Female South African National Defence Force members speak with an American soldier during the Africa Aerospace and Defence expo in 2010.

South African women have a long history of service in the South African Defence Force(SADF) and in the modern South African National Defence Force(SANDF). In World War I and World War II women served in auxiliary roles in the South African Defence Force and were assigned to non-combat active roles after 1970. In 1914 a volunteer nursing service was established by the army and 328 nurses to serve with South African troops in Europe and East Africa in World War I. The Women's Auxiliary Army Service began accepting women recruits in 1916. Officials estimated that women volunteers relieved 12,000 men for combat in World War I by assuming clerical and other duties. During World War II, South Africa had five service organizations for women the South African Military Nursing Service, and women's auxiliaries attached to the army, the navy, the air force, and the military police.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, women were active in civil defence organizations and were being trained as part of the country's general mobilization against possible terrorist attacks. In 1989, for example, the Johannesburg Civil Defence Program provided training for 800 civil defense volunteers, about one-half of whom were women. These classes included such subjects as weapons training for self-defense, antiriot procedures, traffic and crowd control, first aid, and fire-fighting. An unreported number of women also received instruction in counterinsurgency techniques and commando operations. Women also served in military elements of liberation militias in the 1970s and the 1980s, and women were accepted into the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, also known as Umkhonto MK), throughout the antiapartheid struggle.
In 1995 women of all races were being incorporated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and a woman officer, Brigadier Jackie Sedibe, was appointed to oversee the implementation of new SANDF policies concerning the treatment of women. Women had been promoted as high as warrant officers and brigadiers in the Permanent Force by the early 1990s, but only ten women were SADF colonels in 1994. In 1996 Brigadier Sedibe became the first woman in the military to be promoted to the rank of major general. Widespread cultural attitudes in the 1990s still oppose the idea of women in combat, but officials are debating ways to assign women an equitable share of the leadership positions in the military. In 2011 almost 26.6% of the uniformed services of the South African National Defence Force consisted of women.


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