Role of Territorial Forces/Commamdos: hearings


17 October 2001
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


17 October 2001

Chairperson: Ms Thandi Modise  

Documents Handed Out:
Agri-SA Submission
Swartland Commando Submission (Appendix)
Bronkhorstpruit Commando Unit (Lt Col F.P.J Steenkamp) Submission
Reserve Force Council
Willem Steenkamp: Gendarmerie Concept as an Answer to Crime and Violence
[email [email protected] for documents]

The territorial forces have been historically associated with the apartheid regime since many non-full time whites, especially in the rural areas, formed the core of these units. This is a perception which continues to this day and added problems include the lack of funding which these units have experienced in the post-1994 era, the challenge of transformation as well as the increasing role that private security firms are playing in protecting farms and communities.  The submissions by and large appealed for better funding from the government whilst concerns for transformation were also raised.  

Swartland Commando submission
Lt Col Van de Westhuizen, unit Commander of the Swartland Commando, noted that the primary function of these forces is the expulsion of enemy forces from the RSA's rear areas during an act of war on the RSA's borders. The protection of infrastructure like roads and factories as well as protecting the people of South Africa so that conventional forces can be released to fight on the borders is also a central part of their mandate. The secondary function he noted was the provision of support to the SAPS for maintaining law and order especially in the rural areas where police stations have a limited operational time usually not exceeding 16h00. Another function of these units is to help during disasters and the fact that they are usually from the area makes them very effective, as they are familiar with the people and the territory.

He pointed out, however, that there is very little concern from the state about the commandos. Usually they use equipment left over by the main defence force units. Their logistical set-up makes it very difficult for professionalism to be realised in their general administrative and operational activities. Another problem is that these units are seen as racist or 'Boere' organisations.

Lt Col Van de Westhuizen noted problems/mistakes which need attention:
- the fact that the equipment the units need such as radios, is usually lying in stores in the military bases underutilised.
- people who are supposed to brief the state on these units know very little about them,
- selling vehicles to other countries while the units need them
- bringing out magazines that glorify that certain units are fighting for their survival whereas court cases have proved that the accusations of wrongdoing by them were false.

Ms Kota Z (ANC) asked how they are planning to get other groups like private forces into co-operative arrangements. 

Mr. Ndlovu V (IFP), referring to the submission, asked if they are saying most of the criminals are black because blacks are in the majority in this country. 

Lt Col Van De Westhuizen replied that on the question of private forces the forces were usually in existence where they are operating and up to this stage no co-operative arrangements have been put together. On the issue of crimes, he pointed out that that is not what they are saying. Rather they are saying that people, whether black or white, are arrested if they break the law. If there is a pre-dominance of people of one race group in an area, it is arithmetically sensible that more crimes and therefore more arrests are going to come from that group.

Mr. Ngculu L (ANC) asked the Colonel to clarify his remark about the disposal of equipment which they needed. Referring to the submission, he asked about 'politicians making ill-informed decisions'. Further he wanted clarity on his comment that this is because politicians get their briefing from the media where the issues of misbehaviour and racism within the units are blown out of proportion.

On the issue of equipment, Lt Col Van De Westhuizen gave an example in Kimberley where there were about 20 hardskin vehicles in one military base and on enquiring about their availability, they were told those had already been sold to other countries.

Mr. Mabeta E (UDM) asked, in the light of a transforming society, what educational programmes does the unit have for communities dominated by one racial group. How do you explain your existence?

The response was that they usually have community programmes allocated for in their budget but participation was, however, voluntary.  

Ms Kota Z (ANC) asked what role the unit was playing in public partnerships.

Lt Col Van De Westhuizen replied that they have monthly meetings which involve the police and the community organisations where issues of concern are raised by the various groups.
A General from the Department commented on the issue of the vehicles in question and acknowledged that this was the case. He pointed out that this was however because those vehicles are obsolete and their maintenance was beyond the commandos capacity and would cost the state unnecessarily.
Bronkhorstpruit Commando Unit
Lt Col F Steenkamp briefed the committee about typical commando activities which include planned operational activities in terms of the National Rural Safety Plan. He identified prompt operational actions as a first activity when the following has happened: farm attacks, vehicle hijacking and theft, stock theft, house breaking, strikes and riots and other closely related issues.

