The term “mixed” can best describe an initiative currently underway to change the names of certain SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Reserve Force units and regiments.
SA Army Chief Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo is on record as saying the name changes are “not sinister”.
“It is a voluntary process supported within the reserve environment with the aim of acquiring a level of synergy among all role players so that unit and regiment names reflect cohesiveness and regimental pride among all reserves,” he said in Thaba Tshwane earlier this year.
Some part-time soldiers told defenceWeb the name changes were “sad” and “tragic” while another asked: “haven’t we learnt enough from name changes for the sake of change?” He was referring to the Pretoria/Tshwane and Potchefstroom/Tlokwe issues among others.
Another was more forthright, saying that, “This is not creating pride, this is destroying history”. Support for this came from a Reserve Force member who said: “Leave the unit names alone. Some are more than a century old with traditions and a proud battle history”.
To a man, the soldiers who responded to defenceWeb enquiries asked to remain anonymous, fearing possible recriminations from within their units if their names were made public.
A Western Cape Reserve Force member was of the opinion the pros and cons should be “properly weighed up” before consigning regiment names to the history books.
“Traditional regiments should be left alone. It’s not necessary to change a regiment name that has been in existence for more than 100 years. On the other hand Umkhonto we Sizwe hasn’t changed its name and neither has Apla’s armed wing.
“This is going to be another issue where whatever decisions are finally made, not everybody will be satisfied.”
At the time of publication, there was no response from SANDF Corporate Communications on either the timeline for the name change exercise or whether any specific regiments and units had been targeted.
Military insiders feel that names with obvious colonial and/or apartheid connotations will be among the first to find themselves with new names. Some retired soldiers feel it would be better to change names where there are no obvious geographic, colonial or apartheid connections. They point to 4 Maintenance Unit, 19 Field Engineer Regiment and 71 Signal Unit as obvious examples.
“Here geographic names, such as Mpumalanga or even town or city names would serve to add identity and hopefully build tradition in the longer term,” a retired SAAF colonel said.
Among units probably up for name changes are Transvaal Scottish (with a source indicating the “Transvaal” could be dropped and the regiment becoming known only as “The Scottish”), the SA Irish Regiment, Regiment De La Rey, Regiment Christiaan Beyers, Transvaal Staats Artillerie, Transvaal Horse Artillery, Regiment Oranjerivier, Regiment Westelike Provinsie, Regiment Potchefstroomse Universiteit, Natal Mounted Rifles, Natal Carbineers and Natal Mounted Rifles.