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South Africa

National Security Management System

Security concerns were foremost in the policies of P. W. Botha, who became prime minister in 1978, following twelve years as minister of defense. Botha and the new minister of defense, General Magnus Malan, overhauled, consolidated, and streamlined much of the government, subordinating its other functions to their security concerns. To manage this cumbersome bureaucratic arrangement, Botha, Malan, and a few key advisers created the National Security Management System (NSMS) and consolidated the preeminence of the Directorate of Military Intelligence within the government's information-gathering community.

The NSMS subsumed and co-opted existing structures, both public and private, in a comprehensive security apparatus. Some critics of government viewed the NSMS as a shadow or parallel government, or even a covert infrastructure for de facto military rule. Its mission was based upon a classical counterinsurgency strategy--to identify and to neutralize antigovernment activists and to strengthen public support ("Winning the hearts and minds"--WHAM) for security-related activities.

At the apex of the NSMS was the State Security Council (SSC). The SSC had been established in 1972 as one of twenty cabinet committees with advisory responsibilities to the executive branch of government. In 1979 it became the most important and most powerful of the four remaining cabinet committees. Botha chaired the enlarged SSC, which also included the minister of defense, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of justice, and the minister of law and order; the chief of the SADF; the chiefs of the military and the intelligence services; the commissioner of police; the chief of the security police; and other senior government officials by invitation.

The SSC functioned as a national command center, evaluating current intelligence, formulating policy, and directing a nationwide organizational network dedicated to implementing the Total Strategy. The scope of its responsibilities, size, organizational complexity, and budget far exceeded that of any other cabinet committee, past or present. The SSC was supported by a Work Committee and by the State Security Secretariat staff. The Work Committee met weekly to review and to coordinate the activities of more than a dozen interdepartmental committees and to refine issues to be put before the entire council. The secretariat staff of about ninety consisted primarily of military and intelligence personnel.

Internally, the SSC was organized into four branches. These had responsibility for security strategy--developing strategic options and monitoring overall government policy; for national intelligence--reviewing, evaluating, and interpreting information produced by other agencies; for strategic communication--considering problems associated with the government's psychological and public-relations campaigns; and for administration.

Below this national command center was a hierarchy of Joint Management Centers (JMCs), generally corresponding to SADF area commands. Twelve JMCs were operating in 1986; these were later reduced to nine to coincide with the government's newly designated economic development areas. Headquartered in major cities, the JMCs were chaired by military or police brigadiers (between colonel and major general), each directing fifty to fifty-five officials and security officers. JMC officials also directed the activities of sub-JMCs, or subcenters composed of officials from city government, police, and military in the area. At the bottom of the security apparatus pyramid were approximately 448 minicenters, directed by municipal officials, postmasters, fire chiefs, local defense officials, and other community leaders. JMC authorities at each level were assisted by three advisory committees specializing in communications; in intelligence; and in constitutional, economic, and social affairs.

In the mid-1980s, the government established the Military Area Radio Network (MARNET), a twenty-four-hour very-high-frequency system designed to link farmers in rural locations with police and military forces in the area. The radio network was intended to help protect civilians in emergencies, such as an armed uprising or terrorist attack, especially in the far northern Transvaal. Other civilian defense measures included weapons training, fire-fighting, and first-aid classes provided by the military.

As internal dissent escalated in the mid-1980s, the government again raised minimum national service requirements, and new legislation extended military service obligations to foreign residents of South Africa. By 1989 the SADF had grown to an estimated 103,000 active-duty and 455,000 reserve-duty troops. Growing civilian opposition, in the meantime, prompted an activist End Conscription Campaign to urge civilians to resist military service. The number of men who avoided conscription each year rose steadily, and the government debated instituting a system of conscientious objection (and alternative service) to allow a small number of conscripts to avoid military service legally, based on their religious beliefs. But by the time such a system became law in 1992, several thousand men each year had refused to be conscripted for military service, and a small number were prosecuted and were jailed or fined for this offense.

Regional tensions began to ease in the late 1980s. The government was reevaluating its commitment to apartheid, and expectations of political change were becoming evident in South Africa and throughout the region. Moreover, as the fighting in Angola began to subside, South African troops withdrew from Namibia, and the government began to seek contacts among former opponents to negotiate a way out of the political and economic impasse created by apartheid. National Service obligations were scaled back; for example, in 1991 the initial mandatory period of military service was reduced to one year.

Specialized Forces

The SADF increasingly assumed internal security functions during the 1970s and 1980s and was deployed to urban areas of South Africa, often referred to as the second front, to combat sabotage. In these nontraditional military functions, senior officers relied on specialized military and paramilitary units, some with unpublicized areas of responsibility.

The Special Forces were assigned sensitive missions and operations inside and outside South Africa, which were often closed to public scrutiny. The Special Forces consisted of five or six reconnaissance (recce) regiments during most of the apartheid era. Other specialized units were sometimes involved in clandestine operations, but were not technically included among the Special Forces. The reconnaissance regiments' commanders had the authority to initiate operations subject only to the approval of the military chief of staff for operations. The commanding general of all Special Forces reported directly to the SADF chief.