Secondly 24 hour guard duty including the manning of the Marnet Console, writing of operational orders. Thirdly communication operations including liaison on a continual basis with other role players of the Rural Safety Plan (as adopted by the State President). The marketing of the reserve force concept to community leaders and opinion makers, the establishment and maintenance of an effective administrative division with the upkeep of all registers and filing system were also mentioned as typical activities.

Lt Col Steenkamp also identified command problems where the lack of funds due to an insufficient budget allocation was the problem leading to the following effects.
Reduced number of full-time soldiers and an increased number of part-time soldiers as according to the 1997 White Paper on defence which has not been met.

The representivity of commando members has not been achieved because the military conscription programme was received by non-blacks whereas blacks have not gone through that experience.

SAPS station commissioners nation-wide have reported an enormous increase in crime in the rural communities as a result of the downscaling of commando unit vehicle and foot patrols for financial reasons. He added that lack of funds and cutbacks curtailed the integration process.

Mr. Ngculu asked if the budget proposal was a funding request for the Department to consider .
Lt Col Steenkamp responded that this was not the case, the breakdown of figures was merely an exercise to show the costs involved.

Mr. Ndlovu V (IFP) asked about the issue of military conscription. Was the Colonel saying because non-blacks had received military training, they now no longer have to be trained.

Lt Col Steenkamp explained that you cannot deploy someone who has not been trained as is the case with most blacks. Whereas in the case of non-blacks you find people who completed national service during the apartheid era who therefore need little or no retraining at all.

Mr. Groenewald (DA) asked if the lack of a budget was only the case in the Bronkhorstpruit area or elsewhere in terms of the Rural Safety Plan.

Lt Col Steenkamp replied that he was not exactly sure but he did not think that there is a budget for the Rural Safety Plan anywhere in the country.

The General pointed out that a budget for such a programme was not existent as far as he knew.

Mr. Oosthuizen P (DA) noted that the Colonel had said the budget was confidential; he wanted to know if any item in the budget dealt with the issue of training and transformation, especially in the case of leadership programmes.

Lt Col Steenkamp replied that he cannot say there is a specific budget allocation for this, but once a soldier shows leadership qualities, irrespective of colour, they are promoted through the system.

Mr. Mabeta (UDM) asked about the issue of integration and what the Colonel meant in using the term. He expressed disappointment that the biggest problem seems to be an apparent lack of funds. What are the structures in place for transformation?

The General responded that integration is about people who were not part of the institution before as in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape and in the Far Northern Province were these communities have very little knowledge about these units, especially the non-white population. He added that integration is also about the assimilation of the various armed forces of the past order into the new national defence force.

Submission by Agri-SA
Mr J Ferreira, the vice president of the union, said that the South African Agricultural Union represents agricultural producers from all population groups as well as suppliers and commodity groups in South Africa. Various structures are included such as farmer associations (in the region of 1000), provincial organisations (9), community organisations (45) and agric-business (70) with a membership base of about 80 000.

The commando system is an important security structure of the security forces and many Agri-SA members are also commando members. He added that this is largely a support structure for the SAPS, especially in the rural areas. He pointed out that stability in the rural areas is under threat because of ongoing crime and commandos can play an essential role in rural development to maintain safety and to bring about stability.

Mr. Ferreira identified severe resource constraints for the commando system. Financial cutbacks are a problem as they affect the training of existing members as well as the recruitment and the training of new members. This is happening at a time when rural crime is escalating and the murder rate of members of the agricultural community remains at an unacceptably high level.

Secondly the shortage of appropriate vehicles for operations and patrols as well as camouflage clothing and suitable signaling equipment is also a problem. Most vehicles used are not suitable for their specific activities.

Mr. J Visser presented Agri-SA's views on the role and function of the commando. He noted that during times of war, the unit serves primarily to protect South Africa and uphold the integrity of the state and South African territory in general.

