University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science

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University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science

University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science

University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science – See Details Below:


Noëlle Cowling, Department of Military Strategy, Faculty of Military Science, and Ian Van der Waag, chair, School for Security and Africa Studies at this faculty



“Education is an open knowledge-driven process. A broad-liberal education is the foundation for the future professional military officer.”[1] 

This faculty, the only one of its kind in South Africa, educates personnel, principally junior officers, for South Africa’s defence department. Being interdisciplinary, it includes five schools: Security and Africa Studies, Geospatial Studies and Information Systems, Human and Organisational Development, Science and Technology and lastly Public and Defence Management. 

Each school is home to several departments and programmes. There are also two dedicated research bodies, The Centre for Military Studies (Cemis) and the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (Sigla).  ​

It is Stellenbosch University’s only faculty that offers distance study at undergraduate level through the Interactive Telematic Education (ITE) programme.

Five undergraduate programmes, leading to a BMil degree, include Human and Organisation Development, Organisation and Resource Management, Security and Africa Studies, Military Technology and lastly Technology and Defence Management. Postgraduate programmes, from honours to doctoral level, are open to South African National Defence Force (SANF) members and the public.

By far the most undergraduates are South African defence force members, though young officers from Swaziland, Mozambique, Angola, Botswana and Namibia have also graduated here with B Mil degrees.



The South African Military Academy was established in April 1950, to elevate officer training in the then Union Defence Force (UDF) to a level on a par with officer training abroad. The UDF wished to raise the academy’s education standard to that of a university.[2]

Formed in conjunction with Pretoria University, the academy was modelled on the Indian National Defence Academy, with education and training systems loosely based on those of the Royal Military Academy (Sandhurst, UK) and US Military Academy at West Point.[3]


Pretoria University and the Department of Defence (DoD) agreed to the university offering BSc (Mil) and BA (Mil) degrees to army and air force students at the academy. The handful of military subjects, including (military) geography, history, law and science, were grouped under “Military Studies” (Krygskunde) and presented by permanent force officers at the Military College at Voortrekkerhoogte.[4] 

​Courses were presented in Afrikaans. Examination papers were provided in English. The academy, sometimes referred to as a “military faculty”, was not a university faculty. There was not even a “department of military studies” and the lecturers were grouped under the university’s mathematics department.[5]

No constitution or contract between the university and the UDF existed. University attempts to introduce a formal agreement in 1952 failed. The shortage of lecturers and facilities at the college posed a problem – aggravated by students having to commute 18 kilometres to the university for the additional degree courses not presented at Voortrekkerhoogte.

Obviously, this half-baked attempt resulted in an unacceptably high student failure rate. Only six of the original 30 candidates graduated in April 1953.[6] Defence minister FC Erasmus then ordered the UDF to place the academy on the correct footing. The so-called Kriegler Committee reviewed the situation.

A critical factor was the academy’s remoteness from the ocean for educating naval officers[7] and Saldanha was identified as ideal, with the existing Naval Gymnasium there and the Langebaan Road Air Force Base,  a training base, close by. 

Oddly enough, Saldanha’s isolation was viewed as an ideal academic environment for students, without the diversions and attractions of city life to interfere with their academic endeavour!

And it was probably no coincidence that this town was in the constituency of minister Erasmus, member of parliament for Mooreesburg.  Another incentive was, apparently, that the UDF could break ties with Pretoria University and establish a so-called ‘independent’ military university.[8]

On 27 August 1953, the approval in principal for the establishment of a joint services academy in Saldanha was granted. As an independent military unit, it would operate in conjunction with “one or more universities.’[9]

However, this situation evolved rather quickly. In October 1953 a meeting was held between Stellenbosch University’s rector, Prof RW Wilcocks, and UDF members in Pretoria, where the UDF chief of staff, Lt Gen Matie Du Toit, explained the UDF’s intention to establish a faculty, preferably at Stellenbosch.

Wilcocks was in favour, provided that lecturers and curricula met his university’s normal requirements. The UDF, which under Minister Erasmus was on a strong drive to Afrikanerize military’s ranks and ethos, appears to have preferred Stellenbosch’s acknowledged ideology, encapsulated as a “volksuniversiteit[10] in the words of Prof HB Thom, who later succeeded Wilcocks as rector.

