10 Things You Didn’t Know About South African Special Forces


The South African Special Forces is a unit under, SANDF, the South African National Defence Force. The capability was established in 1968 in line with the international military trends. Before its formation, there was need to plan and set up structures that would accommodate techniques tailored to the African Context before a core group was formed and trained. Because people don’t speculate about certain things such as details about the Special Forces, we bring you interesting details we are sure you don’t know about the Special Forces.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About South African Special Forces

What’s In a Name?

1. A lot of people know that the South African Special Forces are nicknamed Recces but the reason behind it may not be as well known and that is the first on the 10 things you are learning today about South African Special Forces. Originally, the Special Forces were called Special Forces Regiments – the Reconnaissance Regiments and this is where the nickname arose from.

Getting Into Special Forces

2. South Africans are revered for their skills in battle and as such, a lot of people want to join the Special Forces. For example in 1988 by the time the war was coming to a close in Angola, over 100,000 people had applied for the pre-selection interviews so they could try the training cycle held by the Special Forces, but less than 480 people qualified to become Special Forces operators and over 80 of them died in the line of duty.

3. A third fact about the Special Forces that is not common knowledge is that one needs to have graduated from school, speak 2 languages and be between 18 and 28 at the onset of their training.

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Tragedy, Resilience and Tenacity

4. It has the highest statistical ratio of Killed in Action numbers.

5. On the same tragic note, over 55% of all Special Force operators were wounded in action at one time or the other and some of them on multiple occasions and had to treat and dress the wounds themselves which speaks of their resilience.

6. Interestingly, the Special Forces has never had an advantage in terms of numbers over their enemies when they were attacking their enemies fixed positions and are always outnumbered in their engagements and heavily at that.

7. Of all the 10 facts, the fact that their total strength was never over 200 or 250 operators at any given time during the entire period of the Angolan War and that is of all the regiments speaks to their resilience, dedication and skill more than any other.

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Interesting Facts

8. Another interesting tidbit to learn from the history of the Special Forces is that both the first and last soldier to be killed in action in the Angola war formerly the South West war as it was beginning and ending were Special Force Operators.

9. Since the operators need to be equipped during war, they carry kits with them that weigh between 60kg and 80kg and for small team operations or long-distance deployments, the kit can weigh an average o f 100kg. The heaviest kit that was ever carried by long deployment or small team operators was 130kg.

10. South African Special Forces is the military entity that has the highest decorations of Bravery Medals in South Africa despite being held to higher standards of awarding of medals. It has held this title since the Second World War ended. Unofficially though, an operator receives bragging rights or an unofficial achievement when he successfully completes a Gunston 500. This involves the operator conducting an operation or mission behind enemy lines. The operator has to walk 500 or more kilometers with full kit. The name Gunston 500 comes from the Surfing Championship with a similar name. During the Angolan war, many of the operators who took part have completed it even more than once, as a matter of fact many operators have done this.

The Special Forces has come a long way since its establishment in 1972 and its role in the former South West Africa War cannot be doubted as the South Africa Special Forces operators were instrumental in the 30-year long war and especially with limited resources and with numbers being against them. The Special Forces require nothing but the highest from its members as this is the only way to succeed in such conditions.

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