21 South African Infantry Battalion

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21 South African Infantry Battalion
SANDF 21 South African Infantry emblem.jpg
21 South African Infantry emblem
Active 1 January 1991
Country  South Africa
Branch  South African Army
Type Internal Stability
Part of South African Infantry Formation
Garrison/HQ Doornkop, Johannesburg
Motto(s) Nostro operi fideles (Sure of our work)
Company level insignia SA Army Company Insignia.png
SA Motorised Infantry beret bar circa 1992
SA Motorised Infantry beret bar

21 South African Infantry Battalion is an infantry battalion of the South African Army. The unit has its origin as 21 Battalion, an apartheid era unit used to train black South African men as soldiers.



In 1973 the apartheid government decided to train black soldiers.[1]

On 21 January 1974, the Army Bantu Training Centre was established at Baviaanspoort, north of Pretoria.[2]:102 Sixteen recruits began basic training in March 1974 with another 38 men joining in August, now trained by the sixteen initial recruits.[2]:102

In April 1975, authority was given for blacks to attest in the then-Permanent Force.[2]:103 On December 1, 1975, the Army Bantu Training Centre became a self-accounting unit and moved to Lenz, south of Johannesburg.[2]:103 The centre was then renamed 21 Battalion on the 21st birthday of the South African Infantry Corps in 1975.[2]:103[3]

Press releases during 1977 emphasised that these black soldiers would not be trained for South African combat roles.[2]:103 By 1978, the Chief of the South African Army begun to implement plans to establish 21 Battalion as the training school for black soldiers of different ethnic groups.[2]:104

Homeland Units

The plan was for these recruits to serve in ethnic units in the current regional commands with their eventual adoption into the black homeland armies.[2]:104[2]:105 The Lenz unit would train over eight years, up to eighteen black battalions, distributing them into these regional battalions.[2]:105

Initial units were the Zulu 121 Battalion at Jozini, Natal Command, the Swazi 111 Battalion at Amsterdam, Northern Transvaal Command, the Venda 112 Battalion at Madimbo and the Shangaan 113 Battalion at Impala near Phalaborwa.[2]:104 The size of the battalion ranged from 35 men in 1975, reaching over 400 to 515 men in 1979.[2]:107


Training started with a 10-week orientation course that was used to weed out those not suited for military service and would eventually cull at least half of the recruits.[2]:108

The Second Phase of Basic training took 17 weeks as opposed to 12 weeks for white recruits and was conducted by black trainers in the form of COIN training.[2]:108

Phase Three resulted in specialised training and was conducted by white trainers with the men being trained to be clerks, storemen, tradesmen, mechanics, chefs and drivers.[2]:108

Training time for ranks of corporals and sergeants was identical to white recruits and was conducted by white trainers and resulted in the first corporals in 1977 and 21 sergeants in 1979.[2]:106

The January 1977 intake figures were 82 men, 260 men in 1979 and 350 by 1978.[2]:107 The unit expanded training to black recruits that formed units from the black homelands of the Transkei, 1 Transkei Battalion, Venda (later 15 SAI) and KwaNdebele(later 115 Battalion) as well as 48 men from Ovamboland, 1 Ovambo Battalion and 100 men of 121 Battalion.[2]:109[3]

Later years

During March 1978, 140 men in three platoons, were deployed to the Eastern Caprivi for three months with the objective of liaising with the local population and to gather intelligence from any friendships cultivated. This was followed up with a second unit in 1979.[2]:109

By 1986 the unit had four companies of its own troops. In July 1987 it became a fully operational battalion, and was used as a reaction force in South Africa before being posted to South-West Africa/Namibia in 1988 during the Border War.[3]

Redesignated as a SAI

21 SAI was established on 1 January 1991 at Doornkop, Johannesburg.[3]


In 1997 the unit was commanded by a colonel and consisted of two operational battalions. By 1999, it had reverted to four infantry companies and a reconnaissance platoon.[3]

Freedom of Entry

The unit exercised its freedom of entry into Johannesburg on the 9th of November 2013 as part of the centenary celebrations of the City of Johannesburg with fixed bayonets, colours flying and drums beating.


From Honorary Colonel To
From Officer Commanding To
From Regimental Sergeants Major To


Previous Dress Insignia

SADF era 21 SA Battalion insignia

Current Dress Insignia

SANDF era Infantry Formation insignia


  1. ^ Engelbrecht, A Guide to the SANDF, 2007, Chapter 9C, p.8
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Grundy, Kenneth W. (January 1981). "A Black Foreign Legion in South Africa?". African Affairs. 80 (318): 101–114. JSTOR 721432.
  3. ^ a b c d e Engelbrecht, Leon (21 March 2010). "21 SA Infantry Battalion". defenceWeb. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
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