South West Africa Territorial Force

South West African Territorial Force
SWATF Insignia
Active 1977–1989
Country South West Africa
Branch South African Defence Force
Size 10,100 (1981)
22,000 (1987)
Part of Department of Defence for South West Africa
Garrison/HQ Windhoek, South West Africa

The South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF) was an auxiliary arm of the South African Defence Force (SADF) and comprised the armed forces of South West Africa (now Namibia) from 1977 to 1989.[1] It emerged as a product of South Africa's political control of the territory which was granted to the former as a League of Nations mandate following World War I.[2]

History and background

From 1966 until 1989, South African security forces waged a long and bitter counterinsurgency conflict against indigenous nationalists in what was then South West Africa, represented by the Marxist South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) and its military wing, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). As the guerrilla war intensified, however, it became clear that the local civilian police alone were not enough to cope with SWAPO/PLAN incursions and escalating unrest. Consequently, military units were deployed for the first time; 60,000 South African combat troops were engaged in South West Africa by the late 1970s.[3]


As part of a general policy of military and social reform, Pretoria initiated the establishment of local defence and police agencies for its protectorate beginning in 1977.[1]

Structure and activation

A start was also made with the regrouping of existing units into four formations:

  • a Formation Headquarters Staff,
  • a Reaction Force (conventional),
  • an Area Force (Territorial) and
  • an Air Wing.

As regarding the latter, the South African Air Force would remain responsible for aerial operations although provision was made for an air commando squadron consisting of private and commercially qualified air crews. Their main function was to assist the South African Air Force in reconnaissance and communication flights and to provide operational officers for the operational service.

The new South West African Territorial Force was officially created on 1 August 1980, from South West African citizens already serving with the South African Defence Force.[4]

Operationally, the SWATF was further divided into a Permanent Force infantry component, logistic/administrative divisions, a training wing, and a Citizen Force, which included at least three motorised infantry battalions.[4] The 'permanent force' comprised mostly volunteer auxiliaries and national servicemen, who formed eight battalions.[4] A militia system was also developed for local security, including over twenty 'area protection units'.[1]

By 1981, SWATF's total strength numbered some 10,100 men, organised into both tribal-based battalions (including separate units for Ovambo, Herero, and Coloured ethnic groups) and multiethnic units partially manned by at least 10,000[5] white South West African personnel.[1][6]

By 1987, SWATF had an estimated 22,000 troops, including additional units of engineers, signals personnel, mounted troops, a parachute battalion, and a commando squadron.[7]


A school cadet program similar to that in South Africa was developed for South West Africa.

Primarily all SWATF members received their initial training at 2 SA Infantry Battalion at Walvis Bay, (considered South African territory at that stage)[8]

Advanced training, NCOs and Officer development however occurred at the SWA Military School at Okhandja.


For all practical purposes, SWATF remained firmly integrated into existing SADF command structures.[1] Its primary goal was protection of the territory of SWA from SWAPO incursions.[9] The SWATF was placed under the control of the Department of Defence for South West Africa and was always headed by a SADF general. There was also a joint SWATF/SADF committee established for "planning, liaison, and coordination" efforts.[4]

Uniform, rank structure, corps emblems, proficiency and ops badges

The first major step in the establishment of an independent territorial defence force in SWA was the introduction of a new nutria uniform on 6 September 1979 through which SWA units could be distinguished from SADF units.


The rank structure of the SWATF was identical to that of the SADF. The insignia however differed considerably.

NATO code
OF-10OF-9OF-8OF-7OF-6OF-5OF-4OF-3OF-2OF-1OF(D) and student officer
South West Africa
No equivalent
Lieutenant general
Major general
2nd Lieutenant
Officer candidate
South West Africa
No equivalent No insignia
Formation warrant officer
Warrant officer class 1
Warrant officer class 2
Staff sergeant
Lance corporal


Tactical breakdown

The Reaction Force


  • Reaction Force Brigade, mainly a Citizen and cross corps force, 91 Brigade had a motorised sub-brigade composing two (later three) infantry battalions, an armoured car regiment, and an artillery regiment. The Brigade also included a training battalion and a mobilisation center.

