The Excellence of The South African Defence Force with special reference to my tours of duty as Head of The South African Defence Force, Head of The South African Army and Officer Commanding Special Forces


General Kat Liebenberg, SSA, SD, SOE, SM, MMM


1. During the middle 1980's some ill informed political leaders and especially the anti government media began referring to so-called "Securocrats", allegations were bandied about referring to certain courses of action that were being proposed to Mr. P.W. Botha by these Securocrats and that the country was actually ruled by the Securocrats.

2. These allegations are ludicrous and I would like to expand on these. The South African Defence Force was and is, as in the case of any country in the world, one of the most important power bases that is there for the use of the State/Government to implement it's governmental goals. It is, however, the Governments' prerogative to decide what power base to utilise when and where, and also as to what profile will be adopted i.e. highly visible or not.

3. I do not believe that the decision of the South African Defence Force to take part in W.W.I, W.W.II and the Korean Conflict was taken on this basis, more than likely it was more a case of slavishly following the lead of Britain and later on that of the Commonwealth rather than what was in South Africa's interest.

4. In recent time though, the application of the South African Defence Force directly or indirectly has been a decision by the Government of the day in all cases, with specific goals in mind. A few examples will suffice:

a. Our involvement in Angola in the middle 1970's. As a result of the international sanctions that had been forced upon South Africa this intervention had to be covert initially. The political aim of the Government with Operation Savannah was to prevent the Marxist MPLA Government from staying in power in Angola. Therefore, it was not a military excursion but a decision by the Government to intervene.

b. The clandestine support given to the Portuguese in Angola and Mocambique as well as that given to Rhodesia after its unilateral declaration of independence was aimed at supporting non-Marxist buffer States as long as possible on the borders of South Africa. Once again these were Governmental decisions and clearly not a case of military excursions by the so called Securocrats.

c. The deployment of the South African Defence Force in South West Africa was a direct counter to the attempt by Swapo to take over the Country by force of arms.

d. The South African Defence Force's support for Unita in Angola and the MNR in Mocambique again had to be covert as a result of the international trade sanctions that hamstrung South Africa. In both cases however it was again the case of a result of a Governmental decision to try and limit the support that the Marxist Governments of these Countries were giving to revolutionary organisations opposed to the Republic of South Africa or at best to try and get moderate, non-Marxist Governments in power in these Countries.

e. The deployment of the South African Defence Force to counter incursions and to operate against MK and APLA in neighbouring countries speaks for itself.

f. The internal deployment of the South African Defence Force was in support of the South African Police in its role in countering riot situations and internal unrest. The South African Defence Force and the South African Army in particular had a pivotal role in the Joint Security Management System, especially on a regional basis. The JSMS' borders fortuitously agreed with those of the South African Army's Regional Command structure. This system was implemented by the South African Government and the Chairmen were elected in a democratic way on a regional basis by nominated representatives of the various departments. All of those elected as Chairmen were Officers Commanding, South African Army Regional Command, with the sole exception of the Northern Cape where the elected Chairman was the Regional Commander of the South African Police. These appointments were confirmed by means of a Letter of Appointment from the State President, which included their brief. In this capacity the Army Personnel appointed as Chairmen provided a tremendous contribution and ensured that interdepartmental actions were co-ordinated on a regional basis. It is a fact of life that sometimes they had to tread on some toes to ensure that these objectives were met. They did not interfere as far as line functions were concerned but it was their duty as Chairmen to report on line function omissions i.e.. tardiness and non compliance by departments. These actions were sometimes perceived as interference by the SADF in the day to day running of departments by Civil Servants and Local Politicians and could be seen as the South African Defence Force wanting to play a bigger role in the day to day running of the Country. The Chairmen played an outstanding role and fulfilled their mandate. From my own observations first as Chief of the Army and later as Chief of the South African Defence Force I have to say that the odd Civil Servant and Politician who complained about this so-called interference in their affairs were those who were incompetent or would not do their duty whilst serving on the JSMS.

6. The myth concerning the so called Securocrats who were intent on ruling or trying to rule the Country is totally devoid of any foundation. If we are guilty of anything, we gladly say "Mea Culpa" to the charge of doing our duty to the best of our ability, and as such I harbour no feelings of guilt, rather one of pride in a job well done.

The South African Defence Force has a lot to be proud of.

7. The South African Defence Force has more to be proud of than to be ashamed of - why? - I cannot think of one order which was received from the Government that was not completed successfully, from supplying water and foodstuffs to conventional warfare, all of this in a professional manner.

