The SAPS Special Task Force

| 9 March 2011 | 9 Comments

The SAPS Special Task Force

Compiled by Johan van Heerden

You have never lived until you have almost died and for those who fight for it, life has a flavour that the protected will never know.


The South African Police Service Special Task Force (SAPS STF) is the special operations element of the South African Police Service (SAPS). The STF is considered to be among the best of such units in the world. The South African Special Task Force has a formidable reputation in counter terrorism, counter insurgency and hostage rescue. The STF, like their military special forces counter parts (The Reconnaissance Commandos, which is regarded as probably the finest light infantry in the world), are internationally regarded as being deadly experts in bush warfare.

The Task Force falls under operational control of the Division: Operational Response Services and is responsible for dealing with all high-risk operations, such as hostage situations on land, sea and air, including rescue-related operations.

The Operational Response Services Division of the SAPS provides specialized operational response services to the community by –

  • maintaining public order;
  • preventing cross-border crime;
  • providing airborne support during law-enforcement operations; and
  • carrying out medium-risk and high-risk operations.

This division consists of the Border Police, the SAPS Air Wing, the Special Task Force, Crime Combating units and Intervention units.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No 108 of 1996) makes the National Commissioner of the SAPS responsible for the establishment of a Special Task Force to undertake high-risk operations which require specialized skills (with reference to section 218 (1) (m) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1993 (Act No 200 of 1993) retained by section 24, schedule 6 of the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

The necessity for the South African Police Service to establish a unit capable of handling high-risk operations was identified as early as 1971, probably following the identification in 1968 of a requirement for a Special Forces capability within the South African Army according to international military trends. Initial planning and formation occurred, including studies of and visits to foreign Special Forces, formulation of appropriate structures and techniques for an African context, and formation and training of a core group of founder members.

In 1972 Special Forces is formally established as an entity in South Africa, with the establishment of the first Special Forces unit – 1 Reconnaissance Commando – in Oudtshoorn, and thereafter moved to Durban.

The Special Task Force owes its origin to the Fox Street siege, which occurred on Monday 29 April 1975. David Protter, a senior security officer at the Israeli Consulate situated on the 5th floor of the Hershleigh Building in Fox street, Johannesburg, with the assistance of his brother Charles Protter, took over the Consulate on the morning of 29 April 1975 to “proof to Jerusalem that the security at the Johannesburg Consulate was poor”. David Protter killed Major Giora Raviv, who was the Chief of Security at the consulate since November 1974, and held other employees and some children hostage. At about 13h15 Protter, armed with two Uzi submachine guns, eight Beretta .22 pistols, a .22 pellet gun, a 6.35 Lancelot pistol, a .45 ACP Colt pistol, a 9mm Walther pistol and about 2 000 rounds of ammunition, started opening fire at people strolling on the sidewalks of Fox and Von Brandis streets, wounding several. Protter misled the SAP into thinking that the consulate was taken over by six terrorist – three Japanese and three Lebanese, including one woman. Because very little, if anything had been done by the way of training army units, and nothing by the police, to deal with matters like hijacks and takeovers of buildings by terrorists, 2-Recce from Johannesburg and later 1-Recce from Durban, who have done a great deal of training in the handling of these types of situations, was summoned to Fox street. Later it was established that David Protter was solely responsible for the siege, and he was convinced by General van den Bergh to give himself up and let the hostages go. David Protter was sentenced to fifty-nine years imprisonment and Charles Protter to five years imprisonment. As a result of this incident, it was decided to establish a unit within the SAP that would specialize in the handling of hostage and similar situations.

It was envisaged that the unit would be an elite force consisting of some 200 officers and non-commissioned officers. Due to the South African Police Service’s commitments in the former Rhodesia, to protect South Africa’s borders and fight with the Rhodesian Security Forces against Communist terrorists planning to take over Rhodesia, it was however, not possible to establish the unit until 1 February 1976.

During 1993, Efficiency Services approved the restructuring of the unit, and based on operational needs, two additional components based in Durban and Cape Town was established.

