South African Army Infantry Formation

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South African Army Infantry Formation
File:SA Infantry Formation badge.jpg
Infantry Formation badge
Country  South Africa
Branch  South African Army SANDF Army emblem
Type Infantry
Motto Gladium Practamus (Wielders of the Sword)
Colors Green and black
Major General Rudzani Maphwanya[1]
Collar Badge Springbok head
Beret Colour Green (motorised, mechanised, airborne, seaborne and light infantry)
Maroon (parachute infantry)
Company level Insignia SA Army Company Insignia.png
SA Mechanised Infantry beret bar circa 1992 SA mechanised infantry beret bar circa 1992
SA Motorised Infantry beret bar circa 1992 SA Motorised Infantry beret bar

The South African Army Infantry Formation supervises all infantry within the South African Army.


Origins: Union Defence Force

South African Infantry originated as the Infantry Branch of the Union Defence Forces in 1913.

Old 1st SA Infantry Union Defence Force emblem

In 1915, the defence forces established the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force for war service outside Southern Africa. It included the South African Infantry, comprising twelve battalions, and the Cape Corps, comprising two battalions of Coloured volunteers. These units were disbanded in 1919.

The Infantry Branch was enlarged in 1934, and the mounted rifles regiments were converted to infantry in 1935.

In 1943, the Infantry Branch was incorporated into the new South African Armoured Corps, which was divided into armour and infantry branches after World War II.

Republic Defence Force

Separated by Language

Based on the findings of a committee led by Brigader H.B. Klopper in late 1953, it was recommended that some English-speaking units be converted to Afrikaans medium units, while other regiments should be amalgamated or contracted.[2]:16

Old SADF Republic Defence Force Infantry Corps emblem

Despite representations made by some of the units affected, the reorganization went ahead from January 1954. In 1956 a further reorganization was made necessary by the considerable increase in the number of citizens balloted for training in some areas. The Army was accordingly reorganized to consist of 32 Afrikaan-speaking units (including five infantry regiments, 5 tank units and 4 armoured car units) and 20 English medium units (including ten infantry regiments, 4 tank units and 1 armoured car unit). The changes were implemented with effect from 22 September 1956.

In 1954, the SAAC's Infantry Branch, and the personnel of the South African Instructional Corps, were formed into the South African Infantry Corps.[3]

In 1972, continuous national service was increased to twelve months and by 1974, there were 10 full-time motorised infantry battalions, besides the parachute battalion.[4]:363 The infantry reserve comprised 42 citizen force infantry battalions, a parachute regiment and over 200 commando internal defence units.

Separated by Race (Black Infantry)

Plans were in place to establish volunteer black infantry units along ethnic lines, comparable to the Cape Corps.

The volunteer black infantry unit plans eventually bore fruit with the formation of 21, 111, 113, 115, 116 (Northern Sotho, Messina), 117, 118, 121 and 151 Battalions.[5] Another battalion, 114 Battalion, was planned but not actually formed.

Many of their members were Service Volunteers, members of all the population groups who were not compelled to do National Service (hence excluding white males). Eventually the various black battalions amounted to about 16,000, and some of the members of these battalions became Auxiliary or Permanent Force members.

SADF Black Infantry Battalions

National Defence Force post 1994

File:SA Infantry Formation badge.jpg
Current SANDF National Defence Force Infantry Formation emblem

In the post apartheid era, no ethnic or language based infantry exist at all. By 1997, several units were reorganised:

In the 1980s Regiment Port Natal appears to have been a component of 84 Motorised Brigade (South Africa). It was amalgamated with Durban Light Infantry about 1999.[6]

From Corps to Formation

In 2000 the Corps became known as the South African Army Infantry Formation.[3] The first woman battalion commander appears to have been appointed in 2001.[7] The specialised horse/motorcycle/dog-using battalion, 12 South African Infantry Battalion, was disbanded in April 2005.[8] The previous General Officer Commanding up to 2012 was Lieutenant General Themba Nkabinde.[9]

Part of the South African contingent of MONUSCO

Since 1994, South Africa's Infantry units have supported numerous operations for the United Nations and the African Union across the continent, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC/MONUSCO), Burundi (South African Protection Support Detachment, and African Union Mission in Burundi), in the Comores, and with AMIS/UNMIS in the Sudan.