There was some significant UDF opposition to an academy in Saldanha. The quartermaster general, Col HJ Martin, noted in a strongly worded minute:

“If it is decided to proceed with the erection of an academy at Saldanha adequate, I repeat adequate, funds must be made available to erect an imposing institution that will be a credit to the UDF and command the admiration and respect of other institutions of higher learning. For the amount at present available a miserable second rate structure only can be built”, he said, adding that such an institution “must be liberally staffed to produce results and any suggestion to cut the staff to suit the meagre pittance available will be a most retrograde step and will further emphasise an impression of niggardliness and poverty. I consider your proposed staff totally inadequate to do the required task.”[11]

Despite widespread opposition, Erasmus ordered Du Toit to push ahead with the plans. The first serious disagreement with Stellenbosch University arose because the UDF, which considered in-depth study for military degrees as undesirable, preferred a broad general education that emphasized practical military values.

Thom, who became rector in 1954, made it clear that three years of university study in two major subjects was non-negotiable. A committee at his university, investigating the feasibility of a partnership with the UDF, and of proposed curricula, proposed that BMil degrees (in either social science or natural science) to be offered from 1955, provided that first-year students should attend class on campus in Stellenbosch before relocating to the academy in Saldanha for the remainder of their degrees. The university would have to approve curricula and the appointment of academic staff.

A university senate committee for this included UDF representatives. There could be  30 freshmen a year, with the UDF responsible for students’ registration, lodging and class fees. Once they relocated to Saldanha, the university would levy only the registration fee and a small administrative fee.[12]

The first officers began their studies at Stellenbosch in 1955 and the UDF’s relationship with Pretoria University ended at the end of 1957.

See also  University of Stellenbosch Physiological Sciences Department

The academy was established as an independent military unit. Prof JPG de Vos, who taught physics at Stellenbosch, as dean, assisted by Tobie Muller, commanding officer of the Citizen Force Regiment, were appointed  from 1 January 1956. The academy opened its doors in Saldanha Bay early in 1958, the same year that the UDF was renamed South African Defence Force (SADF).


On 1 January 1961, the Faculty of Military Science at Stellenbosch University was officially established[13] to award BMil, MMil and DMil degrees in military science.[14] The Vredenburg district was promulgated as a seat of Stellenbosch University. 

A BMil degree in commerce for officers in the support services, introduced during 1961, would increase the number of officers for study at the academy. [15]

De Vos wrote to the ministry that a permanent lecturer with an MMil degree would bring a military contextualisation to his subject, a long established practice at West Point in the USA.[16] Eventually, this became so common at the Saldanha faculty that critics bemoaned it for further limiting diversity of thought in the faculty.

To his credit, De Vos tried to ensure that lecturers would be exposed to international standards and develop as researchers, and that defence staff should use the faculty for research tasks and requirements, especialy if it could lead to staff obtaining higher degrees. There appeared to be little interest in these efforts and nothing came of them.

Lecturers at the academy, unlike other officers in the SADF had no financial support or incentive to improve their qualifications. Obtaining higher degrees was not linked to a promotion in rank or pay.[17] This would later haunt the academy, and staff qualifications would remain significantly lower than in other faculties.

The academy’s leadership took its lead from the West Point academy, emphasising the natural sciences and regarding mathematics as more suitable than the social sciences in cultivating critical thought.[18]

In 1963, BMil graduates were allowed to do postgraduate programmes. The SADF approved full-time postgraduate study for officers in 1966, but only at one of the four Afrikaans universities. No reason was given for the exclusion of the English universities.[19]

The growing conflict in Southern Africa meant that most officers supported the war effort rather than furthering their academic qualifications. During the 1970s only three honours and no master’s or doctor’s degrees were awarded.[20]

In 1968, Brigadier General Magnus Malan became the academy’s first commanding officer ‒ splitting the role of dean and OC.[21] The dean’s office became subordinate to the OC, the beginning of a long, often acrimonious and unresolved, struggle between military and academic interests.

The SADF chief, General Heimstra, who immediately tasked Malan with investigating the academy’s viability, had opposed its establishment in Saldanha from the outset, and had already convinced defence minister PW Botha of its lack of suitability because of its isolation and the local population’s supposed paucity of sophistication which undermined the concept of ‘an officer and a gentleman’.[22]

Malan’s report supported this view and plans were made to relocate the academy to Voortrekkerhoogte with a proposed partnership with the University of South Africa. Though budgetary constraints thwarted these, the SADF’s disquiet over the issue of Saldanha remained ongoing. The facilities were never properly expanded because of the belief that the institution would be relocated some time.[23]



In the early 1970s, the academy acquired more lecturers and a librarian.[24] A new contract with the DoD (which remained in operation for decades) reaffirmed the university’s role as guardian of academic standards and the BMil degree, and also reaffirmed the separate posts of OC and dean.[25]

Captain HF Nel, a former teacher and serving naval officer with an MA degree in history, who became the faculty’s second dean in 1974, was apparently preferred by the SADF because of his military experience, and despite a lack of academic experience.[26]

​In 1979 the Biermann Commission reported on the persistently problematic questions posed by the academy. With too few officers passing through, it was advised that at least 25% of all permanent force officers should do so.