All Task Force applicants are volunteers and have to comply with stringent physical requirements before being admitted to the basic training and selection course. The basic training course is twenty-six weeks long and includes weapons, rural and urban combat as well as basic parachute training courses. Compulsory advanced courses include special skills such as diving, VIP protection, explosives and medical training. The total initial training period is nine months, but completing all the requisite advanced courses to become a fully-fledged Special Task Force operational member may last up to three years.

Selection courses have, since the unit’s inception, been the sole source of operational manpower. To date the selection courses have been held, with a total number of roughly 1,656 applicants, of which 362 have completed it successfully. At present, applicants (male and female) must be permanent members of the South African Police Service, at least 21 years of age, have served at least two years in the police service with the rank of constable, sergeant or inspector, be physically and mentally stable to undergo rigorous training and be between 21 to 32 years old during training. Such an applicant must also be mature, have sound judgment and display definite leadership qualities. Training is conducted approximately 230km from Pretoria at the Task Force training centre. On average, only 25% of the applicants pass selection.

As members of this unit are exposed to great risks as a result of its prescribed activities and duties, it was decided that it would consist of volunteers only. Members wishing to join this unit must meet certain requirements, pass an extremely strict screening test and undergo specialized training. Perseverance and dedication are vital characteristics for members of the STF. Volunteers have to be medically fit, have good eye-sight and good hearing. STF are looking for members of average built, with sharp minds and an iron will to survive, regardless of circumstances. It is very important that members are able to swim well.

Members who apply for an exciting and rewarding career in the STF must be –

  • willing to undergo and pass psychometric evaluations;
  • medically fit, that is, free from injuries and diseases, (doctor’s recommendations);
  • able to swim unassisted;
  • prepared to undergo training for nine months, (basic & advanced training);
  • voluntary applicants;
  • permanent members of the SAPS with the rank of constable, sergeant or inspector;
  • comply with the specific physical requirements for male or female candidates respectively; and
  • prepared to do advanced courses for three years, to become a fully-fledged Special Task Force operational member.

There are certain qualities the STF looks for in candidates, namely: physical strength and ability; mental endurance; a sense of responsibility; maturity; perseverance; rational and methodical thinking; the ability to handle stress; observation and orientation ability; leadership skills; and a sense of adventure with the right (responsible) mind set.

The STF is interested in applicants who do not suffer from any phobias (claustrophobia etc.). Applicants must be willing to perform duties of an extraordinary nature and, after basic training, to be stationed at one of the STF operational units in Pretoria, Durban or Cape Town.

For the STF Training Course (Course 25 of 2005) a total of 453 applications were received. When pre-selection was done, only 108 of the 453 candidates measured up to pre-selection requirements. The reasons were mainly because the candidates were physically unfit or could not swim. Of the 108 who made it through pre-selection, only 42 completed the Preparation and Condition (PREPCON) phase, while only 20 candidates managed to complete the Vasbyt.

The recruits who withdrew from the PREPCON phase admitted that they had not prepared sufficiently for training because they had thought that STF’s standards may have been lowered.
Members of the unit have visited foreign units of a similar nature on several occasions, to ensure that the structure and procedures of the unit is in line with international trends, and to keep abreast of changes in training and other specialized fields.

The techniques employed by the unit are techniques developed and perfected locally as well as techniques used by special units abroad and adapted to South African conditions.

Members of the STF continually undergo refresher courses to ensure that the standard of fitness and expertise is kept at a high level. Members must always be ready to leave for any place in the country or Africa. The nature of the activities of the STF entail, almost without exception that the members have to leave at short notice. The fact that their families do not know their destination, the nature of the task to be performed and the duration of their absence, means that these families are also subjected to tension and inconvenience.
As far as could be determined, no woman has been able to pass STF selection.

In 2004 it was reported that the SAPS STF may have lost nearly 60 percent of its active members to private companies recruiting security personnel to work in Iraq.

The STF maintain that it will not lower its standards to accommodate more members, seeing as that The Special Task Force’s primary task is the handling of hostage situations. These are highly specialized and very delicate operations. They will and can only be working with members of the highest quality and standard – this is the only way to make a job successful.

