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Department of Defence Ministry of Defense

South Africa's 1984 constitution, the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act (No. 110) of 1983, which remained in effect through 1993, affirmed the provisions of the Defence Act (No. 44) of 1957 establishing the missions of the armed forces. These missions were, and continue to be, to defend the country; to fulfill South Africa's international treaty obligations; to prevent terrorism and domestic disorder; to protect life, health, and property; and to help maintain essential services. The president had the power to declare war, martial law, and states of emergency, and to establish peace. The minister of defence, under the overall direction of the president and with the consent of the State Security Council (SSC), bore responsibility for formulating and for executing defense policy. During the late 1980s, the military was frequently assigned domestic duties as part of the constitutional requirement to help the police and local authorities to maintain essential services and domestic order in times of emergency.

The 1994 interim constitution, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (No. 200) of 1993, reiterated the provisions of the 1957 Defence Act that make the president commander in chief of the armed forces. The constitution reserves specific powers related to national security for the president, who may, with parliamentary approval, declare a "state of national defence." This is, in effect, a state of national emergency, but the framers of the constitution emphasize their reluctance to undertake any offensive military action against neighboring states. The constitution also authorizes the president to establish a national defense force to fulfill the responsibilities formerly assigned to the SADF. It empowers the president to employ the military in accordance with constitutional principles to defend the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the republic; to fulfill South Africa's international obligations; to preserve life, health, and property; to provide or to maintain essential services; to uphold law and order in cooperation with the police; and to support the general social and economic improvement of the population.

The interim constitution stated that the new military organization, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), would include former members of the SADF, the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and the militias of the former homelands of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei. Former members of other militias, such as the Inkatha Freedom Party's Self-Protection Units, were admitted to the SANDF after the 1994 constitution was implemented.

In May 1996, the National Assembly and the Senate, in joint session as the Constitutional Assembly, completed a draft of the final constitution, to be implemented by the end of the formal political transition. Like the interim document that preceded it, the 1996 draft constitution calls for civilian control over the military. The draft makes no mention of the State Security Council or similar overarching security apparatus reminiscent of the 1980s. It reaffirms the missions of the armed forces as outlined in the Defence Act of 1957 and the role of the president to serve as commander in chief of the SANDF.

Four armed services -- the South African Army, the South African Air Force, the South African Navy, and the South African Medical Service -- make up the SANDF, also referred to as the National Defence Force. SANDF headquarters are in Pretoria. The SANDF is commanded by the chief of the armed forces, who is appointed by the president from one of the four branches of the military. The SANDF chief is accountable to the minister of defence, who is a civilian.

The SANDF chief consults with members of several councils and committees and chairs the Defence Command Council (DCC), which oversees the defense budget. On the DCC are the four service chiefs, the chief of the National Defence Force staff, the military inspector general, the chiefs of defence headquarters staff divisions, and other key defense officials. Headquarters responsibilities are allocated among six staff divisions--the Finance Division, the Intelligence Division, the Logistics Division, the Operations Division, the Personnel Division, and the Planning Division.

The military's massive reorganization began a year before the historic April 1994 elections and was scheduled to be completed by late 1996. The process began with the creation of a multiservice Joint Military Coordinating Council (JMCC) by the Transitional Executive Council (TEC)--the country's interim executive authority. The TEC also established a Subcouncil on Defence to supervise the planning phase of the reorganization. The JMCC and the subcouncil worked together to set program goals, and in late 1993 the JMCC formed five working groups to address specific problems associated with finance, intelligence, logistics, operations, and personnel. These working groups presented their recommendations to the JMCC and the subcouncil in early 1994.

At that time, the major security challenge for South Africa was the need to end the township violence that threatened to derail the April 1994 elections. Officials hastily formed a multiracial National Peacekeeping Force (NPKF), including about 3,500 members of existing military organizations--primarily the SADF and MK. In February 1994, the NPKF was deployed to several townships around Johannesburg, but its troops, with widely varying military backgrounds and training, could not adequately coordinate their operations and standards of behavior. NPKF units encountered morale and disciplinary problems, and, in at least one instance, civilians were killed in gunfire between military and paramilitary personnel. The NPKF was disbanded soon after the April 1994 elections.

The failure of the NPKF did not delay the military reorganization, however, and other efforts already underway in early 1994 were more successful. SADF officials and a British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) assembled members of the former homeland armies and former MK and Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA--the military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress) liberation fighters at locations near Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein to evaluate applicants for the new army. The SANDF accepted into its ranks most senior officers from both homeland and liberation armies without extensive testing. In addition, members of the homeland armies who had been trained by SADF instructors were generally accepted immediately into the new organization.

Finally, MK and APLA members were considered for admission on an individual basis, but these cases proved more difficult. Some of the liberation fighters could not meet minimal formal education requirements. Many had received uneven or inadequate training that left them ill-prepared for either combat or organizational responsibilities. Some had been trained in languages other than English or Afrikaans. A few were disqualified because of bureaucratic problems, such as lost files, or because they were overage. The SADF and BMATT personnel provided three to six months of basic training for many former liberation fighters, in order to rectify gaps in background qualifications or experience. For some of the new SANDF soldiers, training continued through 1996.

As the military reorganization proceeded, a multiracial officer corps emerged. By early 1996, more than 1,300 former members of homeland or liberation armies held officer ranks of lieutenant or above. At least eleven black South Africans had been promoted to the rank of major general or above.

As of 1996, military officials had no plans to reinstate conscription as long as there were enough qualified volunteers to meet national security needs. They planned, instead, to transfer some soldiers into the police and others into service brigades. The latter would act as civic-action teams to work on road construction and other infrastructure development projects. Military officials chose this tactic over large-scale dismissals in order to avoid flooding the civilian work force and to provide some work-related training and job skills for former guerrilla fighters. Funds were allocated for this training in late 1994, and the first three- and six-month training courses began in early 1995.

Military officials were working to maintain continuity in SANDF military training, and, at the same time, to inculcate a sense of the changing responsibilities of the army in the 1990s. Military trainers were preparing for new border control problems, as the threat of political infiltration by antiapartheid dissidents gave way to a tide of political and economic refugees hoping to prosper in the new South Africa. Officials also were concerned about increased smuggling and other forms of border fraud. One of their greatest challenges was the dramatic increase in cross-border narcotics trafficking that threatened to bring South Africa into the global spotlight as an important transshipment point in the late 1990s. Finally, the military continued to prepare for the possibility of cross-border hostilities with a neighboring state, although this possibility appeared remote.

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Page last modified: 12-10-2012 18:43:09 ZULU