South African Military History Society

P.O. BOX 12926


At our August meeting Rodney Warwick gave us an excellent, extensive overview, part of his PhD Thesis proposal, how the SA military were actively shaped in their structure and effectiveness by post-1948 government policy up to the end of the 1970s. It was also the correlations, or lack of, between military and ruling party strategy as manifested particularly through the operation of the security services. He outlined some of the most important developments concerning the SA military during this period, suggesting themes where additional research is overdue.
He focused on Southern African regions where the SA military/police and politicians were intricately involved, largely restricted to SWA/Namibia and Zimbabwe/Rhodesia Since the 1948 elections communism was perceived by the NP as the most dangerous internal and external threat to South Africa. With Apartheid in place, the NP put their Afrikaner nationalist stamp on the state and changed the armed Forces' goals. And as none of the prime ministers, with the exception of Jan Smuts, had any military background, these changes were politically motivated and thus did not serve the Forces well. Direct interference by ministers, demoting individual officers who had served honorably in the war, or hounding them out of the service, antagonised many. Attempts to alter uniforms, ranks and decorations, and insisting on strict bilingual tests as pre-requisite for promotions, led to widespread resignations.
More changes followed, among them the plan to ensure full employment for poor white Afrikaners; using and adapting both the military and police forces to be congenial for Afrikaners of all social classes. Then came the Suppression of Communism Act, directed against White, African and Indian groups who were communist members and supporters, followed by the removal of coloured voters in the Cape from the electoral roll in the 1950s. This led to the creation of the Torch Commando by WW 2 veterans, who campaigned for the UP in the 1953 elections.
Only the Navy remained outside the NP's cultural paradigm until, during JG Strijdom's tenure, it was reshaped, and the Royal Navy lost control of Simon's Town. In the 1960s General Rudolf Hiemstra was made Chief of the SADF, although he had no fighting experience. He was instrumental in the "Midnight Ride" of 30 November 1953 when a number of outstanding officers and NCO were harassed to resign or toe the line.
This is another area the Speaker suggested should be more fully researched. In 1960 the Defence Force was used for the first time to contain violent disturbances created by black political protests, while the Air Force was ordered to "buzz" large black outdoor gatherings. This use of the SADF in suppressing political disorder contributed to the mandatory arms embargo on South Africa in 1963 by the UNO. In 1960 military intelligence was poorly staffed since the SADF relied on Britain for this, looking mainly for subversive elements in the military and police.

Therefore they disastrously missed out on identifying SA Navy spy Dieter Gebhardt who passed many a secret to the USSR until he was caught.

After enactment of the 1963 90-day detention act, John Vorster appointed his old OB friend, Hendrik Van den Bergh, as chief of national intelligence operations, called BOSS, but he created more enemies than friends with continuous clashes between his department and military intelligence. In the middle of the 1960s NP reformists gradually changed their public stance, with Die Burger clearly saying that: "Military bayonets alone will not stop the incoming black gulf." In 1966 SADF and SAP forces were successfully involved in a skirmish in Ovamboland against SWAPO forces who were totally routed and fled to nearby Zambia. The following year all white males were, for the first time, conscripted into the SADF because Vorster was entirely committed to white rule and military strength. Although the security services were still operating out of touch in 1969, the Director of MI, Major-General Fritz Loots, assisted the Biafran military representative who appealed for aid. Defence Minister P.W. Botha agreed, hoping to forge useful contacts with other black countries.

It is imposible to do justice to Rodney's thesis proposal within the constraints of this Newsletter but anyone wishing to borrow the Voice Tape may contact the Scribe. The talk was well received by all, and, the writer is certain, was fervently discussed afterwards.

Your Committee is glad to inform members that FINE MUSIC RADIO will carry announcements of our Society's monthly Meetings in its programme CALENDAR at 08:30 on weekdays.


9th Sept 2004
Speaker: Carl Hegaard
14th Oct 2004
He fought for Freedom - An illustrated talk.
Speaker: Simon Norton
11th Nov
Subject to be advised
Talk by Brigadier-General R.S. "Dick" Lord
In recess
Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, except December, at 8 pm (20:00) in the Recreation Room of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line. SECURE PARKING is available on the premises. All Visitors are welcome.

Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke, Vice-Chairman/Scribe, (021)797-5167

South African Military History Society /