SADF was organised with the aim of performing a dual mission: to counter possible insurgency in all forms, and to maintain a conventional military arm which could defend the republic's immediate borders, making retaliatory strikes as necessary.[2] During apartheid, armed SADF troops were used in quelling opposition to minority rule, often directly supporting the South African Police services.[16][17]

The burden of maintaining a strong defence force fell largely on white South Africans, who were alone subject to conscription.[18][19][20] However, Asians and Coloured citizens with mixed ancestry were eligible to serve as volunteers, several even attaining commissioned rank.[21] Conscription was opposed inter alia by organisations such as the End Conscription Campaign, but overall, white morale remained high - as exemplified by the few recruits tried for serious disciplinary offences.[2]

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.[22]


SADF paratroops in training

Before 1957, the Union of South Africa had relied on small standing cadres for defence, expanding during wartime through the use of white conscripts. During World War II the Union initially fielded only 3,353 full-time soldiers, with another 14,631 active in reserve roles.[23][24] These troops were not prepared to fight in Europe proper, as they had hitherto been trained only in basic light infantry tactics and bush warfare.[2] However, Jan Christiaan Smuts proved remarkably resourceful in raising 345,049 men for overseas operations; South African soldiers went on to distinguish themselves as far abroad as Italy and Egypt.[25]

After 1957, the new South African Defence Force was faced with a post-war upsurge in African nationalism, and forced to expand its resources accordingly.[26] In 1963 its total strength stood at around 25,000 men.[2] By 1977, the United Nations was imposing arms sanctions on the republic due to its controversial policy of racial apartheid.[27] South Africa responded by developing a powerful domestic arms industry, capable of producing quality hardware, including supersonic jet fighters, armoured cars, multiple rocket launchers, and small arms.[2][28] SADF units fought in the Angolan Civil War during Operation Savannah[29][30][31] and were also active alongside the Rhodesian Security Forces[32] during Zimbabwe's liberation war.[33][34][35] Although both campaigns were strategically unsuccessful, it was clearly proven that South Africa's military was immeasurably superior in strength and sophistication than all her African neighbours combined.[2] Further enlargement and modernisation of the armed forces continued under former defence minister Pieter Willem Botha, who became state president in 1984.[36] Shortly after Botha took office, the SADF numbered some 83,400 men (including 53,100 conscripts and 5,400 nonwhites) - one armoured brigade, one mechanised infantry brigade, four motorised brigades, one parachute brigade, a special reconnaissance regiment, twenty artillery regiments, supporting specialist units, a balanced air force, and a navy adequate for coastal protection in all.[2] In addition, numerous auxiliary formations were trained as support units capable of occupying strategic border areas, including the predominantly Angolan 32 Battalion,[37] Namibia's South West African Territorial Force,[38][39] and several bantustan militias.[40]

During Botha's term, the SADF began focusing on taking a more aggressive stance to the ongoing war against communist-supported nationalist guerrillas in South Africa and Namibia (then South-West Africa) and targeting neighboring countries that offered them support. This was partially justified as a new structure intended to turn back a "total onslaught" on the republic from abroad.[41] The post-colonial rise of newly independent black governments on the apartheid administration's doorstep created a perceived menace to the existing structure, and Pretoria's occupation of Namibia threatened to bring it into direct confrontation with the world community.[42] On the ground, militant guerrilla movements such as the African National Congress (ANC), South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) challenged white supremacy with force of arms.[12] In 1984, at least 6,000 such insurgents were being trained and armed by Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Soviet Union, and Warsaw Pact member states.[2]

In general the struggle went badly for South Africa's opponents. Mozambique provided support and shelter to ANC operatives; in retaliation South African units launched massive counterstrikes which the local security forces were in no position to block.[2][43] Military aircraft and special forces units deployed across Zimbabwe,[44] Botswana,[45][46] Lesotho,[47] and Zambia[48] to attack suspected insurgent bases.[49] 30,000 South African military personnel were posted on the Namibian border by late 1985, frequently crossing the frontier to battle SWAPO groups operating from southern Angola.[12][15][50] SWAPO's MPLA allies, with the backing of the Cuban army, were often unable to protect them.[2] These raids reflected the SADF's talent for combating rural insurgency. Major guerrilla camps were always chief targets, whether on foreign or domestic soil. Consequently, establishing good intelligence and effective assault strategy were commonly reflected in tactical priorities.[2]

