A 300 year history is drawing to a close in the Republic of South Africa
with the final closure of the last 183 commandos that have served their country and their communities. The commando units have been part of rural South Africa since 1795 when Geetrug du Toit, a Hugenote woman mustered the first burger commando to assist her in retrieving her stolen cattle. This commando was lead by Schalk van der Merwe and Jan Potgieter. England, that occupied the Cape at that time issued an order that the command of a commando would consist of a Commandant, a Cornet head and a corporal to command the burgers.
During the great trek the Cornette became “ Veldkornette “ and was accepted as the sole military system that would liaise with the trek leaders. Consisting mainly of farmers, the commando system became world famous and very effective when they took on the might of the British Empire during the Anglo Boer war. Under the leadership of the man who perfected guerrilla warfare Danie Theron, boer commandos booked their place in history as a force to be reckoned with.
Gen Koos de la Rey was the man who called upon the burgers in the Bechuanaland region and Vryburg to form a commando, 800 burgers reported for duty and Stellaland commando was mobilised on the 21st October 1899. Their mission was to relieve Kuruman from the British occupation and which was successfully carried out and completed. In May of 1900, Vryburg was occupied by the British forces and Stellaland commando withdrew to join up with Bloemhof commando. Stellaland then became involved in the guerrilla war and this resulted in Lord Roberts adopting the scorched earth policy in the region and many homesteads in and around Vryburg bore testimony to the brutal onslaught, the Concentration camp memorial offers a grim reminder of that phase of the war as well. During the guerrilla phase of the Boer war, four members of Stellaland commando, Johannes and Hermanus Kuhn, Johannes Jansen and Hermanus Rautenbach paid the highest price when they were executed by the British forces after been captured by them.
Post Anglo Boer War, in July of 1913, Rifle associations were formed through out South Africa and a number of these would then form a commando. By 1919 there were 99,000 members country wide. It was only after WW2 when the defence act was changed in 1957 that the commandos would be finally incorporated into the South African Defence Force. When South Africa, in 1961 adopted sole responsibility for her defence, the commandos were tasked with rear area defence and a mission to maintain stability. Danie Theron Combat school was thus formed in Kimberley, where many a commando member received his or her training, the other members coming from the national service system and volunteers.
A multi disciplined force was formed and the experience brought in from other military arenas provided the commando units with excellent military skills and experience, thus enabling the units to carry out their tasks to perfection. During the Bush war in SWA/Namibia Stellaland combined forces with Kalahari, Bloemhof, Christiana, Schweizer- Reneke and De le Rey Commandos to form a company of volunteers that were deployed to the Ovamboland region for there contribution towards the efforts of the SADF.
Stellaland commandos part in this cohesion of security forces was eventually recognised by the Town elders, and for their commitment, to the defence of the RSA and the greater Vryburg community the honour of the Freedom of the Town was bestowed upon the unit in May of 1988.
During 1994, Stellaland commenced the recruiting of the first black troops, and was one of the first commandos in the country to do so.
Hence the formation of the South African National Defence Force had no great effect on Stellaland commando as community representation was already in place and functioning.
Stellaland was a commando that was actively involved with the community and enjoyed a very close working relationship with the SAPS and Disaster Management. Sadly a vital life line the Marnet(military area radio network) has also been phased out with the unit. The Marnet Radio had been manned by Stellaland commando signallers round the clock since the closure of Group 21HQ in 1996. This radio system provided a service of untold value to the community that were linked to it. The few farm attacks that did occur in our area were speedily reported via the Marnet and on just about every occasion the timely activation of the security services through the Marnet resulted in the culprits been arrested, proving the effectiveness of that system. Veld fires were reported via this system as well, and valuable time was saved by the excellent and co-ordinated approach taken by the signallers to sound the alarm.
Active participation in Bisely rifle and combat rifle shooting by members of the commando produced some Springbuck as well as provincial marksmen over the years.
Stellalands area of responsibility (aor) was approximately 700sq/km, Helicopter and vehicle operation went as far west as 10km from Kuruman. In the latter years of operations the black troops that had been recruited from the community were used almost exclusively. This provided them with an opportunity to experience their first helicopter combat flying, sitting in the open door of an Oryx helicopter doing 200km/h at tree top height, ready to deplane, was a frightful experience for some, but they eventually overcame that fear.
Upon receiving the signal that the commandos were to close many a person in the community and the commando itself expressed their fears and concern that a security system that worked was to be removed. Most of the black troops, as we have seen from around the country depended on the salary they received while on duty, to support a family. Fortunately this unit was able to transfer almost all of those that wished to go to the Army Conventional Reserve (ACR). Of these troops some have already been retrained and deployed in Africa with the Peace Keeping Forces.
The doors of Stellaland Commando will finally close on the 311600BOct2006 ending
107years and 10days of history with Vryburg/Naledi and her communities.
As the last Officer Commanding Stellaland commando it will be an honour on behalf of the SANDF and Stellaland commando to express our sincerest gratitude to all the men and women that served in this fine unit, our colleagues in the security forces and Disaster management, to the community, the private business sector and everyone that has been part of and assisted this unit.
Stellalands final wish to the community of Vryburg/Naledi that we served, is to uphold the law and to continue with area defence within the boundaries of the law. The onslaught against the farmer and rural communities is far from over, adopt the motto of “ Ever vigilant and ever prepared”
Stellaland Commando bids everyone farewell and may GOD be with you all.
By Dick Wheeler