Knowing the military – any military – is a tough task for anyone. The South African National Defence Force, or SANDF, have some particularly interesting characteristics that are mostly lost on those not working in the military. Here are five facts about the SANDF that you may not have known.
44 Parachute Battalion and Special Forces fought thousands of rebels in the CAR and survived
During the March 2013 attack and subsequent coup by Seleka rebels in the CAR, SANDF soldiers were involved in a rather famous battle in the capital city of Bangui. This much is well-known. What is less well-known, however, is that although 15 soldiers died in the battle, enemy casualty estimates range from a low 600 to a high 2000.
Briefly-captured soldiers reported seeing a warehouse full of bodies soon after the battle. By its end, the paratroopers and Special Forces involved in the Battle of Bangui had fought overwhelming numbers and not only survived, but effectively brought Seleka to the point where the only feasible way of continuing on to the presidential palace was through negotiating a truce with SANDF commanders on the ground.
South African artillery is some of the best in the world
Historically, South African G5 and G6 (pictured) artillery systems designed and manufactured in South Africa have been well-respected for their range and accuracy. There is widespread speculation, however, that this is no longer the case. The G6-52 155mm Self-Propelled artillery system proves otherwise.
When equipped with rocket-propelled artillery shells (yes, those exist), the G6-52 can reach out and speak to the enemy at 70km range. To put this in perspective, the D-10 artillery piece commonly used throughout Africa has an average range of about 10km. The G6 is a recent design and undermines the myth that the South African defence industry is no longer producing anything innovative. Whether the G6-52 can be marketed overseas for sale, however, is another question entirely.
One soldier destroyed an entire ship with a can of gunpowder
Job Masego, a member of the Native Military Corps during WW2, managed to blow up a cargo ship in the Tobruk docks. While captured by the Germans following Maj Gen Klopper’s surrender, Masego hid a tin of explosives in the fuel compartment of a cargo ship and was able to blow the vessel up.
He was later awarded the Military Medal. He was recommended for a Victoria Cross, the highest honour for gallantry in combat, but in true backwards colonial fashion, this was denied because Masego was considered “just an African”. That he managed this feat solo, while imprisoned, appears to have been lost on his superior officers.
South Africa’s Navy is fighting pirates!
Yes. Believe it or not, the SA Navy and Special Forces have been deployed to the Mozambican Channel for several years now, in a deliberate operation aimed at capturing or deterring pirate attacks originating from Somali coast. Although they have not yet caught a single pirate (instances of pirate activity are low), there have been several occasions where the Navy has chased or inspected suspicious vessels.
South Africa missed an opportunity to have a ‘Top Gun’ School
In 2012 it was announced that a “Gripen Fighter Weapons School” (GFWS) was being proposed for the country. Given the favourable climate and the impressive display of 2 Squadron’s flight skills at a Gripen exercise in Sweden, the creation of a GFWS in South Africa seemed like a no-brainer. The GFWS would have taught Gripen pilots the intricacies of dogfighting and air-to-air combat tactics – essentially a South Africa-based Top Gun.
But the GFWS was never accepted by the SANDF, despite eagerness for all involved to make it happen. Some manner of internal dispute resulted in zero training possibility for South African personnel to become elite combat fighters. Though we’ll probably never know. The Department of Defence has been unwilling or unable to provide a clear explanation for the rejection of such an obviously-beneficial school. The GFWS will now likely be hosted in Thailand.