(Sources: SAPS Special Task Force; Miller, David. Special Forces: The Men, The Weapons and The Operations; Quarrie, Bruce. SAS and Elite Forces: The Elite Military Units of the World;; za.; special_task_force.htm; htm; Stiff, Peter. The Silent War: South African Recce Operations 1969 – 1994. South African Special Forces League. The History of the Special Forces in South Africa; Special Task Force. http://samagte.; Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/South_African_Police_Service_ Special_Task_Force)


“The Special Task Force of the South African Police Service provides a specialized and impartial service to the community, by handling high risk operations that fall beyond the scope of classic policing in a professional and responsible manner.

The mission, which underwrites the fundamental constitutional framework, is in line with the mission of the South African Police Service and embodies the policing philosophy and policy of the Minister for Safety and Security”.


The primary aim of the unit is as per Section 218(1) (m), of the Constitution, namely the handling of :

“… high risk operations which require specialized skills.”

The scope of the aim as determined in the constitutional requirements for the unit, necessitates the unit to be capable of fulfilling various functions.

Primary Functions

  • The handling of high risk situations which cannot be dealt with efficiently by ordinary members of the South African Police Service.
  • The handling of hostage situations on land, sea and air.

Land encompass busses, trains and buildings such as national key points and embassies.
Sea encompass oil platforms , ships in harbors and own territorial waters.
Air encompass all civilian local and international aircraft.

  • The handling of urban and rural terror.
  • The provision of assistance to other divisions of the SAPS, which require the specialized skills, techniques and equipment of the unit, such as Murder and Robbery, Motor Vehicle Theft, SANAB, etc.
  • The provision of assistance to units responsible for the protection of high profile VIP’s, as well as the periodic unassisted protection of high profile VIP’s where the skills required, fall beyond the capabilities of available VIP units, such as the provision of snipers for counter-sniper measures.
  • The provision of a specialized rescue service, and assistance during natural disasters that require high proficiency in mountaineering, emergency diving and other rescue operations.
  • The rendering of a specialized operational, tactical and continuation training to all members of the Special Task Force to enable the unit to perform the primary and secondary functions of the unit.
  • The rendering of a specialized policing service to neighboring countries’ police, in accordance with agreements reached between the South African government and the countries involved.

(Source: Special Task Force. taakmag/taakmag.html)

Secondary Functions

  • Consultation on and the provision of specialized training to other South African Police Service divisions and other approved organizations.
  • The evaluation of specialized equipment.
  • The execution of any other duties that fall within the scope of high risk operations, assigned by the Minister for Safety and Security and the National Commissioner of the SAPS or the Divisional Commissioner, Crime Prevention and Response Services.

(Source: Special Task Force. taakmag/taakmag.html)

The Selection Process
Successful applicants to the STF will be notified of the dates when the pre-selection panel will be visiting their province. At the pre-selection they will be assessed as follows:

  • A completed medical form by a registered general practitioner (form provided by the STF);
  • Psychological assessment which includes a cognitive evaluation and a personality profile.

STF assessment:
Physical fitness and strength

  • 3,2 km run in boots, long trousers and with a rifle within 18 minutes
  • 5 pull-ups without resting (palms forward)
  • 60 sit-ups in 2 minutes
  • 35 push-ups in 1 minute without resting
  • 10 x 25 meter sprints in 65 seconds

200 meter swim, any style without assistance – in dark water (dam)

15 km walk with 15kg in 3 hours

After successful completion of pre-selection candidates will proceed to the PREPCON phase which is held outside Pretoria for 3 weeks. The purpose of this phase is to prepare candidates for the tough Vasbyt which is to follow. PREPCON is a conditioning phase and members who are not already fit will not succeed through this phase. The PREPCON phase prepares members:

  • Physically and
  • Mentally
  • With the skills required during Vasbyt
  • With the basic skills for modules on the STF Basic Training Course which have proven difficult to master

PREPCON also conditions the candidate for:

  • Discomfort
  • Lack of sleep
  • Overall physical and mental hardiness

Members completing PREPCON automatically gain entrance to Selection – Vasbyt which is an immediate follow-on to PREPCON.