Again, the issue of its location was raised. The university offered a Durbanville property which it owed at the time as a site for the academy.[27] The Biermann commission recommended it as far more suitable but, nevertheless, recommended the faculty’s dissolution, suggesting that officers could attend classes on the Stellenbosch campus with only subjects such as navigation be offered by military lecturers ‒ a return to the model first used with Pretoria University.

Keen to maintain its ties with the academy,[28] Stellenbosch University saw this in a serious light, but bureaucratic inertia ensured that nothing came of the commission’s plans.


The academy continued operating under a cloud of uncertainty until 1984 when the DoD decided on keeping it in Saldanha, and on expanding and upgrading its facilities. With better funding and more students not forthcoming, however, questions about the institution’s purpose and usefulness remained. During 1986-89, several further commissions and projects considered overhauling and fixing the academy’s problems. 

In 1983, Col JC Kotze, an air force officer and lecturer in military geography, became the third dean. He obtained a doctor’s degree in that year and was promoted to professor.

The academy of the 1980s was extremely military in nature, serving a relatively low number of students, and with the “Total Onslaught Ideology” apparently the main driver of decisions, research and curricula.

Military officers who served as lecturers were often transferred back to their corps, and paid according to their rank, not their academic profile, which restrained academic freedom or excellence, or the formation of a professional, well qualified and independent faculty. They had to meet the demands of two professions ‒ the main reason why the faculty’s research and publication record became a “source of embarrassment” for both faculty and university.[29]

In 1984, the academy acquired a full-time research section.[30] The escalation of the so-called Border War led to the formation of the Centre for the Study of Revolutionary War (Senro) in 1986, and renamed Centre for Military Studies (Cemis) in 1990 with a considerably expanded research focus ‒ a step towards realising the academy’s goal of becoming the cradle of intellectual knowledge in the defence force.[31]

The offering of social science subjects grew noticeably, a shift away from the heavy emphasis on the natural sciences.[32] More contact with related departments at Stellenbosch helped to address the academy’s geographic isolation.[33]

Honours degree enrolments increased. Serving faculty members undertook more research that contributed to SADF projects.[34] The 26 honours degrees awarded during 1982-1990 compared favourably to only four before 1982. But only two master’s degrees were awarded during 1976-1990, and only one DMil.[35]

See also  Cranefield College Short Courses

A 1986 report about the selection of candidates for the academy identified persistent “recurring problem areas” but importantly (and questionably) saw training as the main function of military academies worldwide, with research and development as subordinate and secondary.[36] This was typical of the military hierarchy’s inability to understand the fundamental difference between training and education and the requirements of each.[37]

By 1987, SADF statistics revealed that the academy was only educating around 140 officers per year compared to approximately 450 enrolled for tertiary studies at other universities. Most BMil graduates enrolled for postgraduate study at “civilian” universities.[38]

Once again, the small pool of eligible candidates for study at the academy, and an inconsistency in applying policies that required all officers to have degrees, eroded the academy’s relevance to the SADF. In 1991, the academy was opened to candidates of both genders and all races, in an effort to optimise the use of its facilities.[39]

The Kingsrow Report recommended an officer development programme to meet future requirements,[40] and found that the academy’s only research was within the area of revolutionary warfare. 

The much wider research focus of Senor, renamed Centre for Military Studies (Cemis) included military sociological and labour law topics.[41] It would be some years, however, before this research took the shape of formal academic publications.


Against dramatic changes in South Africa’s political and constitutional order, major policy shifts and considerable transformation occurred in the landscapes of both science and technology as well as defence. Since the late 1980s, there was a deliberate and focused change in the DoD’s recruitment policies and strategies.

The SADF was searching for a new role as the sudden absence of an external threat to South Africa lead to a necessary rethink of security policy, resulting in a shift towards facilitating peace and stability in the region with an emphasis on human security.[42]

People who were previously disadvantaged could now receive a university education through the academy. Education as a developmental tool became increasingly important.[43]

Unfortunately, the ambivalence towards the academy in defence circles and the government continued. Many questioned the merits of such an expensive education provider. Would sending young officers on scholarships to civilian universities not be more affordable and beneficial?