  • Logistics Brigade


  • Eight full-time battalions
    • 31 Bushman Battalion (became 201 Battalion) HQ at Omega Base,
    • 32 Battalion at Buffalo,
    • 33 Eastern Caprivi Battalion, (became 701 Battalion)
    • 34 Kavangoland Battalion, (became 202 Battalion)
    • 35 Ovamboland Battalion, (became 101 Battalion) The Quick reaction force.
    • 36 Bushman Battalion, (became 203 Battalion)
    • 37 Kaokoland Battalion, (became 102 Battalion)
    • 41 Multi-ethnic Regiment Windhoek (became 911 Battalion) (As 911 Battalion – it became known as "Swing Force" due to its ability to operate as a conventional unit or as a Counter-insurgency (COIN) unit.It recruited from South West Africa at large and deployed predominantly as a reserve force. An infantry element, a mechanised contingent, artillery, and a regiment of Eland armoured cars was included.[11] The unit was never mobilised en masse.

SWATF Special Forces

Although SWATF relied heavily on South Africa's special forces, over time it developed its own capability.

  • 1 SWA Recon Regiment: started out as a sub unit under the command of the Commanding General SWATF in 1982, staffed mainly by ex South African operators.
  • Front-line Recon Wings: most front-line battalions, such as 31, 36 and 101 also had their own Recon Wings.
  • 1 SWA Specialist Unit: at Otavi – containing trackers, dogs, horses and dirt bikes. By 1984, 1 SWA SPES was based at Omaruku and at Omathoni together with 32 Battalions Recce Wing.
  • 1 SWA Parachute Battalion: By 1987, 1 SWA Parachute Battalion and 32 Battalion's Recce Wing were amalgamated to become 2 SWA Specialist Unit or 2 SWA SPES and relocated to Luipersvallei, Windhoek.

The Area Force

South West African Military Operations Sectors

By 1979, South West Africa was subdivided into Operational Sectors. Three Frontline Sectors, 10, 20 and 70 fell under direct South African Army Command. Four additional Sectors, 30, 40, 50 and 60 covered the rest of South West Africa and was commanded directly by SWATF officers from 1980.

Frontline Sectors

Frontline Sectors were used for the massing of forces in preparation for external operations into Angola, acting as a buffer with the rest of the territory and reaction to immediate threats.

Although theoretically under control of the Area Force, due to their proximity to Angola the vast majority of conventional forces was based in these areas and remained under the direct control of South West Africa Command, a SADF regional command.

Sector 10

(Kaokoland and Owambo) - HQ Oshakati

  • SADF's 51 Battalion at Ruacana,
  • SADF's 52 Battalion at Oshakati,
  • SADF's 53 Battalion at Ondangwa,
  • SADF's 54 Battalion at Eenhana,
  • 101 Battalion at Ondangwa and
  • 102 Battalion at Opuwa,
Combined SADF and SWATF forces in Sector 10
  • SADF's Air Force Base Ondangwa,
  • SADF's 5 Maintenance Unit at Ondangwa,
  • SADF's Sector 10 Training Unit at Oshivelo,
  • SADF's Sector 10 Signals Unit at Oshikati,
  • SADF's Sector 10 Maintenance Unit at Oshikati,
  • SADF's Sector 10 Provost Unit at Oshikati,
  • SADF's 25 Engineering Squadron at Oshakati, and
  • SADF's 61 Mechanised Battalion Group at Omuthiya (although not SWATF, 61 Mech had its origins in South West Africa)

Sector 20

(Kavango and Western Caprivi) - HQ Rundu

  • SADF's 55 Battalion at Nepara.
  • 32 Battalion at Buffalo.
  • 201 Battalion at Omega base,
  • 202 Battalion at Rundu and
  • 203 Battalion at Mangeti.
Special Service Companies for quick reaction

These frontline Sectors also had immediate reaction forces (Special Service Companies) to deal with any attack and were primarily infantry company strength and fully motorised.