Vasbyt is a period of 84 hours during which a person is tested for the necessary qualities to become a Special Task Force member. This is an 84-hour period during which stamina, teamwork, persistence, and problem-solving under pressure are tested to the ultimate.
Selection – Vasbyt has a four-fold purpose:

  • Proving that the candidate has the physical ability and mental strength to complete the STF training
  • Proving that the candidate will have the cognitive level to grasp and understand the STF subject matter within the allocated time
  • The candidates’ perception of their physical and mental limitations are extended during Vasbyt and this experience is banked to be called upon when confronted with physically or mentally challenging situations in the operational arena
  • Contributes to the esprit de corps of the STF operators, forming a bond regardless of race, culture, religion or gender

After Selection-Vasbyt, candidates will start the STF Training Course of which the duration is 28 weeks of training, excluding breaks. The STF Training Course includes weapon training, basic rural operations training, urban operations training, parachuting training and hostage release training.

Members are trained for proficiency in:

  • Assault rifles
  • Shotguns
  • Submachine guns
  • Pistols
  • Fitness and strength
  • Unarmed combat



Members are trained in:

  • Support weapons
  • Grenade launchers
  • Foreign weapons
  • Minor explosive devices
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Bush craft
  • Battle craft
  • Navigation
  • Heavy vehicle ops
  • Follow-up ops
  • Observation posts
  • Helicopter deployments


Members are trained to:

  • Secure dangerous suspects (high-risk warrants)
  • Securing dangerous barricaded suspects
  • Cash-in-transit heists
  • Robberies
  • Other high-risk urban operations
  • Urban helicopter deployments
  • Basic planning, command and control of urban ops


Members are trained to deploy by:

  • Basic static line
  • Static line with equipment
  • Static line night parachuting
  • Basic free fall
  • Free-fall at night
  • Free-fall with equipment


Members are trained in:

  • Advanced individual/team movement
  • Hostage assault planning, command and control

Tactical assaults on:

  • Aircraft
  • Trains
  • Vehicles
  • Small water vessels


(2 years to complete whilst working operationally at one of the STF units)
The Training Cycle includes:

  • Chemical and biological defense
  • Explosive identification and breaching
  • Medical Level 3
  • Advanced VIP Protection
  • Emergency diving
  • Advanced rural tactics and survival



  • Sniper course
  • Advanced Medical Ordinance (level 6)
  • Advanced tracking
  • Skippers course
  • High speed driving
  • 4×4 driving
  • Operational commanders training
  • Many other courses, depending skills and interests.


A Couple of Significant Operations
(Source: Special Task Force. taakmag/taakmag.html)

25 January 1980 – The Siege of Volkskas Bank, Silverton
Four terrorists, armed with AK47 assault weapons and hand grenades, held the Volkskas Bank in Silverton, Pretoria under siege. They threatened to kill the hostages if all their demands were not met.
In the ensuing release operation, Special Task Force members killed all the terrorists, while hostage casualties were caused by hostile small-arms fire and a hand grenade explosion.

25 – 30 January 1980 – Laingsburg flood disaster
The Special Task Force lead the search – and rescue operations. 47 bodies were recovered in 5 days. The Special Task Force also rendered disaster relief assistance to the local population.

13 December 1989 – Body recovery at Selby Mine – Johannesburg
Two members of the Special Task Force assisted the Brixton Murder and Robbery Unit in recovering a corpse from the Selby mineshaft, Johannesburg.
The corpse was found at a depth of 141 meters. Obstructions, bad construction and the threat of toxic gases created additional hazards.
Two members of the Special Task Force were individually lowered into the shaft, but were forced to return to the surface owing to respiratory difficulties.
One member was given oxygen apparatus and lowered down the shaft again. After securing the corpse to a rope, he was hoisted to the surface.
Both members were awarded the South African Police Cross for Bravery for their unselfish deed.

11 January 1993 – Hostage situation – Walmer, Port Elizabeth
An ex-defence force member took a woman hostage and held her at gunpoint.
As negotiations failed, the Special Task Force entered the building and incapacitated the captor with 2 shots. The hostage was not hurt.

