This week in 1994: Democracy 25

Nelson Mandela
Reading Time: 3 minutes


This week we focus on the fallout over the integration process of former freedom fighters into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) that had been troubling the new democratically elected government since the project’s inception.

Former uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) were upset about alleged exclusion of some of their members and the pace of the integration process.

They were also concerned over the dominance of the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the new force.

The former freedom fighters also felt like their military background was being undermined as the SADF was used as basis for integration and former members had higher ranks than most of them.

Listen to some concerns raised by the soldiers:

Tension and discontent marked the incorporation process since the project began in early 1994.

As tensions boiled over, some combatants marched to the Union Buildings from their temporary transit post in Wallmansthal in September.

While some returned to the base after Mandela’s intervention – others didn’t.

A fraction of unhappy combatants took leave without permission, prompting the newly elected President to step in again.

Mandela met with the former guerrillas on 20 October 1994, following talks with military bosses a week earlier.

He urged them to adhere to military discipline or face the consequences of their actions.

Watch Mandela speaking to the media following a meeting on this matter:

Several other protests, including a violent demonstration in Durban at the beginning of 1995, followed this.

Although things later improved, complaints over security of tenure, promotions and salaries continued to dog the process.

A deal, which saw a number of high profile appointments for MK cadres, was eventually struck.

Training of non-statutory force members was also promised.

At the end of the integration process, at least 16% of former MK soldiers reportedly remained in the army while at least 7% of Apla cadres were absorbed.

Researchers attribute the low numbers to various reasons, including some MK members not reporting for attestation with the new defence force and difficulties in tracing some of those listed on the Certified Personnel Register (CPR).

The demobilisation of former guerrilla combatants is also another factor.

Some former non-statutory army members resigned from the army, while others were let go due to age and/or health reasons.

According to a 2002 study by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the majority of those who resigned were from the self-defence unit, which had less trained and disciplined members as opposed to MK cadres who have been trained in exile.

Army bosses have hailed the merging into one of former warring forces as one of the biggest armed force success stories in recent times.

However, military commentators believe government failed to integrate the seven armies, saying liberation forces were merely absorbed into the South African Defence Force (SADF).