Formation Structure and Units Today

SANDF Structure Infantry Formation

The infantry corps contains a total of 15 regular battalions in a variety of different roles:[10]

The infantry corps contains a total of 26 reserve battalions in the following roles:

  • Mechanised Infantry - 6 battalions
  • Motorised Infantry - 14 battalions
  • Light Infantry - 3 battalions
  • Parachute Infantry - 1 battalion
  • Air Assault Infantry - 2 battalions

Infantry Types

Within the South African Army, there are six main types of infantry:

Type 1: Parachute Infantry

44 Parachute Regiment (Bloemfontein) – a brigade sized regiment consisting of the following units:

SANDF Parachute Infantry from 44 Parachute Regiment board a C-130 Hercules aircraft
Regular Force
Reserve Force

Type 2: Air Assault Infantry

Air Assault infantry are trained to be deployed using helicopters, parachute or aircraft.

Regular Force
SANDF Air Assault Infantry
Reserve Force

Type 3: Seaborne Infantry

Regular Force
Reserve Force

Type 4: Light Infantry

Fast highly mobile skirmishers.

Regular Force
Reserve Force

Type 5: Mechanised Infantry

Mechanised infantry are equipped with the Ratel armoured personnel carrier, a wheeled vehicle that can deploy over all terrain.

SANDF Mechanised Infantry Ratel Vehicles in fire and move at AAD 2014
Regular Force
Reserve Force

Type 6: Motorised Infantry

Motorised infantry are equipped with various Samil trucks, that can be deployed over rough terrain, but is primarily a road vehicle. Since the mid-2000s, they have been using vehicles like Mamba.

Regular Force
Reserve Force

Infantry Battalion Internal Organization

The organisation of South African motorised, mechanised, air assault and parachute infantry battalions are broadly similar, the mechanised battalion however lacks a machine gun platoon in the support company and the internal security battalion lacks the same as well as other support weapons (mortars, antitank weapons and assault pioneers).

A battalion musters about 34 officers, 776 men, or 810 all ranks. A company has nine rifle sections. A battalion has nine rifle platoons and 27 rifle sections.

A battalion has at its disposal the following weapons:

  • 8 M3 81mm mortars,
  • 27 M4 60mm patrol mortars,
  • 6 infantry antitank guns (M40A1 or Ratel 90),
  • 6 antitank guided missile launchers (MBDA Milan ADT3 or Ratel ZT3),
  • 4 Browning 12.7mm HMG and four Denel Y3 AGL (not in the mechanised infantry),
  • 27 7.62mm GPMG and
  • 9 RPG7 rocket propelled grenade launchers (one per rifle platoon).

The number of vehicles is dependent on the type of unit and role. A parachute or air assault battalion deployed by air will largely be dependent on the 104 LMT Gecko airborne amphibious 8x8 light rapid deployment logistic vehicles assigned to 44 Parachute Regiment. The number deployed will depend on the airlift available.

By some accounts a Fighting Echelon (F-Echelon) would include 88 A-Vehicles, but the numbers can be higher. In September 2008 the motorised 5 SAI Bn deployed 113 Casspir armoured personnel and weapon carriers to a force preparation exercise (Seboka) and the mechanised 8 SAI Bn deployed 107 Ratels. The A- and B-Echelons, fully mobilised, can muster up at least another 90 B-Vehicles of various types. For Seboka 5 SAI deployed an under-strength combined echelon of 41 logistics trucks, pantries, diesel and water bunkers, mobile showers and recovery vehicles. 8 SAI’s echelon’s mustered 38 vehicles.


SANDF Infantry field pt

All basic infantry training is done at 3 South African Infantry Battalion Training Depot at Kimberley. This is a Regular Force unit. Second phase deals with specific equipment, weapons and tactics, general and specific to the type of Infantry and is dealt with at the unit and its training areas.