During peacetime he saw the unit mainly playing a support role for the SAPS in preventing crime and maintaining stability. It offered training to the total community in different fields such as home protection, legal aspects, emergency aid. It supported disaster management structures. Immediate requirements include sufficient funds to deploy 150 platoons per day, at least two suitable vehicles per unit to carry-out their duties, an abridged process for joining a commando and suitable uniforms that a commando member can wear on duty to identify himself in the event of a rapid response.

The Minister of Defence, Mr. M Lekota, commented on the issue that security firms thrive in the environment where there is a high incidence of crime. He informed the committee that some farmers who have links to security companies and resent the commandos, encourage attacks on farms protected by these units so that farmers can lose confidence in them and opt for security firms to benefit their friends and indeed themselves. He asked the commandos if this has not been observed in their areas.

Lt Col Van De Westhuizen replied that this is in part a reality in some areas and is often a topic of discussion amongst farmers and the feeling is that security firms are permanent whereas the commandos are temporary and not consistent in their operations due to their lack of resources.

The Minister asked to what extent is the non-involvement of black members within the community or the attitude of white commandos who perceive blacks as criminal, influencing the rate of crime on farms and lack of trust.
Lt Col Van De Westhuizen replied that colour according to him is not an issue and what is happening is that private security firms are taking over the scene.

Mr. J Ferreira commented that it is true that post-1994 there was a lot of mistrust between the farmers and the surrounding black areas. He added that this situation was, however, changing fast in recent times.

Mr. Ngculu L (ANC) asked if there is a relationship between the SA Agri-Union and the vigilante group Mapogo a Mathamakga. Secondly he also wanted clarity on the issue of enlistment for the commandos which is reputed to be laborious.

Mr. J Visser acknowledged that they had held talks earlier in the year with Mapogo but pointed out that no relationship with the group exists at the moment.

Mr. E Bester responded to the issue of enlistment by saying that there is a three-month period of training for new recruits where all the logistics such as insurance are taken care of.

Mr. Ndlovu V (IFP) asked what kind of equipment help do the units get from the SAPS when working with them.

Mr. J Ferreira replied that they work together with the police on provincial, regional and district levels on the farm-watch system. Mr. Visser added that their involvement in these structures is funded from their own budget and as such no help from the police is offered.

[The afternoon session was not minuted by PMG. Submissions were made by Willem Steenkamp and the Reserve Force Council.]




Due to facts that have come to our attention that Territorial Units are again facing an inadequate financial dilemma as well as the misunderstanding of the Role and the Function of the Commando Units, just the following issues regarding the Territorials.

Before I continue, just a very brief comment on the disaster that happened in the USA.

If one looks at what happened there, you will see that America still needed its National Guard, which in very broad terms is the same as our Commando Units, to help cope with the disaster, although they probably are the country with the most available resources to cope with any type of disaster.

This clearly states the importance of a strong, well trained, well equipped and well looked after Commando Units.


The Commandos have two very clear-cut roles and functions. The first one being the primary function, that is preparing for and acting in wartime. The second function is applicable during so-called peacetime. This can be illustrated and explained much more effectively by a diagram.

1. Primary function.

a. Expulsion of enemy forces out of the RSA's rear areas during an act of war on the RSA's borders.

b. Protection of our infrastructure, like the roads, factories and other state and private interests.

c. Protecting the people of the RSA against any internal threat during the above situation.

d. This means that the Conventional forces can be released to fight on our borders to prevent an invasion by any enemy.

e. This function has to be carried out by people who are trained in the total art of warfare and not just somebody who you can take out of the street in an emergency to cope with the situation.

f. The people who one use, will be from the area where the threat is This means that they will know the area intimately and that they will be able to act immediately in a coordinated effort to suppress any hostilities during a threat.

