Republic of South Africa
The Republic of South Africa (Republiek van Suid-Afrika) was originally inhabited by Khoisan-speaking hunter-gatherers, but these were largely displaced in the 4th or 5th century CE by Bantu-speaking tribes, of whom the Xhosa and Zulu were the most prominent. Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to reach Southern Africa, naming the southern tip the Cabo da Boa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope) but building no settlements or making any land claims. The first Euoprean settlement was founded by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, and would eventually become Cape Town. Dutch settlers followed shortly thereafter and would engage the local Xhosa in what came to be known as the Cape Frontier Wars between 1779 and 1879, a struggle primarily over land use. Several Boer republics, including the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, would emerge out of the Dutch victories.
Having assumed control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 and established the Cape Colony, Britain began its own settlement program and became involved in a border dispute between Boers in the Transvaal and the Zulu nation, leading to the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 (ending with the defeat of the Zulus). With the discovery of gold and silver in the region still later, Britain intensified its plans to dominate the region. Rivalry over mineral rights and control of the land would spark the First Anglo-Boer War lasting from 1880-1881, and the much longer Second Anglo-Boer War which ran from 1899 to 1902. Following a British victory, the Boer republics would be incorporated into the new Union of South Africa, formed in 1910 as a British dominion. The Union achieved independence from the UK in 1931.
A policy of legally institutionalized segregation (later called apartheid) which had its origins in the Boer republics, would become systematized by the Nationalist Government after 1948, effectively putting control of the nation in the hands of the white (European) minority. In May 1961, the nation elected to leave the British Commonwealth and became the Republic of South Africa. Yet despite opposition the policy of apartheid was continued, leading to boycotts of South Africa by various Western nations, a growing movement of discontent, and an interest in African nationalism by the non-white population.
The African National Congress (ANC) had been founded in the early 20th century as a means of uniting all black Africans under one political ideal. Its opposition to apartheid began in the 1940s and 1950s, with a period of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience. In response to the killing of 69 people by the government during a protest, the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK)the "Spear of the Nation," came into being. The ANC philosophy became one of armed resistance, as they did not feel non-violent campaigns towards change were working. Although apartheid-era policies of discrimination, illegal incarceration, and violent intimidation by the government are undisputed, the guerilla campaign of the MK would ultimately condone its own acts of terrorism, including sabotage, kidnapping, political intimidation, and attacks on rural families. The ANC would over the course of its war against the government, ally itself with several other nationalist insurgency movements, including SWAPO (South West Africa), ZANLA (Rhodesia), the MPLA (Angola), and FRELIMO (Mozambique).
Although politically motivated and widely supported by governments and organizations sympathetic to their cause, and by a significant percentage of the African population, Umkhonto we Sizwe never posed a serious threat to the government of South Africa. Its guerilla campaign was largely ineffective, and resulted in a much more concentrated and effective counter-insurgency campaign by the South African Defense Force (SADF) and the South African Police (SAP). It was largely as a result of intense international pressure that the Nationalist Government finally took steps to dismantle apartheid and move towards a more democratic society. Universal general elections were held in 1994, with the ANC winning an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats, and Nelson Mandela elected as the nation's first black leader. The ANC has dominated South African politics ever since, yet despite international support of the new democratic goverment, there is no question that the nation's stability, productivity, and standards of living have all been in decline since 1994. Whether the nation will be able to turn itself around remains to be seen.
Prior to 1994, the armed forces of South Africa were called the South African Defense Force (SADF), and the national police service were the South African Police (SAP). Another branch of service, the South African Railway Police (SARP), was a remnant of the old Harbor Police in Cape Town established in the late 19th century. Within each of the major services, in addition to a host of highly trained conventional and support units, several elite or special operations units were maintained, and many of these units would be issued with unique or highly specialized camouflage clothing. The standard operational uniform of the SADF would be a medium brown color, called "nutria."
Within the Army, the early Hunter Group and the Reconnaissance Regiments (later the SADF Special Forces) were two units issued a wide variety of camouflage patterns developed specifically for the units. Reconnaissance units, whose highly classified job was to infiltrate enemy territory for purposes of intelligence gathering, sabotage, or counter-insurgency, were furnished with a wide series of "copy" pattern uniforms, literally copied from the military clothing worn by various foreign military units and insurgency groups known to operate in the surrounding regions. The South African Police had their own camouflage patterns, one version of which continues to be worn into the present period, and the SARP also issued with a unique camouflage design to their Special Task Force members.
After the change of government in 1994, the SADF was reorganized into the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), which consists of the SA Army, Navy, Air Force, and Military Health Service. With 74,000 active duty personnel, this is the largest military force in all of Africa. The SAP were also renamed the South African Police Service (SAPS).