The academy’s location on the isolated West Coast, far from the epicentre of defence activities in Pretoria, remained a source of scepticism in the DoD. Education was traditionally seen as a “nice to have” and training has often been confused with education.

In 1994 the SADF was renamed South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Post 1994, the growing debate on the future of the academy continued unabated ‒ no doubt in response to the changing order in the country at the time, but also because of various human resource and education and training review initiatives that again highlighted the lack of clarity on the role and nature of the academy within the DoD.[44]

Despite being proclaimed “a jewel in the crown” of the new SANDF in 1995, by deputy defence minister Ronnie Kasrils, the academy again faced the real prospect of closure.”[45]

Though there were fewer Military Academy graduates in the officer corps, they dominated the SADF’s top posts from the 1970s to the mid-1990s.[46] This domination waned, however, as former MK, APLA and TDF soldiers increasingly dominated the new SANDF’s command echelons ‒ placing, once again, the academy’s future in a somewhat precarious position. 

Aware of these impending realities, the academy’s leadership launched something of a “pre-emptive strike” in 1995 ‒ a conference on “The Future of Military Education in a Democratic South Africa” at the academy, aimed at garnering support within political, academic and military circles.[47]

With official SANDF representatives advocating the militarization of officer education, other voices calling for its democratisation and civilianisation. The conference led to the academy’s new academic offering that was purportedly more cost-effective and task-orientated. Clearly, future officers would require a liberal, interdisciplinary education to meet the complex challenges of the military profession.[48]

Through the following decade, the faculty would still operate in an environment contaminated by the tensions created by this unresolved debate.

The 1990s brought significant changes. Prof Chris Nelson, a long-serving faculty member, became the new dean and many relatively new, young (including civilian) academics started pushing for reforms about operating procedures,  human resources, greater transparency, and more involvement and oversight in faculty affairs by the university.[49]

Interest in research increased, to engage with the international community as the isolation of the apartheid era slowly dissipated. In 1997, the faculty became the new home of the SANDF’s military studies journal, Scientia Militaria, and in 1998 the academy hosted its first large international research conference, focussing on African security.

The long-awaited infrastructure expansion (‘Project Klank’) provided new accommodation blocks, messing facilities and a hall being added, and a new office wing with an expanded library and a computer laboratory. Research output began to increase. There was an air of optimism within the staff body.



A new leadership team took the helm with the appointments of the first Black African commandant, Brigadier General Solly Mollo, and the new dean, Prof Johan Malan, the first civilian to occupy the post.

The faculty was restructured into schools and curriculum redesign took place.  Mollo had an appreciation of academia and worked hard with the university’s then-new rector, Prof Chris Brink, securing contacts and influence to win much-needed support within the senior ranks of the Defence Force and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence. For a time, the academy’s future seemed secure.

Research output increased along with staff qualifications. New postgraduate programmes were producing a small but steady stream of honours and master’s degrees. A distance education programme was introduced, for defence force members who did not qualify for full-time study at the academy. Annual student numbers increased to around 400 ‒ a stark contrast to the days when the total number of student enrolments stood at under 150 per year.[50]

There were, however, tensions between the academy’s military and academic ethos during 2004-2006.[51] Many staff members left. Faculty and student morale sunk to an all-time low.[52]  As a result, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence under the leadership of Prof Kader Asmal made an unheard-of visit to the Academy on 19 January 2005, leading to what became known as the “Asmal Report”.[53]

It saw the academy as pivotal[54], but with confusion over its core business. The appropriate academic balance had not been adequately struck. A rehabilitative process was needed, involving the defence department, university and academy’s management, to examine leadership qualifications, funding levels and upgrading the curriculum development.[55] The report also mentioned confusion between the military and academic functions, and that the academy appeared to be run “on a strict authoritarian approach, not like a higher education institution with a special mission.”[56]

See also  University of Limpopo Faculty of Management and Law Schools

Prof Edna van Harte (till then the university’s dean of students) succeeded Malan in 2006 as the first woman to lead this faculty. She steered it through a highly charged political environment to restore its credibility. The start of her term coincided with the advent of a redesigned contract between the defence department and the university, which has entrenched the university’s authority for academic quality and management.[57]

The remaining challenges included the academy’s shrinking budget, and the long lead time required to fill vacant posts which impacted relentlessly on research output and morale.