2. Secondary function.

a. Providing support to the SAPS for maintaining law and order. If you look at the statistics where the Commandos have been present, you will clearly see the effect that our joint efforts with the SAPS are extremely effective. The question now is why?

i. If one looks at the rural areas, one will see that a lot of SAPS stations close after 16h00. There the people can only depend on a telephone to contact the SAPS. This means that some citizens are excluded from contacting the SAPS because of a lack of communication

ii. The SAPS are trying their best to cope with this situation, but due to a lot of factors, it will not be resolved so easily

iii. This means that the SAPS have to rely heavily on the rural Commando Units for close support. Due to their lack in numbers, we can very quickly boost them to an operational status with our personnel.

b. Providing support during disasters.

i. The Commandos are very efficient in this field. Again because they are from the area where the incident occurred. They know the citizens involved and can easily associate with the victims as well as with organizations that can help during these disasters.

ii. Lives can be saved and further disasters prevented because of the quick response that the Commando Units have.

This in short is our roles and function. But to enable us to live up to a high degree of professionalism, we must look at the broader issues regarding the successful implementation and execution of the role and function of these Units.


Because of the inadequate support that the Territorial Units are receiving, whether on purpose or not, certain private organizations are moving into position where the Territorial usually were the main players.

This leads to structures that are more and more resembling private para military forces with all the negative aspects going with it.

The question comes to mind, so what?

We all crave for a stable and safe country. But on the other hand we are creating a climate where people are feeling so vulnerable that they are creating or enlisting into structures of dubious nature. This is not because they are anti State or anything like that, but it is because of the fact that the current structures are not anymore adequate for their needs.

The control over these new structures will be out of our hands for obvious reasons and one never knows what that might lead to.

The Territorials are the only ones in whom the whole spectrum of the Community still believes in. Except where the criminals are so effective that they have the power over the Community to force them to say otherwise. Letters supplied to us across the spectrum again proves this.

So what are we trying to say? The fact of the matter is that if the Territorials are closed down, either because of the lack of support by the State, ill informed politicians or due to financial constrains, the vacuum is going to be filled with organizations that nobody is going to have control over. This could lead to areas where manipulation and intimidation will be the order of the day.

Yes, one can say this is definitely to a gloom picture. But the truth of the matter is that this could very well become reality if we do not take proper care of our Territorials.

A lot has and is currently being said about the Territorial Units. Many are positive and others are negative. Ironically, most of what is being spread as the "gospel� about the Territorials is done by people who do not know anything about these Units and how they operate.

Organizations and people who are the so-called voice of the Units do not have any experience of how these Units are run.

This leads us to the point where the people who make decisions regarding us, are making them on an uninformed basis. They are then called ignorant and out of touch with what are going on at grassroots level. But nobody realizes that the decision makers only make decisions on what they are told and the facts placed in front of them.

This is the reason why I am supplying this briefing to you to point out certain critical and important factors concerning the security of our Communities and our Country.


Facts on the ground are that nobody is looking after or concerned about the status of the
Territorials. Another fact is that we have to do our job with the left over equipment of the
Defense Force that nobody else wants.

We have to act end look like professional soldiers, but our logistical support and backup are totally inadequate. We sometimes operate on members' own expenses, because we do not have the capability to operate on what we have on hand.

Yes, a lot of the leader group is still white. But look at the recommendations and letters that we have received and tell us that people can still say that we are racists or a "Boere� organization? Because we are white does not say that we cannot do our job. The one recommendation by the town of Malmesbury thanks the Unit for assisting them when they had to evacuate Black people from their houses during a disaster. This is not our point, but almost all of the troops assisting in this matter were white farmers - on a Sunday night at about 21h00. Doesn't this prove that the Territorials are unique?

The letters show us that the Territorials are the only organization that really adheres to the fact that we are out of the Community for the Community. The question of color is outdated with regard to our performances.


The equipment that the Units need, are most of the times lying in stores rotting away. Radios for communication are bought without consulting first with Units on the ground what they need.

People in posts where they have to provide your Committee and other State departments with advice regarding these Units, who do not have the faintest idea of how these Units operate and function.

Selling hard skin vehicles to other countries while our troops need it to deploy in certain areas. Providing office personnel with operational kit while the operational personnel lack even the basic requirements.

Bringing out magazines glorifying certain Units that are fighting for their survival instead of publishing court cases that proved that the accusations against almost all of the Territorial members that where accused of crimes, were false.

