The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 3 - December 1968



The year 1966 heralded a considerable change in the control and administration of the South African Defence Force. Hardly perceptible to the vast majority of South African Defence Force members, the separate post of Secretary for Defence was abolished and General R. C. Hiemstra, SSA, SM, was appointed Secretary for Defence over and above his appointment as Commandant General, with effect from 17 October, 1966 (G.N. No. 1749 dated 4 November, 1966).

In the early military system in the Cape Colony the Commission issued to a Governor styled him as "Governor and Commander-in-Chief", and all military as well as civil officers were commanded to render obedience to him. In addition to the Governor there was a post of Commander of the Forces, with the rank of Lieutenant-General. The Lieut-General was in fact the actual commander while the Governor, who incidentally also held the appointment of Vice-Admiral, was the titular commander.

In his capacity as Commander-in-Chief the Governor was assisted by a secretary designated the "Military Secretary". As the Governor did not take a very active part in military matters at all times, and was in reality only the titular commander, the functions of the Military Secretary were more of an administrative nature. Pensions, the issuing of passes to discharged soldiers, ordnance and financial matters connected with the army, and similar concerns, formed the subject matter of his office.

The office of Military Secretary was created in 1806. Originally he seems to have been fairly detached from the Governor; his office was at Military Headquarters in the Castle, and instructions were conveyed to him from the Governor by the Secretary to the Government. Correspondence was initiated by him to the Governor and to other officials.

At that time Colonel Napier held the dual appointment of Commandant of Cape Town as well as Military Secretary.

In later years we have the position where there was a Military Secretary at the Castle as well as at Government House, and even after the designation of the office had been changed to Secretary for Defence, the Governor retained such an officer, who was known as the Colonial Secretary.

The office of "Commandant General of all the Colonial Forces" was created by Act No. 5 of 1878. During times that this office was vacant, the duties and powers devolved on an officer "who shall for the time being be, or be by the Governor appointed to act as, Senior Officer of the Colonial Forces."

By Act No. 18 of 1885 the Military Secretary of the Defence Department was entitled at all times to sit on boards appointed for the trial of offences committed by members of either the Cape Mounted Riflemen or the Cape Infantry. He could also act in the absence of any field officer-commanding of either of the forces on such boards, in respect of offences committed by members of such forces.

On 30 August, 1896, the title of the Military Secretary was changed to that of Secretary for Defence.

Up to August, 1896, the Colonial Secretary was charged with the administration of colonial defence matters, but on that date his functions were assigned to the Prime Minister.

By a Government Notice dated 4 March, 1904, the functions were again reversed. The notice reads: "His Excellency the Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to assign to the Colonial Secretary the duties connected with the Departments for which funds are provided on the Estimates of Expenditure under the following votes, viz:
Vote 12 : Cape Colonial Forces.
Vote 13 : Cape Mounted Riflemen.
Vote 14 : Cape Medical Corps.
Vote 15 : Ordnance Department.
Vote 16 : Volunteers Department."

In those days the term "Cape Colonial Forces" was normally used to indicate all the military forces of the Colony. Here, however, a special meaning seems to have been attached to it, the following sub-divisions being given in the estimates:

(a) Colonial Military Secretary's Department.
Colonial Military Secretary.
Staff Officer.
Staff Officer of Volunteers.

(b) Commandant General's Department.
Commandant General.
Senior Staff Officer.
Staff Officer.

(c) Pay Department.
Principal Paymaster.
Assistant Paymaster.
Chief examiner.
Examiners and Clerks.

Between 1914 and 1966, the date on which the Commandant-General was appointed Secretary for Defence over and above his appointment as head of the S.A. Defence Force, the following have held the post:

During May, 1967, the dual title of Commandant General and Secretary for Defence was dispensed with by the elimination of the title "Secretary for Defence". The Commandant General, as permanent head of the Department of Defence as well as of the South African Defence Force fills the post of Commandant General, SADF, which post embraces the functions signified by the former dual title. At the same time the rank of Commandant General, instituted in September, 1956, was changed to that of "General". Thus the post as well as the designation "Secretary for Defence" no longer exists.

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