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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
ZIBHEBHU - ZULULAND'S MASTER OF AMBUSH
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
2)THE SEKHUKHNE WAR - 1879
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
Military History Society /