South African National Defence Force

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South African National Defence Force
10 other official names:
  • Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Weermag  (Afrikaans)
  • IButho leSewula Afrika lezokuVikela leliZweloke  (Southern Ndebele)
  • UMkhosi woKhuselo weSizwe waseMzantsi Afrika  (Xhosa)
  • UMbutho Wezokuvikela WaseNingizimu Afrika  (Zulu)
  • Umbutfo Wetekuvikela Wavelonkhe waseNingizimu Afrika  (Swazi)
  • Sešole sa Tšhireletšo sa Bosetšhaba sa Afrika Borwa  (Northern Sotho)
  • Lebotho la Naha la Tshireletso la Aforika Borwa  (Sotho)
  • Sesole sa Tshireletso ya Naga ya Aforika Borwa  (Tswana)
  • Vutho ra Rixaka ra Vusirheleli ra Afrika-Dzonga  (Tsonga)
  • Tshiimiswa tsha Mmbi ya Vhupileli ya Afurika Tshipembe  (Venda)
SANDF emblem.svg
Emblem of the SANDF
Flag of the South African National Defence Force.svg
Flag of the SANDF
MottoFor the brave for the proud
Current form1994
Service branches South African Army
 South African Navy
 South African Air Force
Military Health Service
HeadquartersPretoria, South Africa
Commander in chiefPresident Cyril Ramaphosa
Minister of Defence and Military VeteransThandi Modise
Chief of the SANDFGeneral Rudzani Maphwanya
Military age18–49
Available for
military service
10,354,769 males, age 18–49 (2005),
10,626,550 females, age 18–49 (2005)
Fit for
military service
4,927,757 males, age 18–49 (2005),
4,609,071 females, age 18–49 (2005)
Reaching military
age annually
512,407 males (2005),
506,078 females (2005)
Active personnel74,508 (2019)[1]: 165 
Reserve personnel15,107 (2014)[2]
BudgetUS$3.069 billion[1]
Percent of GDP0.86% (2022)
Domestic suppliersDenel, Paramount Group, Reutech Radar Systems
Foreign suppliersAgustaWestland, BAE Systems, Heckler & Koch, IVECO, MAN, Saab AB, Thales, ThyssenKrupp
Related articles
HistoryMilitary history of South Africa
List of wars involving South Africa
RanksSouth African military ranks

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) comprises the armed forces of South Africa. The commander of the SANDF is appointed by the President of South Africa from one of the armed services. They are in turn accountable to the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans of the Defence Department.

The military as it exists today was created in 1994,[3][4] following South Africa's first multiracial election in April of that year and the adoption of a new constitution. It replaced the South African Defence Force and also integrated uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Inkatha Freedom Party protective units and the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA) guerilla forces. Armed wings of the Maoist-Revolutionary factions of APLA and Azanian National Liberation Army did not join the new defence force.


In 1994, the SANDF took over the personnel and equipment from the SADF and integrated forces from the former Bantustan homelands forces,[5]: 5  as well as personnel from the former guerrilla forces of some of the political parties involved in South Africa, such as the African National Congress's Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Pan Africanist Congress's Azanian People's Liberation Army and the Self-Protection Units of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).The Azanian People's Organization' s AZANLA was invited but refused to be integrated and to this day remains the only guerrilla force not integrated into the current force.[3]

As of 2004, the integration process was considered complete, with retaining personnel, structure, and equipment from the SADF. However, due to integration problems, financial constraints, and other issues, the SANDF faced capability constraints.[6]

The South African Commando System was a civil militia active until 2008, based upon local units from the size of company to battalion.[7] In its final years its role was to support the South African Police Service during internal operations. During such deployments the units came under SAPS control.

According to the Department of Defences' 2014 Defence Review, the SANDF is "in a critical state of decline".[8] A series of cuts to its capital and operating budgets compromised a number of capabilities.[9] Equipment is largely obsolete due to inadequate maintenance, while renewal has stalled with devastating effect on South Africa's defence industry.


In 1999, a R30 billion (US$4.8 billion) purchase of weaponry by the South African Government was finalised, which has been subject to allegations of corruption.[10][11] The South African Department of Defence's Strategic Defence Acquisition purchased frigates, submarines, light utility helicopters, lead-in fighter trainer and multirole combat aircraft.[12]

Domestic operations[edit]

A SANDF helicopter being refuelled during the annual game census

As of 2012, the SANDF was involved in several internal operations, including:[13]

  • Safeguarding the Border (Operation CORONA)
  • Disaster relief and assistance (Operation CHARIOT)
  • Safety and security (Operation PROSPER)
  • Ridding the country of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities (Operation FIELA)

In 2021, SANDF forces were deployed in response to the civil unrest following the jailing on corruption charges of former president Jacob Zuma. By 14 July, over 25,000 troops had been deployed.[14] The largest single deployment of the South African National Defence Force since 1994.[15]

International operations[edit]

The SANDF partakes in UN peacekeeping missions, mostly on the African continent. It also provides election security when needed.

