Former members of the territorial reserves, better known as the “commandos” are in line for a new medal, the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans says.
The ministry adds that in accordance with the provision of Section 84(2)(k) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, the President institutes medals and decorations awarded to members of the SA National Defence Force.
“The President approved a Presidential Warrant, for the institution of the “Closure Commemoration Medal – Sluitingsgedenkmedalje – Medalje wa Segopotsoso sa Tswalelo” (which would be for award to members of the Commandos, as well as any other deserving member of a component of the South African National Defence Force, as defined in Section 53 (1) of the Defence Act, 2002, that may be disbanded, who on or after the 27th April 2003 completed five years’ qualifying years in the component) on 17 March 2010, the ministry said in response to a question by Freedom Front MP Pieter Groenewald.
Outside SA the term”commando” is today widely associated with the Special Forces. This was the doing of British World War Two Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who in 1940 named his new raiding troops commandos, after the Boer formations he encountered during the South African War (1899-1902). These in turn derived from part-time reserve units established at the Cape in 1658 by the Dutch East Indies Company to help defend the settlement there against displaced indigenous communities.
President Thabo Mbeki, in his annual State of the Nation Address, on February 14, 2003, announced that the commandos would make way for a “new system whose composition and ethos accord with the requirements of all rural communities” Subsequent announcements were that the commandos would be history by the end of March 2009 and that it would be replaced by a system employing police reservists. The last commando, that at Harrismith, in the Free State, closed in March 2008. At their peak, 186 of these units, ranging in size from a company to a battalion, existed.
For administrative and operational convenience, commandos, by the mid-1980s had been organised into “Groups”, structured similar to brigades, with a small headquarters staff and supporting establishment and usually commanded by a regular colonel. About 40 of these groups existed at one time. These groups, in turn, reported to the local territorial Army “command”. For example, De Mist Commando in Uitenhage, in the present Eastern Cape, answered to Group 6 in Port Elizabeth, who in turn, was a component of Eastern Province (EP) Command.
The decision to disband the commandos was – and remains – controversial. The farming lobby and urbanites feared the police would be unable to cope when the commando crutch was removed, while land reform activists and farmworker supporters welcomed the decision that was preceded by much reporting in certain media about abuses involving alleged commando members. African Eye News Service reported in February 2003 that farm labourers in Mpumalanga’s “deep south” rejoiced at Mbeki’s announcement, saying they had “finally won a hard-fought battle for the abolishment [sic] of army commandos”.