South Africans see them mainly at official state functions such as the opening of Parliament and state visits to the Union Buildings, but the National Ceremonial Guard is also employed in the role of bodyguard and personal protection duties for the top echelon cadre of officers in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
The unit made its public debut 60 years ago as the then State President’s Guard when CR “Blackie” Swart was State President. It has been through some changes of name as well as being temporarily disbanded ahead of negotiations that led to the first democratic elections in 1994.
It is today recognised as the drill team for all other service arms and units to aspire to and still thrills with precision execution, picture perfect uniforms and highly polished rifles when on parade.
According to an SA Army spokesman the unit was revived in September 1996. This because of the large number of international visits undertaken by then president Nelson Mandela where he was always welcomed by a ceremonial military guard. The almost constant stream of top international leaders and statesmen to South Africa demanded a similar welcome and so the unit was brought back as the National Ceremonial Guard (NCG).
A Lieutenant Colonel Lombard was named first OC of the NCG. His work included welcoming statesmen, foreign leaders and other top international figures to South Africa; inauguration of the president as well as, when needed, providing guards of honour at state funerals and certain military funerals. The NCG was also tasked with re-establishing a military band in its own ranks.
Both the NCG and its band have been deployed at military tattoos and other international events, including the SS Mendi centenary commemoration this year.
This is very much the public face of the NCG. The other, although also visible, is not nearly as high profile.
The NCG has within its ranks a VIP protection company.
This company provides personal protection for military luminaries including SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, and the Service arms chiefs – Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang (SAAF), Lieutenant General Lindile Yam (SA Army), Lieutenant General Aubrey Sedibe (SA Military Health Service) and Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane (SA Navy) as well as Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo and other division chiefs at the rank of lieutenant general.
The company also trains junior combatants from other units in protection tasks for the safety and security of senior officers and individuals at lower levels than the top, top brass.
When Mandela brought the NCG back he reinstated its old uniform of dark green tunic with black pants. Cosmetic changes were made to badges and braid to bring the unit more into the modern, democratic South Africa era.
All this adds up to a NCG unit consisting of the guard itself, it military band and the protection company totalling 293 personnel when at full strength.
When it was first formed the then State President’s Guard was based in what was Voortrekkerhoogte, now Thaba Tshwane. In April 2008 the dolomitic ground on which the majority of the military complex is built was deemed to have become unsafe. It moved to the Sebokeng Military Complex, west of Kgosi Mampuru prison on the southern side of the Pretoria CBD.