Re-writing history, South African army style

This had obviously passed me by as the country lurches from one alcohol ban to the next, but I was astounded to read that many of the most illustrious regiments of the South African army have been re-named, thus all but ending their long and remarkable histories for the sake of modern-day political correctness.

The Cape Town Highlanders, for example, are now the Gonnema Regiment, thus essentially wiping out the link to the Scottish settlers who raised the regiment back in 1885, and their proud ties to the Gordons. The Cape Town Highlanders fought against the Boer invaders of the Cape Colony in the 1899-1902 war, and saw plenty of active service in the Great War. The regiment was mobilised to the North African deserts in the Second World War, then saw more action in Italy as they helped defeat Hitler’s plans for world domination. Of course, all this is now to be air-brushed from history as (apparently) such a blatant connection with Scotland is somehow distasteful to the modern-day South African army: this perhaps also explains why the Transvaal Scottish has been renamed the ‘Solomon Mahlangu Regiment’.

Similarly, the Witwatersrand Rifles (a unit formed in 1903 and which, again, saw service in both world wars) is now called the Bambatha Rifles, while the Natal Carbineers (another regiment which fought, not only against Kruger’s invaders, but also saw service in both world wars) has been given the catchy title of the Ingobamakhosi Carbineers.

Other fine names with links to Britain (or the Colonial period) which have disappeared are the Cape Town Rifles (now the Chief Langalibalele Rifles), while the South African Irish Regiment is now the Andrew Mlangeni Regiment, thus essentially wiping out a history dating back to 1885. Nor have the gunners and donkey wallopers been spared, with the Cape Garrison Artillery (which dates from 1889) renamed as the Autshumato Anti-Aircraft Regiment, the Cape Field Artillery (a unit which could trace its origins back to 1867) renamed The Nelson Mandela Artillery Regiment, the Natal Field Artillery (founded even earlier, back in 1862) is now the King Cetshwayo Artillery Regiment, while the Natal Mounted Rifles (a regiment which can trace its history all the way back to 1854) changed to the Queen Nandi Mounted Rifles.

All these units were given three years to ‘design and phase in new insignia’ – thus ending any but the most tenuous connection with their actual history, and essentially consigning these fine regiments to the dustbin.

It is interesting that all the regiments I’ve mentioned were very ‘British’ or ‘Colonial’ in character, history and heritage, whereas the Regiment de la Rey – a unit which only dates from 1935, and which was named in honour of a man who, for all his personal qualities, fought tooth and nail for Kruger’s violently expansionist and racist regime – was spared this cultural vandalism (though time and money has been spent in rather pointlessly renaming it as ‘The General de la Rey Regiment’).[i]

Indeed, it is hard to understand why such illustrious Colonial-era regiments have been targeted in this way, when the South African army could have instead simply renamed the boringly anodyne ‘7 South African Infantry Battalion’ (which was only founded in 1973), the equally prosaic ‘15 South African Infantry Battalion’ (formed as recently as 1994), or, indeed, any of the other ‘numbered’ battalions. Why could these units not have been given these new, trendy, politically-correct ‘African’ names?

One can, of course, understand the desire for the South African army to represent (for example) the martial history of the Zulus, but rather than consigning the Natal Carbineers to the history books by renaming them the Ingobamakhosi Carbineers (Ingobamakhosi refers to a Zulu impi which fought at Isandlwana), why was this name not instead assigned to the 121 South African Infantry Battalion? This boringly titled unit was formed in 1979 as a Zulu speaking infantry unit, so would seem – to the unbiased observer – a perfect regiment to be given a proud, and rather more evocative, Zulu name.

Of course, the names of British army regiments have also changed over time, as units are amalgamated and such: my own regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, was renamed ‘The Highlanders’ when we amalgamated with the Queen’s Own, for example, but everything was done to try and retain the beloved traditions, and much treasured ‘tribal items’, of both the former units. In contrast, what is happening in the South African army now is on a totally different level. Everyone knows South Africa has had a troubled past, but that cannot excuse this wholesale attack on the history, heritage and traditions of these fine regiments.

Alas it is just the latest in the ongoing social engineering project to completely re-write South Africa’s history to suit current prejudices.

[i] Other ‘Afrikaans’ regiments have not been spared, whereas some of the name changes just seem pointless: for example, the Light Horse Regiment (ie. the old Imperial Light Horse which had previously been renamed by the Apartheid government) has now been renamed ‘The Johannesburg Light Horse Regiment’


  • Dr Antony Bader Posted April 2, 2021 10:04 am

    As usual Dr Ash. Honest, insightful and impeccably researched

    • Bulldog Posted April 2, 2021 11:52 am

      Still just plain old Mr Ash, I’m afraid: strangely, I’m yet to receive my Honorary Doctorate from Pretoria University, in recognition of my work in challenging the myths of the Boer War.

  • Robin Smith Posted April 2, 2021 10:05 am

    The government would do well to address the question of why SA needs an army, what size it should be and what kind of army can we afford as a nation. Renaming all the regiments is easy to do. What I have suggested is the difficult bit.

    • Bulldog Posted April 2, 2021 1:13 pm

      Well, indeed Robin.
      After a Defence Review, and a proper assessment of the required size of the army, they could have reduced the number of units with ‘British’ / ‘Colonial’ names by amalgamating (for example) the First City Regiment with the Cape Town Rifles, or the Natal Carbineers with the Natal Mounted Rifles etc.
      This would have enabled the resultant regiments to continue most of the traditions and heritage, halved the number of ‘offensive’ names in the South African army ORBAT, and reduced the size the army overall.
      But I guess that would have been logical.

  • Damian O’Connor Posted April 2, 2021 12:05 pm

    I think you are right. Giving names to numbered regiments is a good idea – but we are talking about the ANC here. I really do fear for the RS of A. How long can it survive under such useless leadership?

  • Ben Oppeerman Posted April 5, 2021 7:26 am

    The explaination is simple if you read the latest ANC proverb……”Why create something when you can just rename it?”

  • Robert Hackney Posted April 13, 2021 6:35 am

    Something like that is happening here in the United States, only it’s with sports teams.

    • Bulldog Posted April 13, 2021 6:50 am

      Pretty insidious stuff, really: “Who controls the past controls the future”, as George Orwell put it.

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