4 July 1993 – Hijacked Fokker FU28 at Jan Smuts International Airport
A Fokker FU28 airliner of Royal Swazi Airlines with 21 passengers on board was hijacked and diverted to Jan Smuts Airport, near Johannesburg.
The SAPS Special Task Force was summoned to the scene and 22 members were dispatched to the airport to contain the situation and release the hostages.
After being informed by the psychologist on the scene that the hijacker was emotionally unstable and irrational and a threat to the hostages, the Special Task Force was given the command to recapture the aircraft and to release the hostages.
The hijacker was wounded in the head during the storming of the aircraft. A hostage was wounded in the shoulder and the pilot in the leg.
No casualties were sustained by members of the Special Task Force.

30 July 1988 – Hostage situation- Goedemoed prison
Using sharpened objects, 22 prisoners attacked the prison warders at Goedemoed Prison.

One of the warders failed to escape and was taken hostage in a cell.
The hostage was stabbed twice in the neck while one of the warders was trying to negotiated with the prisoners.

The SAPS Special Task Force was called in to assist in the matter. Nine members of the Special Task Force were flown to Goedemoed Prison.
The Special Task Force freed the hostage with the assistance of the negotiator (warder) and the Reaction Unit of Bloemfontein.

The two prisoners who held the warder hostage, were wounded, one of them fatally.

14 September 1988 – The Bus Capture at Lesotho
The Pope visited Maseru on the above date. Four members of the Lesotho Freedom Alliance hijacked a bus transporting 74 passengers at the British Embassy.
The SAPS Special Task Force was called in to assist in the matter.
When negotiations failed, the terrorists began shooting at the bystanders in the British Consulate. They then attempted to use the bus to ram through the embassy gates.
The Special Task Force stormed the bus, killing three terrorists and capturing one. They disarmed an improvised booby trap (explosive device).
17 hostages who were injured by hostile gunfire were stabilized by Special Task Force medics.

10 July 1994 Arrest of Weapon Smugglers at Nduma
Weapons are regularly smuggled from Mozambique to South Africa via the Kruger National Park which borders on Mozambique.
The Organized Crime Unit and Firearm Tracing Unit requested the Special Task Force to be of assistance by way of observation duties of specified areas which had been identified by informers as areas which the smugglers readily use.
10 members of the Special Task Force were deployed to the Nduma area in the Kruger National Park where they established observation posts.
The operation was successful and three (3) Mozambicans were traced and arrested. The members seized 30 AK47 rifles and three (3) SAM-7 ground-to-air missiles.

27 October 1994 – Hostage Situation and Attempted Suicide at Telkom Offices, Pretoria
A man armed with a firearm and was upset about the non-payment of his salary, entered the Telkom Distribution offices where he worked and took a number of people hostage.
The hostage negotiators and 21 members of the Special Task Force were deployed to the scene. After prolonged negotiations, all the hostages were released but the man refused to surrender and threatened to take his own life.
The Special Task Force were still in position and ready to take action while the negotiations with the man continued. While the negotiations were taking place, the man decided, without warning, to move to another office.
The man was over-whelmed in the passage after his attention had been drawn by a stun grenade and he was disarmed. Neither the man or the people who disarmed him were injured in the incident.

15 June 1994 – Rescue Operation Salu Building, Pretoria

On 15 June 1994, 28 members of the Special Task Force raced to the city centre to assist with a rescue operation.
A building with a number of floors was on fire and personnel working in the building above the floors which were on fire, were trapped.
Members of the Special Task Force, SAPS Air Wing and SA Air Force using helicopters rescued people from the top of the building.
Other members used roping equipment to evacuate the trapped people to safety. Only a small number of people were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation.

1 March 1995 – Hostage Situation Bella Vista, Johannesburg
A man took his fiancee and her little daughter hostage after a family dispute.
The hostage negotiators and six members of the Special Task Force were deployed to the scene. During negotiations, the man continually held a knife against the throat of his fiancee and also sodomized her in the presence of her daughter. The child was also ill-treated by the man while his fiancee had to watch.
A tactical release of the hostages was the only way out. One member of the Special Task Force was employed as a sniper and during the tactical release of the hostages, the man was fatally wounded. A firearm was found in the room where the man had held the woman and child hostage.

27 November 1995 – Kidnapping and Hostage Situation, Vereeniging
The Intelligence Service and CID of Secunda and Vereeniging requested the assistance of the Special Task Force in an operation to locate the whereabouts of a man who had been kidnapped and was being held hostage.

