Identification of a Bona Fide Special Forces Operator


Up to January 2012, fewer than 1200 persons had ever qualified as Special Forces Operators in South Africa – of which approximately 250 are deceased, approximately 20 are seriously and permanently physically incapacitated, and approximately 30 are in the age group of late sixties to seventies.


Up to the end of the war in Angola, fewer than 480 of the more than One Hundred Thousand initial applicants had qualified as Special Forces Operators, and more than 80 of these were Killed in Action during the war.


All Special Forces Operators in South Africa either know each other, know of each other, or can easily establish a claimant’s bona fides in under a minute with just a few specific questions. Special Forces Operators also very seldom talk, or disclose that they were Operators.


Unfortunately, the number of bogus Operators that ply their trade in South Africa today, and who are more than willing to talk and get as much attention from their exotic stories, numbers – literally – in the thousands to tens of thousands.


These bogus Operators – or “wannabes” as they are known in the South African and international Special Forces communities – are a constant irritant, but more recently they have increasingly become a source of skewed perceptions in respect of Special Forces and Special Forces Operators.


As a result of this, and in an attempt to assist persons who have not had exposure to Special Forces in discriminating whether a claimant is a real Operator or a wannabe, the following general information is provided, which information can usually be of assistance in establishing bona fides of a claimant.




Although a great many persons in South Africa, in this day and age, claim to have been 'in Special Forces', at some time or another, in fact more than 99% of such claims are totally false.  Special Forces, and Special Forces Operators, fit into a very small, and extremely clearly defined grouping.


Special Forces within the South African context has always been a clearly defined military entity, which was and is called Special Forces.

The compliment of Special Forces were divided into clearly identified and well-known Special Forces units, which in South Africa were and are known as initially Reconnaissance Commandos, which changed to Reconnaissance Regiments, and are now Special Forces Regiments. No other units in the South African military have ever been, or are, Special Forces. In the Reconnaissance Commandos, Reconnaissance Regiments and Special Forces Regiments, only the qualified Special Forces Operators are referred to as “Recces”.  Therefore, in order to have been in Special Forces, a person would have had to:-

  1. Been on the strength of the South African military entity officially and formally known as Special Forces.
  2. Been on strength at one of the abovementioned Reconnaissance Commandos, Reconnaissance Regiments, Special Forces Regiments or Special Forces Headquarters.


Some of the confusion regarding persons who say they were 'in Special Forces' relates to the composition of a Special Forces Regiment.  Some of this confusion arises out of genuine misunderstandings and/or lack of knowledge of correct terminology.


Special Forces units were and are not comprised solely of Special Forces Operators.  Although the Special Forces Operators - exclusively - are the personnel who conduct Special Forces operations, a Special Forces unit comprised and comprises both Operators and Support Personnel.


Special Forces Operators were previously exclusively Permanent Force / Short Service members, and are currently exclusively long-term contract members. Support Staff previously comprised both Permanent Force members and National Servicemen, and can currently comprise short-term contract members. The Support Staff in a Special Forces unit outnumbered and outnumber the Operators by 10 or 20 to one.


Support Staff are the persons who provide the support services for the Regiment, support services include administration, personnel matters, welfare matters, legal matters, human resources, communications, base administration, drivers, mechanics, gunsmiths, intelligence officers, counter-intelligence officers, etc. These personnel wear the same uniforms, berets and (sometimes) identifying unit emblems as Operators, but they do not wear Operators Badges or Paratroopers Wings, (unless they are qualified Paratroopers – which is possible). They are also members of Special Forces - but they are not Special Forces Operators, and do not conduct Special Forces operations. 


Therefore, while it would be correct for a non-Operator to state that he had been in Special Forces, it does not mean that he ever conducted - or was involved in or associated with - Special Forces operations. The activities of the Support Staff of a Special Forces unit did and do not differ from the activities of Support Staff at any other military unit.


Care should therefore be taken to exercise the correct terminology, and phrase questions correctly, when discussing these matters with persons who state that they were “in Special Forces”. The question to such persons should not be 'Were you in Special Forces ?'. It should rather be 'Were you a Special Forces Operator ?'.


This having been said, it should be noted that the contributions of the Special Forces Support Staff towards Special Forces in general, the Special Forces units in particular and Operators specifically, were and are invaluable. Without them, no Special Forces unit could or can function effectively, and they played and play a vitally important role. All Operators have always expressed their appreciation to the members of the Special Forces Support Staff, and they always have been and will be a vitally important part of our Special Forces, and the Special Forces community in South Africa.



A Special Forces Operator is specifically defined as a person who has successfully complied with, and completed, the prerequisites as listed below:-

  1. A person who – in previous times - was a member of the Permanent Force/Short Service, (or who was prepared to join and joined the Permanent Force/Short Service), and who in current times is a serving member of the military who has signed, (or who is prepared to sign), a long-term contract.
  2. Which person had or has applied to, and been accepted to, undergo the Special Forces Pre-Selection, Selection and Special Forces Basic Operators Training Cycle, (approximately 1 year).
  3. Which person had or has successfully completed the Special Forces Pre-Selection and Selection, and the Special Forces Basic Operators Training Cycle.
  4. Which person has thereafter been awarded the Special Forces Operators Badge (each with its own unique number), and Special Forces Qualified Operators Certificate, at the successful conclusion of the Special Forces Selection and Special Forces Basic Operators Training Cycle.

    A Senior Special Forces Operator in Dress Uniform.
    Over the right pocket is the Special Forces Operators Badge
    and the Special Forces Attack Divers Badge.
    Over the left pocket are Paratrooper wings.
    This Operator is a Staff Officer and has a Staff Officer's Cap Badge
    as opposed to the usual Special Forces Compass Rose Cap Badge. 


A person can be identified as a Special Forces Operator only if he has a Special Forces Operators Badge with its unique number, (of which detailed and clear records are kept). All Special Forces Operators also have Paratrooper Wings and are qualified Paratroopers, as the Paratrooper course is a part of the Special Forces Basic Operators Training Cycle. If a person is not in possession of / has not been awarded both these, he is NOT* a Special Forces Operator.


* The only exception to this is an extremely small number of persons who were part of the founding group of Special Forces, as the Operators Badge had not at this time been instituted. Their names and records are, however, all kept at the Special Forces Brigade and Special Forces Association.




In order to establish the authenticity of claims, the following questions can be used as a guideline:-

  1. Were you a member of the Permanent Force / a Short Service member / a long-term contract member ?
  2. Were you a member of the South African Special Forces ?
  3. Were you a member of a Reconnaissance Commando / Reconnaissance Regiment / Special Forces Regiment ? 
  4. Were you a Special Forces Operator ?
  5. Did you attend and pass Special Forces Selection ?
  6. Did you attend and pass the Special Forces Basic Operators Training Cycle ?
  7. Do you have a Special Forces Operators Qualification Certificate ?
  8. Do you have a Special Forces Operators Badge ?
  9. What is your unique Operators Badge number ?
  10. Can the Special Forces Association or Brigade verify this information ?

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