The oldest of the Special Forces, the First Reconnaissance Regiment, known as "One Recce," was formed in 1972 and was headquartered in Durban. It was responsible for the initial training of all Special Forces members from the mid-1970s on. The other reconnaissance units were formed in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The Second Reconnaissance Regiment was headquartered in Pretoria and was deployed largely in that area. Little public information exists about the Third Reconnaissance Regiment, which reportedly was disbanded during the 1980s. The Fourth Reconnaissance Regiment, based at Langebaan, near Saldanha Bay, specialized in seaborne operations and saw extensive service in Angola during the early and mid-1980s.

The Fifth Reconnaissance Regiment, based at Phalaborwa, in the northeast, operated primarily in Mozambique in support of the Mozambican National Resistance (Resistencia Nactional Moçambicana--MNR or Renamo), but saw additional action in South Africa and Angola. The Sixth Reconnaissance Regiment also saw action in Mozambique. Members of the reconnaissance regiments were recruited in Zimbabwe (until 1980, Rhodesia), Angola, and Mozambique, and among South Africans who opposed the antiapartheid struggle or the ANC, in particular, for a variety of political and personal reasons.

Several other specialized military units provided clandestine and open support for the government and its apartheid policies. For example, the South-West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF), the Forty-Fourth Parachute Brigade, the Thirty-Second Battalion, and the Koevoet ("crowbar," in Afrikaans) counterinsurgency force had specific responsibilities for preserving the status quo or for defending the government. Some of these units--which often included members of all races but were usually commanded by whites--earned reputations for particular brutality in carrying out their missions.

Before Namibian independence in 1990, whites in that disputed territory had the same compulsory military service as in South Africa, and they sometimes served in SADF units in Namibia. In August 1980, the SADF established SWATF to counter the growing South-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) insurgency, which had been fighting for independence since the 1960s. SWATF included some SADF units and local recruits; its commander, an SADF general, was both South-West Africa secretary of defense and general officer commanding South African army forces in the territory.

By 1987 SWATF was a 22,000-member militia, with a reaction force element and an area force. The reaction force had a motorized brigade composed of three infantry battalions and an armored car regiment, and a standing force of six light infantry battalions with supporting units recruited and trained for service in specific regions, or among specific ethnic groups. The area force comprised twenty-six multiracial counterinsurgency forces. Additional specialized units of SWATF included engineers, signals personnel, mounted troops, a parachute battalion, and a commando squadron. Several other multiracial units performed territory-wide functions in South-West Africa.

The Forty-Fourth Parachute Brigade, headquartered at Murray Hill near Pretoria, was the SADF's best-qualified rapid deployment force. The First Paratroop Battalion, its only standing battalion, was based at Tempe, outside Bloemfontein. These forces were used extensively in South-West Africa and in Angola during the late 1970s, and after 1980 were joined by paratroopers from the former Rhodesian army.

The Thirty-Second Battalion, a black multinational light infantry force, was formed in 1976 from remnants of Angolan rebel units that had been defeated in that country's civil war. It was primarily involved in anti-SWAPO operations in Namibia. The Thirty-Second Battalion worked closely with several reconnaissance units of the SADF. In April 1989, it moved to Pomfret, in the northern Cape Province, from which it was deployed to quell violence in black townships in several urban areas.

During the 1980s, the 3,000-strong Koevoet counterinsurgency force, composed mostly of Ovambo fighters commanded by white SADF officers, conducted anti-SWAPO operations in Namibia and earned a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality. Koevoet was largely disbanded after the territory achieved independence in 1990, and some of its members were transferred to the Namibian police force. Former Koevoet members are widely despised by citizens and, in particular, by former SWAPO members who have also joined the country's new police force.

Several other specialized military units were not part of the Special Forces, but their particular missions were defined in part by legally established racial boundaries. The South African Cape Corps (SACC), for example, traced its origins to a small force of coloured soldiers who had fought together during World War II. In 1965 Cape Corps personnel were permanently assigned to the navy, and later some were transferred to air force maintenance units. An Indian Corps was set up in 1974 to train Asian volunteers, primarily for the navy. During the 1980s, these volunteers were trained at the Indian Training Centre at Durban for service in the navy or the Marine Corps.

Until the early 1990s, the military's Catering Corps was responsible for enforcing aspects of apartheid related to food and dining. As a general rule, caterers in any of the military services could serve food only to members of their own racial group. They prepared different rations for soldiers of different racial identities and for those whose religions enforced food prohibitions. The caterers also served special rations to the crews of maritime aircraft, ships, and submarines, and to prisoners of war.

The State President's Guard, established as an elite, specially trained unit in May 1967, was disbanded in October 1990. It performed both protective and ceremonial functions. As a home guard, it protected and staffed the president's homes in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, and Bloemfontein while the president was in residence. It also served as a ceremonial honor guard at important events such as presidential inaugurations and funerals, state visits, and VIP visits. Over the course of its twenty-three-year history, it was successively attached to the Army Gymnasium in Pretoria, the South African Medical Service Training Centre at Heidelberg (southeast of Johannesburg), the Fourth Provost Company in Wonderboom (northeast of Bloemfontein), the Second Signal Regiment in Pretoria, and the South African Army College (near Pretoria). During the 1980s, a few presidential guard units were deployed to border areas for ten to twelve months, in part because their superior training enabled them to serve longer than the normal three-month rotation to those regions.

Data as of May 1996

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