  • 905 SSC was based at Nepara in Sector 20 and deployed on Buffels.
  • 906 SSC was based at Omahoni in Sector 20 and deployed on Buffels. Local Kwanyama troops made up the bulk of the personnel.
SADF units in Sector 20
  • SADF's Air Force Base Rundu and
  • SADF's 6 Maintenance Unit at Rundu.

Sector 70

(Eastern Caprivi) - HQ Mpacha Encompassed the Eastern Caprivi covering the Zambian border from Cuado to the Zambezi River.

  • SWATF 701 Battalion, at Mpacha with attached SWATF armoured car and artillery battery.
SADF units in Sector 70
  • SADF's Air Force Base at Mpacha,
  • SADF's Navy Marine Company utilized for river patrols and
  • SADF's 9 Maintenance Unit at Mpacha.

Countrywide Sectors

Apart from the Frontline Sectors, four additional Sectors existed. 26 Area Force Units, similar to the South African commando system, was established for these less vulnerable parts of the territory.

Sector 30

HQ Otjiwarongo (Citadel).

  • 301 Bn at Otjiwarongo.

SWATF Otjiwarongo AME (Area Force Unit - Area Mag Eenheid), Outjo AME, Grootfontein AME, Tsumeb AME, Herreroland AME, Ethosa AME, Otavi AME, Damaraland AME and UIS PL. Its area of responsibility was likewise the Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, Outjo, Otjiwarongo, Hereroland and Damaraland regions.

SADF Units in Sector 30
  • SADF's Air Force Base Grootfontein
  • SADF's Northern Logistics Command at Grootfontein comprising:
    • NLC 101 Workshop
    • NLC Provost Unit
    • NLC 6 Signals Unit
    • NLC 16 Maintenance Unit

Sector 40

HQ Windhoek.

SWATF Alte Feste AME, Khomas AME, Hochl AME, Okahandja AME, Omaruru AME, Swakopmund AME, Rehoboth AME, Katatura AME and Khomasdal AME.

Other Units in this Sector:

  • Regiment Windhoek
  • 1 SWA Provost Unit

Sector 50

HQ Gobabis.

SWATF Aranos AME, Auob AME, Bo-Nossob AME, Aminius PL, Gobabis AME, Rietfont AME, Mariental AME and Maltahohe AME.

Sector 60

HQ Keetmanshoop.

SWATF Karasburg AME, Keetmanshop AME, Hoop AME, Bethanien AME, Oranjemund AME, Luderitz AME and Namaland AME.

Air Wing


While the SWATF relied heavily on the South African Air Force for combat and heavy logistics transportation, it did have its own Air Wing, which consisted mainly of civilian aircraft.

1 SWA Commando Squadron was established as 112 Air Commando on 24 September 1963 in Windhoek. The unit was staffed by volunteer civilian aircraft. From 1968, control of 112 Commando squadron passed from the SA Army to the SAAF and it was transferred to Light Aircraft Command. In 1970, it was disbanded, but in 1980 it was re-established as part of the SWATF.