Information at hand was that the man had been kidnapped by 3 men and was being held hostage in a Daleside, Vereenigng house. 9 members of the Special Task Force were made available for the operation and the kidnapped man was released uninjured during a tactical release. All three men were arrested without a single shot being fired. 5 fire-arms which had been used by the hostage takers were seized.

6 August 1995 Hostage Situation Hollywood Café, Sunnyside
A man fleeing from the SAPS on 6 August 1995, took a woman hostage in the Hollywood Café, Esselen Street, Sunnyside.
The Special Task Force was summoned to the scene by Radio Control after which the hostage taker was arrested and the hostage tactically released.
The man was found guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping, pointing of a firearm and possession of an unlicenced firearm.

24 to 25 February 1995 Hostage Situation (1) St Albans Prison – Port Elizabeth
On 24 February 1995, 22 members of the Special Task Force were summoned to St Alban’s Prison, Port Elizabeth where approximately 105 prisoners had taken a prison warder as hostage.
During the night of 24 – 25 February 1995, after prolonged negotiations the prison warder was released after a tactical release lasting 20 seconds.
One hostage taker was fatally wounded. One injured and the other prisoners were arrested. The hostage was released without injuries. Two firearms and a M26 hand grenade were seized after the operation.

12 August 1996 Hostage Situation 34 Baccus Street, Irene
On 12 August 1996 a man took a year old baby hostage at 34 Baccus Street, Irene. The Special Task Force deployed 21 members to the scene. During negotiations, snipers were deployed in the vicinity.
The snipers observed that the man held the baby in front of him with a knife to it’s throat all the time. The hostage taker only moved a curtain occasionally to see what was going on outside, but never let go of the baby.

Negotiations which had lasted a long time did not succeed and it was decided on a tactical release of the baby by members of the Special Task Force.
During the tactical release, both snipers fired simultaneously, fatally wounding the hostage taker. The baby was safely released without any injuries.

22 May 1997 Hostage Situation Nando’s, Johannesburg
Three robbers trying to rob Nando’s on the corner of Cromhout and Kimberley Streets, Johannesburg were cornered by members of the SAPS Johannesburg after being alerted by members of the public. The robbers took the employees of Nando’s hostage.

A gun-battle between the robbers and the SAPS took place during which two members of the SAPS were wounded.
19 members of the Special Task Force were deployed. During the release of the hostages, the three robbers were wounded and arrested. No members of the public were injured.

11 July 1996 Hostage Situation Northriding, Johannesburg
A 39 year old man took his wife and children as hostage. The Special Task Force deployed 12 members to protect the hostage negotiators and to do a tactical release.
After prolonged negotiations it was decided to tactically release the hostages after which the hostage taker was arrested without a shot being fired. The wife and two children were unscathed after their release. A 9mm pistol and 112 rounds of ammunition were seized.

3 to 4 August 1997 Hostage Situation, Bloemfontein
A man who had been fleeing from the Police after a robbery went awry entered a block of flats to hide. The police followed the fugitive into the flats where the man had taken a woman hostage to negotiate his release.
6 members of the Special Task Force were summoned to the scene. After prolonged negotiations, it was decided upon a tactical release of the woman.
The situation started on 3 August 1997 and the woman was only tactical released by the Special Task Force on 4 August 1997. During the tactical release of the woman, the hostage taker was fatally wounded by a sniper.

7 March 1998 Hostage Situation, Pretoria
On 7 March 1998 a man armed with a .357 revolver took two children hostage and on several occasions threatened to shoot the children if his demands were not met.
The hostage negotiators attempted to negotiate for a considerable time with the man for him to abandon is demands, but were unsuccessful. The Special Task Force had deployed 16 members to the scene and the children were tactically released without a shot being fired. The children were released unscathed and the man arrested.

11 August 1998 Arrest of Transit Robbers, Midrand
The Republic of South Africa has been characterized by an increase in transit robberies. The robbers strike with military precision and time and again have got away with large quantities of money. During these robberies, the robbers do not hesitate to make use of firearms and on several occasions innocent members of the public have lost their lives.
Information was gathered by the Special Investigation Unit about another such robbery about to take place and the Special Task Force was called in to assist with the guarding of the money and possible arrest of the suspects.
27 members of the Special Task Force were deployed to be of assistance during the operation. The information gathered was spot on and 5 robbers were fatally wounded, 5 wounded and 2 arrested. 5 vehicles, 3 AK47 rifles and 3 firearms were recovered at the scene.

