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The South African Defence Force (SADF) was the South African armed forces from 1957 until 1994. The former Union Defence Force was renamed to the South African Defence Force in the Defence Act (No. 44) of 1957. The SADF was superseded by the South African National Defence Force in 1994.

The SADF was involved in the South African Border War and in the Angolan Civil War on the side of UNITA and Angola rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

Within South Africa, the SADF was also widely used in the suppression of opposition to apartheid.

The SADF implemented conscription of white men, opposed by organisations such as the End Conscription Campaign.



The State President was the Commander-in-Chief of the SADF with:

Staff Divisions under the Chief of Defence Staff included:

Other Support Services commands included:

  • Inspector General of the SADF
  • Chaplain General of the SADF

A list of Chiefs of Defence Staff of the SADF:

Other senior officers:


  • Permanent Forces - Full time Active members
  • National Servicemen - Initially called up for 1 year national service, later extended to 2 years national service in 1977, with ongoing short term service requirements. Troops were generally fully trained for operational duty within the space of 4-7 months
  • Citizen Forces - fully trained part-time members
  • Commando Forces - AKA "Active Citizen Force" - fully trained members
  • Special forces - including 32 Battalion , the Reconnaissance Commandos, and the Civil Co-operation Bureau
  • Voluntary Term Service - created in 1992 to replace the National Service
  • Service Volunteers - non-permanent full time members
  • Auxiliary Service - limited duty personnel who did not meet the academic or physical requirements for national service but performed guard, COIN, labour, and driving duties.

Prior to the dissolution, the SADF had the following force:

  • Full-time - 40 000 Volunteer Service, 5 000 National Service
    • auxiliaries - 16 000
    • civilians - 24 000
  • Part-time - 500 000
    • Citizen Force (approximately 120 000)
    • Commando Force (approximately 130 000 in 200 Units)
    • Reserves (approximately 180 000)

Four armed services

Four armed services made up the forces of the SADF:

Nuclear weapons

South Africa at one time possessed weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, but its stockpile was dismantled during the political transition of the early 1990s. There have been no reported attempts to build more nuclear weapons.


At the end of apartheid in 1994, the SADF was amalgamated with the defence forces of a number of formerly independent homelands as well as personnel from the former anti-apartheid guerrilla forces such as the African National Congress's Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Pan Africanist Congress's APLA and the Self-Protection Units of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The new integrated force became known as the South African National Defence Force.

See also




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