Small arms

Name Type Country of Origin Notes
Beretta 92 Semi-automatic pistol  Italy
Star Semi-Automatic Pistol  Spain Model 1920, 1921, 1922.
Uzi Submachine gun  Israel Some of local manufacture.
AK-47 Assault Rifle  Soviet Union Captured.
AKM Assault Rifle  Soviet Union Captured.
R1 Battle Rifle  Belgium Belgian design
Heckler & Koch G3 Battle Rifle  West Germany G3A3, received from Portugal.
R4 Assault Rifle  South Africa Derived from the Galil
Bren Light machine gun  United Kingdom Mk 3.
Browning M2 Heavy machine gun  United States
Browning M1919 Medium machine gun  United States Helicopter-mounted weapon.
FN MAG General purpose machine gun  Belgium MAG-58.
SS-77 machine gun General purpose machine gun  South Africa
PKM General purpose machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
RPD Light machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
RPK Light machine gun  Soviet Union Captured.
FN Browning Auto-5 Shotgun  United States
Armsel Striker Shotgun  South Africa
Dragunov Sniper rifle  Soviet Union Captured.
Armscor M963 Fragmentation grenade  South Africa Made in South Africa,
derived from INDEP's licence-made M26 grenade
Armscor 42 Zulu Anti-personnel rifle grenade  South Africa Derived from the Belgian PRB 424
Armscor AP-65[12] Anti-personnel rifle grenade  South Africa Successor to the 42 Zulu,
utilising a M26 and resembling a Dilagrama m/65
Mecar Energa Anti-tank rifle grenade  Belgium Made in South Africa
M18 Claymore Anti-personnel mine  United States
Mine G.S. Mk V Anti-tank mine  United Kingdom
M79 grenade launcher Grenade Launcher  United States Known as "snotneus"
Milkor MGL Grenade Launcher  South Africa
M20 Super Bazooka Anti-tank weapon  United States 3.5 inch rocket launcher.
STRIM 89mm rocket launcher Anti-tank weapon  France M20 replacement.
RPG-2 Anti-tank weapon  Soviet Union Captured.
RPG-7 Anti-tank weapon  Soviet Union Captured.




  • Samil 20
  • Samil 50
  • Samil 100
  • Kwevoel 100


A lot of effort was used to interdict insurgent groups that had crossed over the Angolan border. These Insurgents were on foot, but knew the land and moved fast. There have been stories of the insurgents moving incredible distances with little supplies, whilst being chased and if cornered putting up a good resistance to their followers. Adrenaline injections were found at some of the incident scenes after a fire fight.

These insurgents were normally stalked by using trained trackers, who directed the reaction force. In some instances a stopper group was choppered in to cut off the insurgents before they reached the border.


Under UN resolution 435, the United Nations Transition Assistance Group was mobilised, while SWATF was demobilised, its strength in the last years of operation was at about 22,000.

Special arrangements were made for two San units of SWATF, as they originated from local tribal communities. They were thus allocated land near their previous bases.

All citizen force units were demobilised.

The SWATF was completely demobilised on 1 June 1989.

Withdrawal of some units to South Africa

UN Resolution 435 additionally called on South Africa to reduce its forces in Namibia to 12000 before the start of any peace process and finally to 1500 by 1989.

Several thousand especially from the San people, fearing reprisal or intimidation, left for South Africa with the SADF.

32 Battalion, whose members to a large extent could not claim Namibian citizenship, also withdrew to South Africa completely.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Duignan, Peter. Politics and Government in African States 1960–1985. pp. 345–377.
  2. "SWAPO – SWATF/Koevoet". Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  3. Fryxell, Cole. To Be Born a Nation. pp. 1–357.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Modern African Wars (3): South West Africa (Men-At-Arms Series, 242) by Helmoed-Romer Heitman (Author), Paul Hannon (Illustrator) Osprey Publishing (28 November 1991) ISBN 1-85532-122-X and ISBN 978-1-85532-122-9
  5. Tonchi, Victor; Lindeke, William; Grotpeter, John. Historical Dictionary of Namibia. p. 405.
  6. FishEagle (21 February 2010). "I Luv SA: The Namibian Border War: an appraisal of the South African strategy (Part 6)". Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  7. "". Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  9. "Military Chronicle of South West Africa". Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "SWATF Operations". Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  11. Helmoed-Römer Heitman. Modern African Wars: South West Africa (1991 ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-1855321229.
  12. "Armed soldier of the 911 Batallion" (image/jpeg). Bush of Ghosts. Photographed by John Liebenberg. Cape Town: 1989. Retrieved 5 May 2016. 911 Battalion patrol, the front soldier armed with an R4 rifle with an AP-65 (anti-personnel) rifle grenade.

Further reading

See also

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