8. In conclusion let us look at this in more detail.

a. Special Forces: What Countries in the world had the good fortune to have Special Forces like ours?

i) A Land, Sea and Air, as well as a Pseudo, capability and everything under one command, which gave us the capability to be extremely flexible in the application of these Forces. Add to this the close co-operation of the South African Army, the South African Air Force, the South African Navy and the South African Medical Services, is it any wonder then that foreign military attaches and observers often said to me, in my capacity of Officer Commanding Special Forces, "We can understand most things you accomplish but what we cannot comprehend is how you manage to exfiltrate successfully over such vast distances".

ii) Our leadership element and operators consisted of human resources that displayed courage, imagination, initiative, boldness and an uncompromising will to see things through to the end regardless, throughout all the operations spanning decades.

iii) Special Forces operations are not advertised far and wide but I doubt it if there are any other Special Forces in the World today that executed as many operations as we did during the late 70's right up to the end of the 80's.

iv) The Civilian Co-operation Bureau (CCB) has been denigrated and will probably be denigrated even more in the future, but I think that it is high time that somebody stand up and be counted, as they made an excellent contribution to the security of South Africa. If the media reports are correct that they made mistakes and now are applying for amnesty, so be it, I think that it is not for me to comment on that and through such comments influence the judicial process.

v) Our Special Forces played a role far in excess of their numbers and by doing this not only made it possible for the South African Defence Force and the South African Government to negate to a large extent the limited international economic freedom which hamstrung South Africa. The heroes are not remembered or supported. Unfortunately, today they are regarded almost as a somewhat sinister organisation of the past, of which we should be ashamed.

b. The South African Army I would like to emphasise a few aspects and please note I'm not referring to quantity but quality. There aren't many Armies in the world that can boast of the following:
i) Not only the quality of our human resources but especially the diversity thereof, namely: White (different language groups), Black (different language groups), Brown, Bushmen (San), Angolans etc. The diversity of such a makeup enabled us to apply these groups in myriad ways.

ii) What army could utilise junior leaders operationally as Platoon and Troop Commanders only one year after they had left school? Most of the time these junior leaders took charge of their commands whilst serving in a foreign country. They were second to none.

iii) What other army's part-time Soldiers (Citizen Force, National Servicemen, Members of the Commando's and Volunteers) made the sacrifices and gained the experience that these Soldiers did? And I am not even mentioning Permanent Force Members.

iv) What other army had the to perform the following tasks during the past decades all at once?

1. Border defence encompassing all of the Republic's borders.

2. Support for the SAP during times of internal unrest/riots.

3. A leading role in the internal JSMS (JMS's, Sub JMS's, Mini JMS's and LMS's).

4. Counter Insurgency Operations within South West Africa and in the Southern Cunene Province of Angola.

5. Conventional Operations in South Eastern Angola.

THE SOUTH AFRICAN ARMY DID ALL OF THESE THINGS SIMULTANEOUSLY ! And the South African Army performed exceptionally well in meeting all of its goals on all occasions.

c. The South African Defence Force Apart from the autonomous functions of the other departments of the Defence Force, Special Forces and the South African Army would not have been able to fulfil tasks allotted to them without the superb back-up provided by the South African Air Force, South African Navy and the South African Medical Services.


9. Finally, I would like to emphasise a few points.

10. The South African Defence Force was an instrument of the State or Government and as such was one of the most important in its arsenal to be utilised to enable it to achieve its goals.

11. The South African Defence Force served the State and as such also served the Government of the Day. The South African Defence Force was apolitical and did not fight for, or defend Apartheid. In actual fact the reverse held true, the South African Defence Force was the first body that did away with the so-called "petty apartheid", so much that we had to endure frequent criticism from certain political leaders.

12. The South African Defence Force performed its duties in South West Africa and the Republic of South Africa to the highest standards. Our main goal was to ensure that these two countries would not be subjugated by force of arms, and that the security situation would not be compromised, and by doing this we ensured that a democratic political process would be found. It is not a question of whether we like or dislike the results of this democratic political process, this is something for the Politicians to resolve. The South African Defence Force did what was asked of it, and is definitely not responsible for the political outcome in these two countries.

13. It is a shame that the South African Defence Force is not credited for what it had achieved, in fact the reverse holds true. Nowadays we are required to sit in air-conditioned halls, and to explain to people who are ignorant on the subject of military matters why we took certain decisions in the heat of battle, whilst the "fog of war" raged around us. It is ironic that the pressure that is exerted on the SADF and its members does not come from those we faced on the battlefield, but from those who stayed at home and never fired a shot in anger!

14. Somebody said "the Heroes of yesterday could easily be the villains of today". This is the road that the Humanists have planned for us, won't be all that easy!

15. Make no mistake, I believe in reconciliation. I have, however, not applied for amnesty, since not only is the legislation enshrining this unconstitutional, but it is also biased against the old Security Forces.

16. I take full responsibility for all actions that were taken as a result of my orders, be they direct or indirect. Everybody who served under my command can count on this. I will also support each and every member of the South African Defence Force who acted in good faith without direct orders, even if they made errors of judgement. I cannot and will not, however, stand up for somebody who acted for personal gain.

17. I say to you "Have strength for the road ahead!" We have a lot to be proud of, it was an honour to serve in the SADF and I feel privileged to have commanded such a superb organisation!

(Translation into English by Cobus Venter, who maintains the 32 Battalion Home Page)

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