26 November 1998 Farm Attacks, Hammanskraal
Attacks on farms in the RSA have assumed enormous proportions. The CID of a local police station at Hammanskraal maintained that they had gathered information about a planned attack on a farm in their area.
Members of the Special Task Force had on several occasions followed up the information, but were not successful.

On 26 November 1998 the SAPS Hammanskraal again approached the Special Task Force with new information. 10 members of the Special Task Force were deployed to the scene where the members protected the farmer and his family in two separate dwellings. The attackers struck the farms as stated by the information and when the members of the Special Task Force attempted to arrest them, a gun-battle ensued. 4 attackers were fatally wounded, 1 wounded and arrested. 4 firearms and a knife were recovered on the scene.
No farm inhabitants were injured.

16 May 1995 Arrest of Dangerous Criminal, Citrusdal
On 12 May 1995 8 members of the Special Task Force, Cape Town were summoned to Citrusdal to trace and arrest a dangerous fugitive in the Citrusdal area.
On 16 May 1995 the suspect was traced to a storm water drain in the Citrusdal area. A gun-battle between the fugitive and a member of the Special Task Force ensued. The fugitive was wounded in both hands and the member of the Special Task Force in his upper arm.
The fugitive was arrested and was found guilty on several charges of murder, attempted, murder and robbery.

20 October 1996 Arrest of Suspects on a Ship Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town
On 20 October 1996 10 members of the Special Task Force, Cape Town were summoned to the Table Bay harbour for a hostage situation on a Chinese boat, the Win Furr. On arrival at the scene it was established that the captain of the ship had been held hostage but was released. When a member of the SAPS boarded the boat to arrest the suspects he was disarmed by them and they threatened to shoot the police.
Members of the Special Task Force decided to do a tactical release when a gun-battle ensued. Two Chinese crewmen who were part of the mutiny were wounded and 15 others arrested.
A member of the Special Task Force lost his thumb when a stun grenade exploded in his hand.

12 February 1998 Rescue Operation City Centre, Durban
A fire started on the 28th floor of the Commercial City building in central Durban. Members of the Special Task Force, Durban were lowered by Air Force helicopter onto the roof of the building.
Several people trapped by flames outside the 12th floor were rescued. It was dangerous for members due to the risk of the ropes burning.

May 1996 Arrest of Subject
Members of the Special Task Force, Durban were summoned to the Port Shepstone beachfront where they came across a man who was firing at any person who dared to move. The situation was brought under control after a Special Task Force sniper shot the pistol out the suspect’s hand from a distance of 35 meters.

Operation Rachel I to V Tracing and Destroying Weapon Caches in Mozambique
Five (5) dangerous cross-border operations involving members of the South African Police Service and Mozambican Police have already taken place in respect of the tracing and destroying of weapon caches in Mozambique. The following weapons and explosive ordnance have thus far been recovered and destroyed:
Rifles – 5903
Pistols – 13
Explosives – 42kg
Detonators – 254
Hand grenades – 842
Land mines – 81
Anti-peronnel mines – 5260
Mortars – 4220
Projectiles – 5780
Ammunition – 189392
Magazines – 1360

8 September 1995 – Tracing of Suspects, Siyabuswa
Information was gathered by the Pretoria Murder and Robbery Unit about a planned armed robbery of a factory in Siyabuswa on 8 September 1995. It was a Friday which was also payday with a large amount of wages at the factory.
The information gathered was very vague as the identity of the suspects was not available, the type of transport to be used and the manner in which the robbery would take place. The Special Task Force deployed 9 members to the scene to assist with protection of the factory and arrest of suspects, if needed. The robbers entered the premises and tried to holdup the cashier. The Special Task Force members reacted and a gun-battle ensued. Two robbers were fatally wounded, one wounded and one arrested. One vehicle and firearms were seized on the scene.