The SADF's success eventually compelled SWAPO to withdraw over 200 miles from the Namibian border, forcing their insurgents to travel great distances across arid bush in order to reach their targets.[2] Many could no longer carry heavy weapons on these treks, occasionally abandoning them as they marched south. Moreover, serious SWAPO losses were already having a negative effect on morale.[2] ANC operations fared little better.[51] Most high-profile terrorist attacks were foiled or offered negative publicity from a normally sympathetic international stage.[2] While it was clear that popular support was growing and guerrilla skills were being improved upon, affrays on South Africa itself did not seriously disrupt the economy or impact the country's superior military and industrial status.[26][52]

By the fall of apartheid in 1991, the SADF was an uneven reflection of both the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa's white society at large. It employed many personnel with developed technical skills; thus, the military could more easily maintain and operate sophisticated hardware than black African forces drawn from underdeveloped regions.[2] In an unusual contrast with Southern Africa's other white armies, the SADF had a stern sense of bureaucratic hierarchy.[53][54] Commanders deferred to civilian supervisors and normally could not aspire to political power. The SADF's technical performance had also improved greatly, owing largely to realistic and efficient training procedures.[26] The army in particular was skilled in both counterinsurgency warfare and conventional mechanised operations.[2] In 1984, 11,000 infantrymen were even trained to execute blitzkrieg tactics.[55][56][57] White soldiers were for the most part reasonably motivated; conscripts had a sense of defending their own country rather than some far-off foreign venture. Commissioned officers generally accepted in principle recruits of all colours, placed an emphasis on technical efficiency, and preferred to fight a foreign rather than domestic enemy despite extensive preparation for both.[2]


As multiracial democracy was introduced to the republic in 1994, the SADF was amalgamated with the formerly independent bantustan security forces, the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe, PAC's Azanian People's Liberation Army and the 'self-protection units' of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).[58][59] The resulting formation is the current South African National Defence Force.[60][61][62]


The State President was the Commander-in-Chief of the SADF with:

  • Chief of the Defence Staff - overall senior command officer
  • Chief of the Army
  • Chief of the Air Force
  • Chief of the Navy
  • Chief of the Medical Service

Staff Divisions under the Chief of Defence Staff included:

Other Support Services commands included:

  • Inspector General of the SADF
  • Chaplain General of the SADF

Heads of the South African Defence Force


  • Permanent Forces - Full-time Active members
  • National Servicemen - Initially called up for 1 year national service, later extended to 2 years national service in 1977, with ongoing short term service requirements. Troops were generally fully trained for operational duty within the space of 4–7 months
  • Citizen Forces - fully trained part-time members
  • Commando Forces - AKA "Active Citizen Force" - fully trained members
  • Special forces - including the Reconnaissance Regiments, and the Civil Co-operation Bureau
  • Voluntary Term Service - created in 1992 to replace the National Service
  • Service Volunteers - non-permanent full-time members
  • Auxiliary Service - limited duty personnel who did not meet the academic or physical requirements for national service but performed guard, COIN, labour, and driving duties.

Prior to the dissolution, the SADF had the following force:

  • Full-time - 40 000 Volunteer Service, 5 000 National Service
    • auxiliaries - 16 000
    • civilians - 24 000
  • Part-time - 500 000
    • Citizen Force (approximately 120 000)
    • Commando Force (approximately 130 000 in 200 Units)
    • Reserves (approximately 180 000)

Nuclear weapons

South Africa at one time possessed nuclear weapons, but its stockpile was dismantled during the political transition of the early 1990s.

