Following what can at best be termed a lukewarm response to suggestions for new names for SA Army Reserve Force units, soldiers have again been asked to put their thinking caps on and come up with names reflecting the democracy South Africa is today.
Brigadier General Gerhard Kamffer, Director Army Reserves, said: “The ethnic composition of the SA Army Reserves in terms of Africans, Coloureds and Asians currently is 87%. To cater for this cultural composition, new units will have to be raised and identity changes introduced. The changes have to reflect cultural identities, symbols and accoutrements to which members may feel greater affinity.
“However, indications are some African members are embracing the history and traditions of their current units even though many symbols reflect only part of South Africa’s military history.”
The Name Review Steering Committee appointed by SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, has issued a new set of criteria for unit name changes.
These include that units must not be named after living people. When the name of a dead person is nominated he or she must have played a significant role in the country’s military history. Names such as that of Doman, a Khoi-Khoi leader; Gonnema, leader of the Cochogue in the second Khoi-Khoi conflict in 1673; Xhosa chief Ngqika; Field Marshall Jan Smuts; Major General Dan Pienaar; Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani have been put forward as possibilities.
Where place names have changed since democracy, such as Transvaal and Natal, these should not be part of unit or regiment names. “The temptation to simply update a name to the new name should be avoided wherever possible and consideration given to a new and imaginative name,” Kamffer told the Reserve Force Volunteer.
Ethnic and tribal names are a no-no. Scottish, Irish, Zulu and Xhosa are given as examples that should not be included in new unit name suggestions but the traditions associated with these could be maintained via regimental bands or ceremonial sub-units.
Importantly, there is no indication that colours and battle honours will disappear to be forgotten in musty storerooms. If a unit changes its name it has the right to retain its colour and battle honours.
While some Reserve Force soldiers have indicated they do not object to name changes, others feel it will take away history and traditions from regiments, some of which have existed for more than 100 years.
Reserve Force members canvassed by defenceWeb last year had differing opinions on name changes.
“All the pros and cons will have to be properly weighed up before any regiment name is consigned to the history books,” a Western Cape Reserve Force member said.
A Mpumalanga-based Reserve Force officer was more forthright saying name changes had been part and parcel of the South African landscape since 1994.
“So what? Are we going to let that kill us as Reserves or are we going to prove South Africa can still rely on her sons and daughters to serve our country?” he asked, and answered his own question positively saying: “I hope it’s the latter”.