South African Defence Force Camouflage
The Hunter Group was an early, counter-insurgency unit trained in guerilla warfare, patrolling, tracking, bushcraft, and intelligence gathering. The unit was formed in 1968 and was probably the first unit in the SADF to wear specialized camouflage clothing, although it was never issued officially, instead being purchased privately by members of the unit. The Hunter Group was disbanded in 1974, but members who went on to pass the selection course became the nucleus of 2 Reconnaissance (Citizen Force) Commando.
- As there was no specific industry for producing camouflage military clothing in South Africa at the time, all Hunter Group uniforms were produced by private firms. The designs were unique and were never reproduced, and most items have commercial-style tags. The 1st pattern Hunter Group camouflage features blotches of grass green, light brown & yellow ochre on a sandy background.
- The 2nd pattern Hunter Group camouflage was produced in two color variations, with either a tan or light olive green background. The design features dense blotches of black, olive green & reddish brown.
- A variation of the 2nd pattern Hunter Group camouflage was printed without the black shapes. This pattern has only three colors, with blotches of grass green & yellowish brown on a sandy background.
- In the mid-1970s, the Hunter Group tested a four color "spot" pattern incorporating blood red, reddish-brown and grass green spots on a tan background. Uniforms were produced in very limited numbers and were not adopted or widely distributed.
- The pattern seen below has been identified as a commercial one, made in South Africa and probably dating to the mid-1970s. Sources indicate that this pattern may also have been worn by individuals of the Hunter Group during this time period.
- An early camouflage pattern developed for the SADF and issued to the Reconnaissance Commandos incoporated dark brown, dark olive green and russet stripes on a pale green background, with some variability between production runs. Referred to in some circles as Recce "wet season" camouflage, this camouflage design was initially produced between circa 1970 and 1976, although evidence indicates leftover stocks were later supplied to the 32 Bn Reconnaissance Wing. The design was later "copied" by the Reconaissance Regiments (see below), where it was given the designation Pattern 1. The 32 Battalion camouflage patterns were based on the original drawings of this design.
The SADF 32 Battalion was formed in 1976 from elements of a specialized unconventional warfare unit of Angola's FNLA who had been trained and supplied by South African special forces under Colonel Jan Breytenbach. Most of its members were Portuguese-speaking Angolans that had been forced to leave their nation after FAPLA's provisional victory.. The primary objective of 32 Battalion was counter-insurgency operations targeting PLAN in South West Africa as well as FAPLA. The unit would be disbanded in 1991, but not before acquiring one of the most lethal reputations of any unit in the SADF.
- Two additional types of camouflage were developed specifially for 32 Battalion, utilizing the same drawings as the earlier pattern, and designated Pattern 2. A summer version or "wet season" (below, left) incorporated dark brown, russet & green on a pale green background, whilst a winter version or "dry season" (below, right) featured dark brown, nutria & green on a light brown background.
- An alternate version of the summer pattern is seen below, featuring slightly different colors.
- The DPM camouflage design seen here has an obscured history within the SADF. Photographic evidence confirms that uniforms in this design were provided to RENAMO troops in Mozambique (early 1980s) by South African Special Forces personnel who were training them in parachuting techniques at the time. There is some conjecture that the design was developed for the Recces themselves, as a kind of "generic" camouflage pattern to be worn on clandestine operations, but thus far no photographic evidence can corroborate this. According to a former member of the 32 Battalion Recce Wing, however, the design was also issued to members of that unit in 1990 but never actually worn on operations. At least two styles of uniform were issued, of which one was in precisely the same style as other 32 Battalion clothing.
- The Parachute Battalions ("Parabats") experimented with several camouflage patterns over the years, but never officially adopted anything. One of the early patterns from the late 1970s or early 1980s is this "giraffe" design, incorporating dark brown spots on a fawn or tan-colored background.
- Tested and introduced between 1991 and 1993, the "Soldier 2000" camouflage design saw its first large scale issue to the SANDF in 1994. The pattern, developed by CSIR-Textile Technology group, features blotches of dark green, grass green & pale green with dark green & pale green spots on an earth brown field and is printed on a wide variety of uniform items as well as field equipment.
Reconnaissance Regiment Camouflage
The first Reconnaissance Regiment was formed in 1972 and loosely based on the Selous Scouts and Special Air Service Regiments of the Rhodesian Security Forces. There would eventually be six Reconnaissance Regiments (or "Recces") numbered 1 through 6, but 3 and 6 would be disbanded in 1981 and their members absorbed into other units. Primarily intelligence-gathering units, the term "regiment" seems to have been intentionally mis-applied to the units, which were in fact composed of rather smaller numbers. Operating as they did primarily outside the borders of South Africa, and most often in territory populated by unfriendly civilians and combatants alike, the Recces would come to produce a complete range of camouflage uniforms copied from the commonly encountered models worn by enemy or unfriendly units in neighboring Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, among others. These "Copy" uniforms would often mimic exactly the same style of construction as the originals, although alternate versions would use only the copied fabric and would be tailored to the more practical needs of a reconnaissance operator.
