South Africa - Bophuthatswana

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Republic of Bophuthatswana

The Republic of Bophuthatswana (Repaboleki ya Bophuthatswana; Republiek van Bophuthatswana) was a tribal homeland in the northwestern region of Republic of South Africa from 1977 until 1994.[1] The region was actually set aside for Tswana-speaking people in 1961, allowed nominal self-rule in 1971, and nominal independence in 1977.

The Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF) was formed in late 1976 as a National Guard unit, officially becoming the armed forces of the independent nation in December 1977[2]. At its height, the BDF consisted of 1 Infantry Battalion, a Maintenance Unit, an Air Wing, Technical Services Unit, and the Military School. A Special Forces Regiment (including a Parachute Battalion) and two mobile counterinsurgency battalions were later also formed. The Bophuthatswana Police also included a Special Task Force trained in counterinsurgency tactics.

Bophuthatswana was wracked by a series of attempted coups d'etat during its latter years of existence. In February 1988, Rocky Malebane-Metsing and his supporters took over the government for a single day, but an intervention by the SADF[3] reinstated the president and restored order. In 1990, however, a second coup involved as many as 50,000 protesters who demanded the president's resignation over poor handling of the economy. Local security forces and another intervention by the SADF was required to quell the insurrection. And in 1994, when military personnel fired on protesting civil servants, this prompted the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) - an extremist Afrikaaner paramilitary secessionist movement - to mobilize in an effort to restore order. Subsequently, several deaths occurred as both sides fired at each other.

With the end of apartheid in 1994, all of the bantustans were dismantled and their territories incorporated into existing provinces of South Africa.

The Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF) comprised approximately 4,000 personnel in two infantry battalions, with support personnel. An Air Force of about 150 personnel had very limited equipment. Additionally, law enforcement and internal security were relegated to the Bophuthatswana Police.

Camouflage Patterns of Bophuthatswana

  • A very early camouflage design issued to the Bophuthatswana Police was based on the South African Police (SAP) 2nd pattern camouflage. Using essentially the same screens, the Bophuthatswana version incorporated a slightly different coloration, with grass green and russet foliage shapes on a yellowish-tan background (vice the more sandy color of the SAP). The pattern was produced from around 1978 until 1983 by the same factories who produced uniforms for the SADF and SAP.

Bophu1.jpg Bophu2.jpg

  • The second Bophuthatswana Police camouflage design emerged in 1983, and incorporated vertical reed shapes of dark brown, rusty orange & olive green on a khaki background. This was issued to the Police until the Homeland was dissolved.


  • Originally, the Bophuthatswana Defence Force were outfitted in dark olive green solid-color combat uniforms similar to those worn by the SADF. Between 1990 and 1994, however, they began issuing a variation of DPM pattern camouflage. The BDF design has black, chocolate brown & olive green disruptive shapes on a khaki background, with no stippling like the original British version.



  1. The African Homeland, or bantustan, was a territory specifically set aside for black Africans of a specific ethnic or tribal group during the apartheid era.
  2. H-R Heitman, South African War Machine (Bison Books, 1985), p. 117
  3. South African Defence Force