Third phase ramps up to a conventional warfare exercise usually held at Lohatla Army Battle School. Tactics such as fire and movement, as well as the amalgamation with other type formations is done here, with expanding scope from squad to section to platoon to company, battalion and brigade exercises.

SANDF Infantry Fire and Movement Training

More specialized training is done on an ad-hoc basis.

United Nations Force Intervention Brigade training


South African Infantry are trained in an assortment of equipment in addition to their personal rifles, such as:

Name Type Origin Photo Notes
Vektor pistol Double Action pistol South Africa VektorSP1.jpg Multiple variants 9mm and .40 S&W
Vektor R4 and R5 assault rifles Assault Rifle South Africa Vektor LM5 Feb 2008.jpg Multiple variants
Fabrique National Belgic Light Machine Gun General Purpose Machine Gun Belgium FN MAG.jpg 7.62mm variant
Denel Pat Mor 60mm Patrol Mortar South Africa PatMor60mm 1.JPG 60 mm high explosive
Denel Land Systems SS-77 General Purpose Machine Gun South Africa South African National Defense Force soldiers on their way.jpg 5.56mm and 7.62mm variants
Remington Arms Military Pump Action Shotgun United States Flickr - ~Steve Z~ - 870.jpg 12 gauge
RPG-7 Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher Russia RPG-7 detached.jpg 40mm 7 kg high explosive
Milkor GL Grenade Launcher South Africa Milkor GL.jpg 40mm high explosive
Y3 AGL Automatic Grenade Launcher South Africa Y3 AGL.JPG 40mm high explosive
Browning Medium Machine Gun United States Browning M1919a.png 7.62mm
Browning Heavy Machine Gun United States PEO M2E2-QCB HMG.jpg 12.7mm
M40 Recoilless Rifle Recoilless gun United States SANDF M40A1 antitank recoilless.jpg 106mm
Milan Antitank missile France ERYX-2ndFrInReg.jpg tandem HEAT
Fragmentation Grenade United States M-67Grenade.jpg M26


While South Africa was part of the British Commonwealth, many units formed alliances with British and other units. With the advent of the Republic in 1961, almost all of these alliances fell away either as a natural consequence of changing alliances or on instructions from the authorities. Some units have maintained the alliances unofficially.

With the change of government in 1994, South Africa once again became officially part of the Commonwealth, so alliances are once again possible.

Some examples of alliances:

Battle Honours

Many South African units have a proud history. This is particularly reflected in the many Battle Honours they have received.

SANDF Infantry Flash


  1. "Yam takes over from Masondo as Army Chief". DefenceWeb. Retrieved 19 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Dorning, W.A. (28 February 2012). "A concise history of the South African Defence Force (1912-1987)" (Online). Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies. 17 (2). doi:10.5787/17-2-420. ISSN 2224-0020. Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Infantry Formation: About Us". RSA Department of Defence. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 18 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Warwick, Rodney (February 2003). "Operation Savannah: A Measure of SADF Decline, Resourcefulness and Modernisation" (Online). Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies. Stellenbosch. 40 (3). doi:10.5787/40-3-1042. ISSN 2224-0020. Retrieved 18 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Peled, Alon, A Question of Loyalty: Military Manpower Policy in Multiethnic States. Cornell University Press, 1998, p.54
  6. "Defunct regiments of the Old SA Army, info needed please". The SAAF Forum. Retrieved 27 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Jane's Defence Weekly 29 June 2001
  8. "Potch special unit disbanded". News 24 Archives. SAPA. 30 March 2005. Retrieved 21 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Rakoma, Ally (5 March 2012). "SA Army Infantry Formation Changing of Command Parade". RSA Department of Defence. Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Englebrecht, Leon (17 August 2009). "Fact file: The SA Infantry Corps". DefenceWeb. Retrieved 18 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Meyer, Merle, Maj (March 2003). "The biggest medal parade" (PDF). SA Soldier. 10 (3). ISSN 1609-5014. Retrieved 18 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>