During the opening of Parliament in February 2003, the then State President Thabo Mbehki stated that the South African National Defence Force would “Phase out its area defence capability”.
This in effect meant that the South African Army’s Territorial Reserve Force units, commonly known as the Commando’s, would be phased out and closed down by the end of 2009. This political decision has had a negative effect on the safety and stability in many communities, especially the rural communities where service from the South African Police Service is often lacking.
At the time of this decision it was envisioned that former members of the commando’s would be taken up in the South African Police Service’s Reservist system. This has unfortunately been implemented on a very limited scale. The Commando’s had been part of the South African scene since the 1700’s when a woman in the Cape Colony called a band of armed men together to follow up and chase down a group of stock thieves who had stolen her livestock.
The objective of this commando was to recover the stolen livestock and bring the perpetrators to book. This was due to the absence of any form of local policing authority in the area in which she lived. As from their inception, the commando’s consisted mainly of volunteers. However, in times of crisis or war, men were conscripted to serve in the commando. During the many years of its existence, Piet Retief Commando served its community and the government of the day without fear or favour.
It was also a leader in many ways, being the first commando to welcome Black and Indian members into its ranks in 1983. It was also one of the very first commando’s to have a Black Regimental Sergeant Major… a very senior position in the Army. On 10 March 2007, ten years ago today, Piet Retief Commando exercised it’s right to Freedom Of The City.
This right, to march through town with Colours flying and bayonets fixed, had been conferred on Piet Retief Commando on 17 February 1979. Sadly, this march through the town of Piet Retief with Colours flying and bayonets fixed, ended at the Town Hall with the Laying Up Of The Colours Parade.
During this parade the Piet Retief Commando Colours, with their Battle Honours emblazoned on them, were laid up, signifying the official closure of this South African Army Territorial Reserve Force Unit. A milestone that has been achieved since the closure of Piet Retief Commando was the capturing of the history of the commando in a book entitled “ Piet Retief Commando 1880 to 2007… the story of a border commando” .
This book, together with another book, focussing on The Anglo Boer War 1899 to 1902, was written by well known South African author Walter Volker, himself a man who was born and educated in Piet Retief. Since closure, many of these former commando members have joined the South African Army Conventional Reserve Units, such as Regiment Botha.
Sadly, a number of our members have passed away, some in motor vehicle accidents and some from sickness. I take this opportunity then to honour the memory of Piet Retief Commando and what it stood for. I also wish to honour those who served in Piet Retief Commando and also those who have passed away.
To quote the words of the M.O.T.H. Organization in respect of soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice: “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them!”
M.C. Trebble: Lieutenant Colonel.