See also


  1. "Military service becomes compulsory for White South African men. | South African History Online". 1967-06-09. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 Duignan, Peter. Politics and Government in African States 1960-1985. pp. 283–408. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Polakow-Suransky, Sasha. The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. pp. 1–336. 
  5. Chris McGreal. "Brothers in arms - Israel's secret pact with Pretoria | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  6. Kokalis, Peter. Mamba: Deadly Serpeant or Dangerous Fiasco?. Shotgun News, 2006, Volume 60 Issue 15 p. 10.
  8. [1]
  10. Thompson, Alex. U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Apartheid South Africa, 1948-1994: Conflict of Interests. pp. 4–260. 
  11. "South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Fryxell, Cole. To Be Born a Nation. p. 13. 
  13. "INTERVIEW WITH PIK BOTHA (20/5/97)". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  14. [2][dead link]
  15. 15.0 15.1 Green, Sparks. Namibia: The Nation After Independence. pp. 1–134. 
  17. "Troops occupy the townships". SAHA. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  19. Published: August 25, 1993 (1993-08-25). "South Africa Ends Conscription of Whites - New York Times". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  20. [3][dead link]
  24. "South Africa". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  25. "World War II: The nine | South African History Online". 1940-06-03. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Kaplan, Irving. South Africa: A Country Study. pp. 1–846. 
  28. Thomas McGhee, Charles C.; N/A, N/A, eds (1989). The plot against South Africa (2nd ed.). Pretoria: Varama Publishers. ISBN 0-620-14537-4. 
  29. "Operation Savannah 1975 - 76 UNDER CONSTRUCTION - A Site about the South African Bushwar / Border War". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  31. "An overview of the conflict - TRC - The O'Malley Archives". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  32. "Rhodesia's War of Independence". History Today. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  33. "South Africa". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  34. Posted by (2012-12-18). "The Recces". FromTheOld. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  35. "Replaying Cuito Cuanavale". History Today. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  38. "Military Chronicle of South-West Africa". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  39. Bennett, David C. (March 1990). "The Army of Zimbabwe: a role model for Namibia" (PDF). Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: United States Army War College. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  40. "Exotic South Africa _World Cup 2010 ( South Afraica ) Events Special Subject_7M Sports". 2010-01-13. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  41. "A ‘total Onslaught’". New History. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  42. "A ‘total Onslaught’ In Pursuit Of Settlement In South West Africa". New History. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  43. "One man's terrorist ... | News | National | Mail & Guardian". 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  44. "SADF mounts raids on ANC targets in neighbouring states | South African History Online". 1986-05-19. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  45. "gaberone". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  46. "Civil-Military Relations in Botswana's Developmental State". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  47. "South African troops (SADF) raid Maseru in an effort to kill suspected members of the African National Congress | South African History Online". 1982-12-09. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  49. iPad iPhone Android TIME TV Populist The Page (1985-06-24). "South Africa Deadly Raid". TIME.,9171,959492,00.html. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  50. "54. Apartheid". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  51. Louw, Eric. The Rise, Fall, and Legacy of Apartheid. pp. 1–280. 
  52. Communist Party of South Africa. "The Way Forward from Soweto. South African Communist Party 1977". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  53. The Institute for Security Studies. "Of Skills and Subordination - South African Defence Review, No 4, 1992". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  54. Roherty, James Michael. State Security in South Africa: Civil-military Relations Under P.W. Botha. pp. 1–209. 
  55. "Regimental History prepared by James H Mitchell". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  56. "Questions and Answers". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  58. The Institute for Security Studies. "Challenges Facing the SANDF: From Integration to Affirmative Action - African Security Review Vol 4 No 1, 1995". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  59. "From the SADF to the SANDF: Safeguarding South Africa for a better life for all? - Noel Stott". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  60. "Final Integration Report: SANDF briefing | Parliamentary Monitoring Group | Parliament of South Africa monitored". 2004-11-09. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  61. "SOUTH AFRICA: SA Women: Hard Time in Military - News Library - News & Events". PeaceWomen. 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  62. "South Africa Military Profile 2012". 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).