People who are promoting structures without proper consultation or for their own benefit.


"The Units are lead by white, right wing farmers who maim and kill blacks." This perception is not even worth commenting on. The people who believe this bull dust are the useful idiots in the criminal's propaganda to counter our successes against them. The letters that are in our possession, clearly contradict this perception.

Yes, most of the leader group is still white. But why? There is currently no incentive for employers to allow their employees to attend leader courses. Units are not just made up of unemployed personnel and those who want to qualify cannot because of the abovementioned constraints. It now seems that to divert the attention away from the problem, we are being accused and beaten with an anti -transformation stick that must be aimed at someone else creating this problem.

Yes, a lot of the arrests that are carried out mainly involve blacks. Again why? This is due to the fact of the poor economical state that some of these people are living in, their circumstances sometimes forces them to steal and due to the fact that blacks are far more in numbers in our Country, one will have more arrests of black criminals than whites. This is plain and simple arithmetic.

The Territorials are doing the SAPS work and therefore close them down and support the SAPS instead. This is a very sound way of reasoning if one is not informed about the true facts in this matter.


What is the difference between the Territorials and the SAPS? One can make the conclusion that the Community trusts us because they know that we come out of the same area that they are also living in. We experience the same problems as the Communities and above all, we are all volunteers.

The most important reason of all is the fact that we serve a dual purpose. We are our country's first line of internal defense in times of war, but also a stabilizer in our different areas of responsibilities.

Yes, there is currently no war on our borders. True. The same applies to a person taking out a medical insurance fund when he is medically sound.

You take it out for just in case something out of the extraordinary happens to your health. The difference in your levy is determined by the calculated risk that you are taking concerning your health.

Look again at the USA. Just after eighteen minutes have passed, they have declared war on anyone or any country supporting terrorism. This just shows how quickly a country can slip from tranquility into a warlike state. Needing its Armed Forces on very short notice.

The same reasoning can be applied to the Territorial system. We are not just a medical scheme" or insurance policy that is only used when we are at war, but we are also used in our secondary function to operate internally, to help internal stability being preserved.

The levy or amount of money and support being spent and supplied to the Territorials, is going to determine if we are going to keep unwanted structures out. Or, if we are going to allow perceptions created by criminals to further their own diabolical aims, to counter or stop this insurance that our country has taken out. This is the question that only the Government can answer.


It is a fact that in every organization one gets a rotten apple. This also applies to the Territorials.

One cannot light crime and expect that nothing will happen to ones organization. Split second decisions sometimes need to be taken. Being human, one can make a mistake. But as many court cases have proven, the mistakes made are almost irrelevant if one takes the successes into consideration. We are not saying that it is right, but just look at the facts with an open mind.

The criminals are cunningly exploiting these shortcomings by individuals or people who want to create an unstable environment for their own benefit. The media loves sensation and usually things get blown or quoted out of context.


The whole issue regarding how the Territotials should look like, be named or being created into something else, needs to be discussed extensively with people who really know what is going on at ground zero.

The fact of the matter is that Territorials are recognized the world over, just under different names. This is the only system where you get the efficiency of the private sector, coupled with the discipline of a soldier and sometimes doing the work of a policeman.

This is a win win situation for every country that wants to protect its people against any external or internal threat as cost effectively as possible. Remember we are all volunteers and not on a permanent pay sheet.

We are in a lot of circumstances the only structured body to keep structures in place. We are usually the first people who are contacted during a crisis, whether natural or man made, to contain it until the responsible body arrives on the scene. This sometimes takes hours.

Should the Territorial system be taken away, whether because of financial constrains or because of legislation by ill informed people, the community will be left vulnerable against the earlier mentioned threats.

We are people who really make a difference, irrespective of color or political belief, in our communities and for our country.

All in all is the fact that the Units are doing a hell of a job with most of the time inadequate support to achieve our end state, Peace and stability in our AoR, which ultimately will lead to the withdrawal of troops from their supportive role with the SAPS.

We therefore would like to extend an invitation to the whole committee to visit a Unit of the Commandos in the Western Cape. This would give you the real picture what is going on.



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