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South Africa Homeland Militaries
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Each of the four nominally independent homelands (see Glossary)--Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei, and Venda--maintained small defense forces that were effectively under SADF control, despite each government's claim to national sovereignty. (No country except South Africa recognized these homelands as independent countries.) The homelands were dissolved when the April 1994 elections took place, and their military forces were integrated into the new national military establishment in 1995 and 1996.

    Bophuthatswana, with a population of 2.4 million, was declared "independent" in 1977. The homeland consisted of several scattered enclaves near the border with Botswana. Bophuthatswana's military, the 3,100-member Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF), was organized into six military regions. Its ground forces included two infantry battalions, possessing two armored personnel carriers. The BDF air wing of 150 personnel possessed three combat aircraft and two armed helicopters.

    The BDF was deployed several times in the late 1980s and early 1990s to quell popular demonstrations by residents of what had been South African territory bordering the homeland, when their residential areas were incorporated into Bophuthatswana for administrative purposes. South African security forces intervened to suppress these demonstrations and at least one coup attempt against the unpopular regime of President Lucas Mangope, who had been appointed by Pretoria.

    Mangope was removed from office in April 1994, after BDF troops had killed at least forty people and had injured 150 more who were insisting on the right to vote in South Africa's upcoming elections, a demand that Mangope refused. Members of South African right-wing white extremist organizations arrived to support Mangope and clashed with some members of the BDF who had sided with the civilian demonstrators. The clash led to the highly publicized executions of two whites by the homeland military. The unrest ended when SADF troops arrived and placed Bophuthatswana under the control of South Africa's interim executive authority until the elections took place.

    Ciskei and Transkei were largely Xhosa-speaking homelands in the southern coastal region that became the Eastern Cape province in 1994. Ciskei, with a population of only 1 million, became "independent" in 1981. The Ciskei Defence Force (CDF), consisting of about 1,000 troops, was organized into two infantry battalions, possessing one armored personnel carrier, and an air wing company with five light aircraft and four helicopters.

    Ciskei's president in the early 1980s, Lennox Sebe, established an elaborate security apparatus to protect his government, but members of his family and his army, nonetheless, tried on several occasions to overthrow him. Sebe was ousted in a military coup in March 1990 and was replaced by a military council led by Brigadier Joshua Gqozo. Tensions rose as the new Ciskei government debated the reincorporation of the homeland into South Africa, and the Gqozo government was ousted in early 1994, only weeks before the historic South African national elections and the dissolution of the homelands.

    Transkei, the second Xhosa-speaking homeland, was declared "independent" in 1976. It had a population of about 4.4 million. The Transkei Defence Force (TDF) numbered about 2,000, including one infantry battalion and an air wing with two light transports and two helicopters. The Transkei government of the 1980s had a strained relationship with South Africa, largely because of the existence of armed strongholds of the ANC and other antiapartheid organizations in the homeland (which included within its territory the birthplace of ANC leader Nelson Mandela).

    In 1987 Major General Bantu Holomisa--a staunch ANC activist--led a bloodless coup against the Transkei government; he then suspended the civilian constitution and refused South Africa's repeated demands for a return to civilian rule, insisting that a civilian government would be a puppet controlled by Pretoria. When the homeland was dissolved in 1994, Holomisa was named deputy minister of housing in President Mandela's cabinet.

    Venda, a tiny homeland in the northern Transvaal, had a population of about 665,000 and was declared "independent" in 1979. Venda's 900-member military force consisted of two infantry battalions with one armored personnel carrier, one engineering unit, and an air wing with three helicopters. These forces and their equipment were incorporated into the national military in 1995.

    Women in the Military

    South African women have a long history of service in the military. Women served in auxiliary roles in the SADF in World War I and World War II, and were assigned to active, non-combat duties after 1970. The army established a volunteer nursing service in 1914 and sent 328 nurses to serve with South African troops in Europe and East Africa in World War I. The Women's Auxiliary Army Service began accepting women recruits in 1916. Officials estimated that women volunteers relieved 12,000 men for combat in World War I by assuming clerical and other duties. During World War II, South Africa had five service organizations for women--the South African Military Nursing Service, and women's auxiliaries attached to the army, the navy, the air force, and the military police.

    In 1970 the SADF began to accept women volunteers into the Permanent Force, and to assign them to duties that would release men for combat and operational duties. One year later, the South African Army Women's College initiated women's military training programs for jobs in military finance, personnel, intelligence, and medical units. No women were trained for combat. Women were not assigned to duties that presented a high risk of capture by foreign enemies.

    During the late 1970s and 1980s, women were active in civil defense organizations and were being trained as part of the country's general mobilization against possible terrorist attacks. In 1989, for example, the Johannesburg Civil Defence Program provided training for 800 civil defense volunteers, about one-half of whom were women. These classes included such subjects as weapons training for self-defense, antiriot procedures, traffic and crowd control, first aid, and fire-fighting. An unreported number of women also received instruction in counterinsurgency techniques and commando operations. Women also served in military elements of liberation militias in the 1970s and the 1980s, and women were accepted into the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, also known as Umkhonto--MK), throughout the antiapartheid struggle.

    In 1995 women of all races were being incorporated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and a woman officer, Brigadier Jackie Sedibe, was appointed to oversee the implementation of new SANDF policies concerning the treatment of women. Women had been promoted as high as warrant officers and brigadiers in the Permanent Force by the early 1990s, but only ten women were SADF colonels in 1994. In 1996 Brigadier Sedibe became the first woman in the military to be promoted to the rank of major general. Widespread cultural attitudes in the 1990s still oppose the idea of women in combat, but officials are debating ways to assign women an equitable share of the leadership positions in the military.

    Data as of May 1996

    NOTE: The information regarding South Africa on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of South Africa Homeland Militaries information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about South Africa Homeland Militaries should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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