In 1973 the apartheid government decided to train black soldiers. The next January, a team of ten, led by Major MW Pretorius were sent to the then-Bantu Training College at Baviaanspoort, north of Pretoria, for an “orientation phase”.
In March 1974, the first 16 volunteers were recruited and trained as security guards. A second group of 30 were recruited in August and trained as instructors. In April 1975, authority was given for blacks to attest in the then-Permanent Force. On December 1, 1976, the Bantu Training Centre became a self-accounting unit and moved to Lenz, south of Johannesburg.
The centre was then renamed 21Bn on the 21st birthday of the SA Infantry Corps (January 22, 1977). During that year, the first recruits of what would become 1 Transkei Bn and 1 Ovambo Bn. By 1977 the government had overcome its racist fear of armed blacks and in May began training a company of infantry1. “As a result of the operational success achieved by this company in the Caprivi, authority was granted in 1978 for a second operational company to be trained,” an undated unit history sheet notes. Simultaneously, the first recruits of the Venda Defence Force began training.
In 1979 the unit gained its first black chaplain, a Rev. Booysen. In 1984 21 Bn became a black corps school. Its first task was to train the first recruits of the KwaNdebele Defence Force (115 Bn). In July 1986 two more operational companies were established. A decade after the apartheid government had decided to arm blacks – something that was ideologically inconceivable to the National Party of 1948, in July 1987, 21Bn became an operational infantry battalion. An infantry company was posted to the then-Northern Transvaal Command as part of a reaction force. A further three companies were recruited and trained in the same year.
In 1988, four companies were deployed to northern Namibia and two of these deployed into southern Angola. In 1989 the SA Defence Force appointed its first black honorary colonel – Mr Justice Tshungu – for 21Bn. On January 1, 1991, the unit became 21SAI Bn and in June 1997 the officer commanding became a full colonel with two operational battalions, 211 and 212 under command. Each was commanded by a Lt Colonel. In September 1999 this structure was abolished and the unit reverted to a four company infantry battalion with a reconnaissance platoon.
Current role: Internal stability
Current base: Doornkop, Johannesburg
Motto: Nostro operi fideles