Organisation and structure[edit]

Overall command is vested in an officer-designated Chief of the SANDF (CSANDF). Appointed from any of the Arms of Service, they are the only person in the SANDF at the rank of General or Admiral, and is accountable to the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, who heads the Department of Defence

The structure of the SANDF is depicted below:[16]

SANDF Organisation Chart 2019

In 2010, a Defence Amendment Bill created a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission (NDFSC), a body that will advise the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans on the improvement of conditions of service of members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).[17]

Members of the Commission include the Chiefs of the service arms, as well as the Chief of Defence Intelligence as well as the Chief of Joint Operations

Four armed services make up the forces of the SANDF:[18]

The Joint Operations Division is responsible for co-ordinating all Joint Operations involving any or all of the four services. The South African Special Forces Brigade is the only organic unit under the direct command of the Joint Operations division. Unlike most other special forces it is not part of the Army or any other branch of the SANDF.[19]

Publications and Access to Records[edit]

The SANDF publishes (or provides links) to documents describing its strategy, plans, performance, white papers and related government acts. Under the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 (PAIA), the SANDF also provides access to current and historical information the SANDF holds and provides a manual[20] with procedures for obtaining access. Some categories of records are "automatically available" that are "available without a person having to request access in terms of the PAIA. These records can be accessed at the Department of Defence Archives and include operational records of the 1st World War, 2nd World War, Korean War, and establishment of the Union Defence Force 1912.


SANDF paratroops

On 31 March 2019, the demographics of service personnel were as follows:[1]: 165 

The gender split in the SANDF as of 31 March 2019 is as follows:[1]

  • 51,684 men (69.4%)
  • 22,824 women (30.6%)

The target for female recruits increased to 40% in 2010.[21]

2012 Defence Review[edit]

The South African Defence Review 2012 is a policy review process carried out by a panel of experts, chaired by retired politician and former Minister of Defence, Roelf Meyer. The review was commissioned by Lindiwe Sisulu the then Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, in July 2011. The review was motivated by the need to correct the errors and shortcomings of the previous review. According to defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu, the old report was no longer relevant to South Africa's current situation.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 2018/19 Department of Defence Annual Report (PDF). South Africa: South African Department of Defence. 2019. p. 402.
  2. ^ "South Africa: South African National Defence Force". DefenceWeb. 1 February 2013. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 (Section 224)". South African Government. 1993. Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
  4. ^ L B van Stade (1997). "Rationalisation in the SANDF: The Next Challenge". Institute for Security Studies. Archived from the original on 16 March 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
  5. ^ Wessels, André. "The South African National Defence Force, 1994–2009: A Historical Perspective" (PDF). University of the Free State. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 August 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  6. ^ U.S. Embassy The Hague, 05THEHAGUE2973 Netherlands/Africa: DASD Whelan's visit to The Hague Archived 11 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine, 1 November 2005, via Wikileaks United States diplomatic cables leak
  7. ^ Potgieter, Thean; Liebenberg, Ian (October 2012) [2012]. Reflections on War – Preparedness and Consequences. Stellenbosch: Sun Media Stellenbosch. ISBN 978-1-920338-84-8.
  8. ^ Dörrie, Peter (9 April 2014). "South Africa's Military Is Falling Apart". War is Boring. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  9. ^ Staff writer (27 November 2020). "South Africa's army is out of money – here's how bad things are". Business Tech. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  10. ^ Buthelezi, Mangosuthu (22 November 2007). "Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation". Inkatha Freedom Party. Archived from the original on 3 December 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  11. ^ Bright hopes betrayed Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Mail & Guardian
  12. ^ Neethling, Theo (22 July 2010). "Military spending, socio-economic challenges and foreign policy demands: Appraising South Africa's predicament". African Security Review. 15 (4): 57–78. doi:10.1080/10246029.2006.9627622. ISSN 2154-0128. S2CID 154830936.
  13. ^ "C J OPS Briefs Media on Deployments". Archived from the original on 19 December 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  14. ^ Mkhwanazi, Siyabonga. "Mapisa-Nqakula: We have deployed 25 000 soldiers". iol. iol. Archived from the original on 14 July 2021. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  15. ^ "DARREN OLIVIER: Largest ever SANDF deployment". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 25 October 2021.
  16. ^ "Department of Defence Annual Report 2018/19" (PDF). Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
  17. ^ "PCODMV adopts Defence Amendment Bill". DefenceWeb. 18 October 2010. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  18. ^ "Defence Act 42 of 2002" (PDF). South African Government. 12 February 2003. p. 18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 June 2008. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
  19. ^ "Fact file: The Joint Operations Division". DefenceWeb. 28 November 2008. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  20. ^ "Promotion of Access to Information (PAI) Manual" (PDF). South African Government Department of Defence. 7 March 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 May 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Transformation, Gender Equity and Empowerment in the South African Defence Force: Briefing by Department of Defence | PMG". Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  22. ^ "Draft Defence Review report released". 12 December 2012. Archived from the original on 7 December 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]