- One of the earliest foreign camouflage designs worn by Recce personnel during deployments was not a "copy" pattern at all, but instead original Rhodesian brushstroke design uniforms. These were worn while operating alongside units of the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) on clandestine operations in Mozambique during 1974 .
- The full range of Recce "Copy" camouflage patterns are illustrated below. In the first row, from left to right: Pattern 1 "wet season" camouflage (re-issue - with darker colours), Cuba "elm leaf" pattern, Cuba grey lizard pattern, and the East German "rain" (aka "rice fleck") pattern.
- In the second row, from left to right: Egyptian vertical "lizard" pattern, French tenue du leopard or lizard pattern, Lebanese blue "vertical stripe" pattern (probably copied from a model produced in Egypt or Syria), the so-called "Libyan rhubarb" pattern (copied from a pattern worn by SWAPO), and the Portuguese m63 lizard pattern.
- Another camouflage design utilized by the Recces was never printed on fabric for clothing, but instead on waterproofed nylon cloth used to make groundsheets, a flotation device, field packs, and various types of field equipment. The official designation is P90 (Pattern 90) but the design is usually nicknamed "cabbage patch."
- The duck hunter camouflage design seen here is of undetermined origin, but was definitely utilized by reconnaissance personnel for various personalized pieces of kit, per individual needs. Sourced in raw bolts of fabric, the pattern was utilized to create many different types of items, from small bandanas to large table cloths and sniper hides. Private tailors were also enlisted to create personal kit like sleeping bags from this fabric.
South African Police and South African Railway Police Camouflage
- The South African Police (SAP) introduced its own camouflage pattern in 1969, consisting of grass green and russet foliage shapes on a khaki background. The pattern was in production until 1972, when it was changed slightly. The SAP 1st pattern camouflage can be distinguished by the "smudge" and "pinwheel" shapes within the pattern, for which it is often called "pinwheel pattern." As can be seen below, several different variations were produced, as the fabric was printed by a variety of private textile companies without any concern for consistency. Also produced in Rhodesia, the pattern was worn into the 1970s by the SAP, and also by some Police units in South West Africa. Use of this camouflage was not limited to the SAP, but was also worn by the Reconnaissance Commandos and the Recce Wings of 32nd and 31st Battalions.
- Beginning in 1973, the South African Police camouflage design changed somewhat, losing both the "smudge" and "pinwheel" features but retaining the foliated shapes that distinguish the general design. Coloration of the SAP 2nd pattern camouflage remained relatively the same, although as with the 1st pattern there were many variations produced due to inconsistencies in the production from one firm to another. Recent versions of the pattern are still being worn by the SAPS Special Task Force.
- Between 1975 and 1986, the Special Task Force of the South African Railway Police (SARP) were issued a horizontal stripe pattern of black, reddish-brown and dark olive green on a nutria background. Once retired (when the SARP were disbanded) the pattern would later be adopted by the Ciskei tribal homeland.
Paramilitary and Insurgent Group Camouflage
- The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) or Afrikaaner Resistance Movement was a conservative political and paramilitary movement founded in 1973 to establish an independent Boer State and defend the existing apartheid laws in South Africa. They professed vehement opposition to the ideals of the ANC, and in 1994 came to the defense of the government of Bophuthatswana during the attempted coup d'etat, engaging Defence Force members and enduring some casualties. The movement is no longer considered paramilitary, but rather political. Prior to the change in government, members of the movement often appeared in two locally-produced camouflage patterns based on DPM - both a desert and an urban variant.
- The Mkonto We Sizwe (MK) of the ANC generally utilized whatever uniforms and military equipment were available to them, and often operated in civilian clothing. Nevertheless, over the course of their long insurgency campaign against the South African government, large quantities of certain uniforms were obtained through private sources and foreign governments sympathetic to the movement's political ideals. The two woodland patterns seen below were sourced through British companies.
- The leaf pattern seen here was produced in Europe and also exported to the MK.
- In service with the armed forces of Angola in the 1990s, the "swirl" design seen here originated in China, and was also exported in some quantity to the MK.
- Another Chinese export, a darker-colored variation of their standard woodland variant, is seen here. This pattern also saw service with Uganda's National Resistance Army (NRA).
- Peter Stiff: The Silent War (Galago Publishing, Alberton, South Africa, 1999) p. 65
- R Pitta and J Fannell: "South African Special Forces" (Osprey Publishing Ltd, London, 1993) p. 15-16
- R Pitta and J Fannell: "South African Special Forces" (Osprey Publishing Ltd, London, 1993) p. 22
- Peter Stiff: The Silent War (Galago Publishing, Alberton, South Africa, 1999) p. 86