By 2010, the faculty’s staff profile had improved considerably. A number of staff members became professors or associate professors, and more young Black staff members were produced after completing postgraduate studies at the academy.

At defence headquarters, however, plans were already afoot to restructure officer education in the SANDF. Once again, the spectre of the academy closing was on the agenda.


This faculty differs from others ‒ being both parts of SU also serving the Department of Defence.

Worldwide, some military faculties conform to the military university model. Others are military academies that focus only on producing officer cadets with bachelor’s degrees. The academy at Saldanha resembles a military university more closely than a traditional military academy. Even military academies, however, pride themselves on quality degree programmes and research profiles.

The UK’s Defence Academy (Cranfield University), Australian Defence Academy (New South Wales University) and Kenyan Military Academy (Kenyatta University) are three examples of military educational institutions partnering with higher education institutions, like the Saldanha academy and Stellenbosch University.

​These institutions strongly emphasize research and teaching. They support the notion of academic freedom and, secondly, their research activities support military focus areas, with a substantial portion of their research output being done in conjunction with their respective defence departments.

Before 2000, the faculty at Saldanha was mainly an undergraduate teaching institution with a limited research capacity. With only a few staff members undertaking research, the dedicated research unit Cemis proved an exception.[58]

From the late 1990s, some faculty members were increasingly engaged in research and in building fledgling academic networks, even internationally ‒ partly because of growing international engagement and mobility, brought on by political changes and the transition to the SANDF.[59]

The introduction of the internet and email at the academy in 1995 was a massive watershed in the faculty’s research history. Each staff member received a desktop computer, and internet connectivity through the university. This reduced the faculty’s undesirable isolation and provided direct access to quality library facilities on the main campus, as well as internet-based research resources. It helped to further research and improve staff qualifications.[60]

A research committee was established. The SANDF’s historical journal, Militaria, was transferred to the faculty, renamed Scientia Militaria and transformed into a multi-disciplinary military studies journal with a credible international editorial board, peer review system and back-dated accreditation status. It became funded by international donors and the dean’s fund, not the DoD.

Under the leadership of Prof Johan Malan (a former dean at the University of the North West who had a crucial experience in higher education) as dean at Saldanha during 1999-2006, the approach to research management improved considerably. Academic departments were reorganised into five schools. New undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as distance learning (later renamed the ITE Programme) were introduced. The new programmes were designed under three niche focus areas: military technology, military management and war and society.[61]

The importance of staff development for research became stressed. Previously  they didn’t usually attend research development workshops or courses.[62] New posts were created for postgraduate students (known as academic assistants) to provide research and administrative assistance whilst studying for honours and master’s degrees. The greatest progress regarding research activity and outputs in the faculty’s history occurred during this time, when significant employment equity was also implemented.[63]

Malan’s successor in 2006, Prof Edna Van Harte, placed a renewed emphasis on the importance of research. Attempts were made to manage and steer its production at the faculty under her tenure. Numerous research workshops took place. The faculty’s schools were encouraged to organise and host conferences, even successful international ones, and with the dean’s fund supporting the publication of conference proceedings ‒ important from a subsidy point of view and because they were disseminated through the DoD to create an understanding of the importance of this research to that organisation. These initiatives further served to develop postgraduate students.[64]

A major development was the establishment of Sigla, a university based institute that aimed at becoming a leading African leadership entity in building leadership capacity and knowledge resources in the areas of security for sustainable development. [65]

A foremost catalyst for research development included the Military University Educator (MUE) mustering, under which most faculty members were staffed. Promulgated in 1999,[66] it led to several associate professor appointments. Breaking with the past, these were made according to the same criteria and standards on the main campus. For the first time,  two faculty members also received NRF research ratings.[67]

But the system-level constraints on research production remained, including limited research funding. [68] The Asmal Report requested detailed information on the faculty’s research papers and publications, and strongly emphasised the need to align MUE pay scales with those of other tertiary institutions.  It pointed out that it “is very difficult to maintain quality when pay grades are so low. The fact is that the Academy competes against other universities and the private sector and needs to be resourced appropriately”.[69]

The report underlined the need to “review continuously and evaluate the relationship between the University and the Academy with explicit reference to degree accreditation and the conditions of employment of staff”[70]  ‒ words that set the tone for a new approach to managing the faculty in the next decade.

University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science Contact

University of Stellenbosch Faculty of Military Science Departments