On October 1, 1972, 1 Reconnaissance Commando was created at Oudtshoorn, South Africa. It was relocated a few years later to Durban, South Africa. This was the first South African Special Forces unit.
South African special forces are internationally considered to be among the best in the world, particularly in bush warfare. Their operational and fighting capabilities are world renowned, proven year in and year out during the country's 30 year long border/bush war. South African Special Forces consists of Special Forces Headquarters in Pretoria, 4 Special Forces Regiment in Langebaan, 5 Special Forces Regiment - Phalaborwa and the Special Forces School in Murrayhill.
4 Special Forces Regiment specialise in maritime-related activities, whereas 5 Special Forces regiment specialises more in overland techniques, especially long-range infiltration.
Though an infantry unit, the Brigade is not a part of the South African Army and instead falls under the authority of the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF.
Later, two additional Reconnaissance Commandos were formed:
On 1 January 1981, a re-organisation of Special Forces took place, as part of which the Reconnaissance Commandos and other special forces were transformed into an independent formation, directly under the command of the (then) South African Defence Force (instead of the South African Army). As part of the re-organisation, the various Reconnaissance Commandos were also given the status of regiments. In the latter part of the same decade, a Special Forces headquarters and a Special Forces stores depot were also added to the Special Forces structure.
Between the years 1981 and 1990, Special Forces was home to unconventional operations such as Project Barnacle, the Civil Cooperation Bureau and a variety of other operations conducted under the aegis of 7th Medical Battalion.
In 1991, the structure of the special forces underwent another change, when the special forces headquarters was disbanded and a Directorate Reconnaissance, reporting directly to the Chief of the Army, was established instead.
Another organisational change followed in 1993, when the Directorate Reconnaissance became 45 Parachute Brigade. As a result of this, all the units were renamed: 1 Reconnaissance Regiment became 452 Parachute Battalion, 4 Reconnaissance Regiment became 453 Parachute Battalion and 5 Reconnaissance Regiment became 451 Parachute Battalion.
As a result of the changes that took place in South Africa after the first fully democratic elections, the special forces organisation was changed to its current structure in 1996. The Special Forces Brigade, as it is presently known, consists of 4 and 5 Special Forces Regiments as well as 1 Maintenance Unit, which provides logistic support. Designation of these forces as being of "brigade"-size, however, is highly misleading. Total fighting manpower of 4 and 5 Special Forces Regiments combined does not approach even the strength of a regular infantry battalion.
As part of the military transformation process, 1 Special Forces Regiment was disbanded in 1996.
The main enemy then was a group known as SWAPO (South West Africa’s People Organization). It was an all-black guerrilla organization fighting for an independent Namibia and SWAPO proved to be a formidable enemy.
One of the "Recces"' most effective operations came in 1982: Operation Mebos penetrated deep into Angola and destroyed the SWAPO Headquarters. In Operation Askari, in the winter of 1984, the "Recces" cut off almost all supply lines to and from the SWAPO in Angola. In 1985, a "Recce" team undertook the controversial Cabinda Operation.
Due to the peacekeeping and other duties which the South African National Defence Force have been tasked with in recent times, new opportunities for the deployment of the special forces are continuously presenting themselves, which promises a major growth potential for these units.
This includes all aspects of psychological and physical tests. For the psychological tests, soldiers will be given written tests and oral interviews with Special Forces NCOs. A soldier must be self-controlled and mature. Soldiers are ejected from the course if there is any suggestion of mental instability. The Physical Test includes 40 continuous push ups, 76 sit ups in two minutes, fireman lift, three-kilometre run in full gear in eighteen minutes, a rope climb (to show upper body strength ), 40 shuttle runs in 95 seconds and wall scaling. A student must scale a ten-foot high wall, complete a fifteen-kilometre march in less than 150 minutes and perform 120 shuttle kicks.
Basic Parachute School is one of the most demanding. All Special Forces candidates who aren't parachute-qualified will have to attend this course.
This is a time when a student will learn what Special Forces are and what they do. He will be told about what to look forward to in training. He is made to train every day to get into shape for the toughest part of Selection yet.
Selection is an event during which candidates are placed in an extremely mentally and physically demanding set of situations and circumstances, through which they must pass. It is in duration approximately a week. For the duration of Selection, the candidates do not sleep or eat, and have no rest period at all. Only an extremely small percentage of persons who begin Selection ever pass it. In some years, no-one has managed to pass Selection, and there are other cases where only 1 or 2 persons out of an entire Selection group pass.
Once past the Selection process, he will be placed on a training cycle to acquire the skills required. These include: air co-operation, water orientation, obstacle crossing, bushcraft, tracking and survival, demolitions and tactics in urban as well as rural areas.
Advanced Airborne Training: a recruit will be taught about military free-fall such as HALO and HAHO. They will also learn about helicopter operations – how to rappel fast down a rope out of helicopters. Combat extraction is also taught, along with learning how to set up a LZ.
Land training consists of many things: including sniping, demolitions and reconnaissance. Bushcraft and survival is also taught. Climbing and photography are taught to new recruits. Urban and rural combat is perhaps the newest training – developed quite recently, this training provided South Africa with a new counter-terrorist force. Medical and communications training is also given to those who wish to become qualified.
All South African Special Forces operators receive the Operator's Badge, which is given only to those members who have completed all the qualifications as an Operator. It consists of an inverted Commando Knife within a laurel wreath, which is meant to symbolise both special forces (the knife) and victory (the wreath).
Standard operator badges are silver, but a gold badge with an embedded diamond is awarded to Operators with more than 10 years of active service.