Between history, amnesia and selective memory: The South African armed forces, a century’s perspective

  • Ian Van der Waag Department of Military History, Stellenbosch University
  • Deon Visser Department of Military History, Stellenbosch University


2012 has a double significance for this year sees the centenary of the founding of the African National Congress (8 January) and of the creation of the Union Defence Forces (1 July), two organisations that have for much of the twentieth century shared a contested history. Yet, in a remarkable bouleversement, South Africa has come through this difficult past and, over the past two decades, a new South African society has been recreated following an interesting period of adjustment following the end of the Cold War and the growth of democracy in the developing world. These changes have necessarily affected her armed forces and the roles defined for them. Some commentators, particularly in the years immediately following 1994, asserted that military power had lost all of its vaunted, Cold-War importance in a new postmodern environment. Others still, recognising future challenges, argued that South Africa, beset with far-reaching socio-economic crises, could no longer afford the burden of military forces. Most scholars agree now that these perspectives were short-sighted and that, while the risk of major conflict has receded, the events of 9/11, and its consequences, demonstrate that the continental and international landscapes are less certain, less stable and less predictable, than that for which many had hoped. Clearly, South African interests are intertwined inextricably in regional and global affairs and if she is to protect these interests and ensure her security, she must maintain credible military force capable of meeting an array of contingencies. It was with this in mind that the strategic arms deal, since the subject of much debate, was passed by parliament:[i] the promise of a full technological transformation, to accompany the human transformation, offered.

[i] J Sylvester & A Seegers. “South Africa’s Strategic Arms Package: A Critical Analysis”. Scientia Militaria 36/1. 2008. 52-77.


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How to Cite
Van der Waag, I., & Visser, D. (2013). Between history, amnesia and selective memory: The South African armed forces, a century’s perspective. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 40(3).