South West African Territorial Force

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South West African Territorial Force
Insignia of the South West African Territorial Force.svg
SWATF Insignia
Active 1977–1989
Country South Africa South-West Africa
Branch South African Defence Force
Size 10,100 (1981)
22,000 (1987)
Part of Department of Defence for South-West Africa
Garrison/HQ Windhoek, South-West Africa
Namibia, with a long Atlantic coastline, borders Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) was an auxiliary arm of the South African Defence Force and comprised the armed forces of South West Africa (now Namibia) from 1977 to 1989.[1] It emerged as a product of South Africa's political control of the territory which was granted to the former as a League of Nations mandate following World War I.[2]

History and Background[edit]

From 1966 until 1989, South African security forces waged a long and bitter counterinsurgency conflict against indigenous nationalists in what was then South-West Africa, represented by the Marxist South-West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). As the guerrilla war intensified, however, it became clear that civilian police alone were not enough to cope with SWAPO incursions and escalating unrest. Consequently, military units were deployed for the first time; 60,000 South African combat troops were engaged in South-West Africa by the late 1970s.[3]

As part of a general policy of military and social reform, Pretoria initiated the establishment of local defence and police agencies for its protectorate beginning in 1977.[1] The new South West African Territorial Force was officially created on 1 August 1980, from South-West African citizens already serving with the South African Defence Force.[4] For all practical purposes, SWATF remained firmly integrated into existing SADF command structures.[1] Its stated goals were centred predominantly around protecting the political status quo and countering SWAPO's growing war effort.[5]


The South West African Territorial Force was organised under a Department of Defence for South-West Africa, and was always headed by a SADF general. There was also a joint SWATF/SADF committee established for "planning, liaison, and coordination" efforts.[4] By 1981, SWATF's total strength numbered some 10,100 men, organised into both tribal-based battalions (including separate units for Ovambo, Herero, and Coloured ethnic groups) and multiethnic units partially manned by at least 10,000[6] white South-West African personnel.[1][7]

Operationally, the SWATF was divided into a permanent force infantry component, logistic/administrative divisions, a training wing, and a citizen force, which included at least three motorised infantry battalions.[4] The 'permanent force' comprised mostly volunteer auxiliaries and national servicemen, who formed eight battalions.[4] A militia system was also developed for local security, including over twenty 'area protection units'.[1]

By 1987, SWATF had an estimated establishment of 22,000 troops, including additional units of engineers, signals personnel, mounted troops, a parachute battalion, and a commando squadron.[8]

SWATF Commanders[edit]

Major-general Charles Lloyd: 1980 – 1983
Major-general Georg Meiring: 1983 – 1986
Major-general Willie Meyer : 1987 – 1989

Military Units[edit]

SWATF General Headquarters
Eight full-time battalions
31st Bushmen Battalion (became 201 Bn) HQ at Omega Base
33rd Eastern Caprivi Battalion (became 701 Battalion)
34th Kavangoland Battalion (202 Battalion)
35th Ovamboland Battalion (become 101 Battalion) The Quick reaction force.
36th Bushman Battalion (became 203 Battalion)
37th Kaokoland Battalion (became 102 Battalion)
41st Multi-ethnic Regiment Windhoek (became 911 Battalion) (As 911 Battalion – it became known as "Swing Force" due to its ability to operate as a conventional unit or as a Counter-insurgency (COIN) unit.
61st Reaction Force Brigade – The reaction force had a motorised brigade composed of two (later three) infantry battalions, an armoured car regiment, and an artillery battalion.
911 Battalion, recruited from South-West Africa at large and deployed predominantly as a reserve force. Included an infantry element, a mechanised contingent, artillery, and a regiment of Eland armoured cars.[9] The unit was never mobilised en masse.
Logistics Brigade
SWA Military School at Okahandja for officers and NCOs
1st SWA Specialist Unit at Otavi – contains trackers, dogs, horses and dirtbikes.
Other Field Artillery units were deployed in the Operational area (Ruacana) as well.

SWATF Rank Structure[edit]

Enlisted and NCO ranks:

Sergeant-Major Class 2
Sergeant-Major Class 1
Regimental Sergeant-Major
Formation Sergeant-Major
Sergeant-Major of the Territorial Force

Officer ranks:

Second luitenant
First luitenant


  1. ^ a b c d e Duignan, Peter. Politics and Government in African States 1960–1985. pp. 345–377. 
  2. ^ "SWAPO – SWATF/Koevoet". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Fryxell, Cole. To Be Born a Nation. pp. 1–357. 
  4. ^ a b c d Modern African Wars (3) : South-West Africa (Men-At-Arms Series, 242) by Helmoed-Romer Heitman (Author), Paul Hannon (Illustrator) Osprey Publishing (28 November 1991) ISBN 1-85532-122-X and ISBN 978-1-85532-122-9
  5. ^ "Military Chronicle of South-West Africa". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Tonchi, Victor; Lindeke, William; Grotpeter, John. Historical Dictionary of Namibia. p. 405. 
  7. ^ FishEagle (21 February 2010). "I Luv SA: The Namibian Border War: an appraisal of the South African strategy (Part 6)". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  9. ^ Helmoed-Römer Heitman. Modern African Wars: South-West Africa (1991 ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-1855321229. 

Further reading[edit]