South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER No.254 Cape Town Branch MARCH 1999

At the beginning of the 16th century, a group of Portuguese landed at the Cape, but, unacquainted with the local traditions, they angered the Khoi tribe and were attacked and almost wiped out. Their sophisticated arms were no match for the Khoi and their primitive weapons but tactical know-how which included the use of battle oxen who responded to whistled and shouted commands.
Thus our guest, COL PAUL GROBBELAAR, sketched the Evolution of the Commando System in the Cape at our 11th February meeting in a well researched paper. The origin of the Commando System must be seen in the context of a meeting between the military tradition of the Khoi and that of the VOC.
When the Dutch arrived in the Cape in 1652 under orders to maintain sound relations with the Khoi, all went well for a time, but then difficulties arose. With the Khoi not eager to sell their livestock to van Riebeeck, he was forced to start his own stock farming which was viewed by the Khoi as an intrusion on their grazing, and they frustrated the Freeburghers by stealing their stock and burning homesteads. As a result, the first VOC-Khoi war broke out in 1659.
But the VOC soldiers were no match for the hit-and-run tactics of the Khoi. So van Riebeeck's next step was to import horses from Batavia to be able to pursue the Khoi, and he also erected a system of forts to protect the settlements.
With their homesteads secured, the burghers were organised in groups to conduct military expeditions against the Khoi.
Gradually, the military effectiveness and size of the groups increased, and in 1676 they were called COMMANDOS. Such units were only sent out to fulfil specific tasks, never at random, and comprised burghers, soldiers and even Khoi, and they played a significant role in the shaping of the commando system.
Over the years fewer soldiers and more burghers served in the Commandos, and in 1688 the VOC partially allowed the burghers to deal with the Khois as they saw fit. Eventually the VOC had to relinquish control because the need for immediate action forced them to appoint suitable burghers as commanders to ensure the success of the commandos.
From 1715 on, the first all-burgher commandos appeared, and from 1739 unpaid service became compulsory for all burghers who had business or farming interests in outlying districts. But the evolution of the commando system also had negative factors.
In 1785 it was realized that ordinary burghers could no longer be forced to do the required service by penalties and threats, and therefore an incentive scheme was introduced compensating burghers by giving them seized Khoi stock.
From 1806 on the British took over the commando system and used it under their rule in the Cape, and in 1836 it moved with the Voortrekkers into Natal, OFS and Transvaal, and when the SA Republic and the Republic of the OFS were declared, the system was adopted as their defence structure.

Committee Member Johan van den Berg thanked our guest for a presentation enjoyed by all.

Thursday, 11th March 1999
A 40-minute Video produced by KEN GILLINGS, covering the period from 1879 to 1888, mainly of the "Zulu Civil War". Q&A session afterwards

Thursday, 8th April 1999
Talk presented by fellow member ALAN MOUNTAIN This war was a follow-up to the Anglo/Zulu War

GOODBYE TO MEMBERS Ms Ute Seemann and Lt.Col.J.C.Bolitho who resigned. We wish them good luck for the future.
WELCOME TO NEW MEMBERS Messrs P. Crowe, D. Henderson, R. Latimer and A. Shoredits.
The HALL HANDBOOK of the ANGLO BOER WAR has recently been published.
This is an essential reference book, compiled and written by the late Maj Darrell Hall and edited by Fransjohan Pretorius and Gilbert Torlage. Details can be obtained from John Mahncke.

Meetings of the Cape Town Branch are normally held on the second Thursday of each month (barring December) at 20h00 (8.00 pm sharp), in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite the Rosebank railway station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Donation R 3.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

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

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