What it takes to get into the South African army’s Special Forces

The SANDF Special Forces is South Africa’s most skilled division in the armed forces, specialising in landward, airborne, and waterborne operations.

The Defence Force describes the Special Forces as a “dynamic and effective force, which boasts specially-trained personnel, and is equipped with specialist equipment”.

“Special Forces is politically neutral, professional, and just in its actions. Readiness levels are maintained in order to ensure that special operations can be conducted at any time and any place,” states the SANDF.

The SA Special Forces – previously known as 1 Reconnaissance Commando – was founded in Oudshoorn on 1 October 1972.

The unit moved to Pretoria in 1978. During the same year, 4 and 5 Reconnaissance Commandos were formed. After 1994, the unit was integrated into the SANDF.

What the Special Forces do

The Special Forces carry out military operations, independently or in cooperation with other State Departments to achieve set-out objectives.

Its roles include:

  • Direct offensive tasks
  • Strategic reconnaissance and intelligence collection
  • Unconventional and guerrilla warfare
  • Counter-terror actions
  • Combat search and rescue
  • Influencing operations
  • Support to peace operations conducted by the SANDF


What it takes to get into the SA Special Forces

Before you can apply to enter the Special Forces, you must complete the first year of the SANDF’s Military Skills Development System (MSDS) programme.

The MSDS programme is a two-year voluntary service system, during which recruits receive basic and functional military training in their first year.

During the second year of service, potential candidates will attend the Special Forces Basic Training Cycle.

After completing the Special Forces Basic Training Cycle, the candidate will be given the option of joining the short-term contract system of the SANDF in order to serve in Special Forces.

To get into the MSDS programme you must be:

  • A South African citizen
  • Between 18 and 22 (university graduates 26)
  • Have Grade 12 or busy with the National Senior Certificate
  • Not area bound
  • No record of serious criminal offences
  • Preferably single
  • Comply with medical fitness requirements for appointment in the SANDF

Once you have met these basic criteria and completed the first year of the MSDS programme, you must meet the requirements of the Special Forces:

  • Proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English
  • Successful completion of the Special Forces Entry Tests and Operational Deployable:
    • 40 push-ups without breaking rhythm
    • 67 sit-ups within two minutes
    • 175-metre fireman’s-lift run within 65 seconds
    • 5-kilometre run within 24 minutes
    • 40 six-metre shuttle-runs within 95 seconds
    • Water training test
    • Psychometric test, achieve an above-average score
    • Personal interview

SANDF Soldier

Special Forces training

Once candidates meet the requirements above, they must take part in the 57-week Special Forces Basic Training Cycle.

The Special Forces Basic Training Cycle consists of the following:

  • Special Forces Individual Phase 1
  • Special Forces Selection
  • Medical Level 1 – 4
  • Special Forces Individual Phase 2
  • Special Forces Basic Demolitions
  • Basic Static Line Parachuting
  • Special Forces Air Operations
  • Small Boat Coxswain
  • Bush craft, tracking and survival
  • Minor Tactics Rural
  • Minor Tactics Urban

Advanced Special Forces Training

After completing the Special Forces Basic Training Cycle, a candidate becomes a Specials Forces Operator.

They can then continue with a combination of the following specialists fields:

  • Demolitions
  • Sniping
  • Bush Craft, Tracking and Survival
  • Urban Reconnaissance
  • Rural Reconnaissance
  • Photography
  • Climbing Techniques
  • Urban Operations
  • Operational Emergency Care Practitioner
  • Parachuting
  • Heavy Weapons
  • Seaborne Training
  • Attack Diving

Insignia of the Special Forces

SA Special Forces
SA Special Forces

Parachutist (Static Line) and Special Forces Sniper proficiency badges not listed.

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What it takes to get into the South African army’s Special Forces