10 to 12 February 1997 – Hostage Situation St Albans Prison, Port Elizabeth
Five civilians were taken hostage by about 52 prisoners at the St Albans Prison, Port Elizabeth. The hostages were held in the maximum security section of the prison.
During the night of 11 February 1997, 38 members of the Special Task Force entered the prison after prolonged negotiations were unsuccessful and released the hostages. Entry to the security section was gained by using explosives to remove the cell door. The time lapse to release the hostages was only 30 seconds.

During the tactical release of the hostages one hostage was killed and one wounded. The other prisoners were arrested and handed over to the prison authorities.

6 April 1997 – Hostage Situation, Utrecht Prison – 1996
The commander and two officers from the Utrecht Prison were released by members of the Special Task Force, Durban. 66 prisoners were arrested and four firearms which were illegally in the possession of prison warders were seized.

6 April 1997 – Hostage Situation West Street, Durban
A father took his family hostage in a parked vehicle in West Street, Durban. During negotiations the Special Task Force used a stun grenade to break the cars window and releasing the hostages. There were no shots fired or any injuries.
A pistol was confiscated from the man before he could use it. This incident received world wide coverage.

August 1995 John Ross House, Esplanade, Durban
Members of the Durban Child Protection Unit had a warrant to remove a baby from her mother’s care. The mother decided that nobody would get her baby and decided to hang the baby outside the window of her 10th floor flat. Members of the Special Task Force entered the flat and grabbed the baby from the mother. The mother was charged for attempted murder and child abuse.

5 January 1999 Arrest of Serial Rapist/Murderer Capital Park, Pretoria
Since October 1998 a number of rapes and murders and occurred in the Capital Park suburb of Pretoria. The specific area is mountainous and very little activity occurs in the area making it ideal for a person to hide or conceal something.

Over a period of 3 months, 7 corpses had been found in the area, which suggested that a serial rapist and murderer was active in the area.
The assistance of the Special Task Force was requested and observation posts were to be established to gather information which might lead to the arrest of the suspect(s). 11 members of the Special Task Force were deployed to the area. On the first night, a suspect was spotted and arrested. The suspected man has been positively linked to the rapes and murders by means of DNA tests.

26 January 1999 – Hostage Situation Venda University, Thohoyandou
On 26 January 1999, 10 members of the Special Task Force were deployed to the Venda University where a man, armed with a firearm, had taken a woman hostage in an room. The man had fled from police officials who attempted to arrest him on a charge of robbery.
After negotiations had failed, the members decided on a tactical release of the hostage. The room could only be entered through a wooden door, which was locked.
By way of a tactical release the hostage taker was fatally wounded and the woman released.

Operational Deployments
On 1997-02-10 at 12:15 the Special Task Force received a call from Senior Superintendent John Best, of POP, Port Elizabeth to assist during a hostage situation which had arisen at St Albans Prison, Port Elizabeth. Six hostages were held by 55 prisoners with 2 pistols and other sharpened weapons.
A total of 40 Special Task Force members were mobilized from Special Task Force, Pretoria and Special Task Force, Cape Town. All the members were transported by air transport to Port Elizabeth.

On their arrival at St Albans members attended a briefing. The briefing was elucidated through videos, photographs and plans of the building.
After the briefing the plan was explained to members and members were divided into several groups.

The groups took in their appointed positions.

At 03:00 the Special Task Force was given permission to act. The members positioned themselves right in front of the entrance route. The persons holding the hostages suspected that the Police had begun to take action and informed one another by whistling. The Special Task Force members then withdrew.

Planning commenced anew, and this led to new needs arising. An additional 5 Special Task Force members departed from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth with the needed equipment.

A joint JOC meeting was held on 1997-02-11 at 18:00. The persons holding the hostages demanded the following: 11 vehicles, food, lights, a telephone and a lawyer. They were granted the following: food, lights, a telephone and a lawyer.

The leader made no concessions. The lawyer was involved in the negotiations. The lawyer led the leader by giving him confidential information. The lawyer was withdrawn from the conference table when it became evident that he was unwilling to help release the hostages.

The National Commissioner of Correctional Services decided, following the discussions of the lawyer with the leader that members should not take action, as there was a small possibility that the hostages would be released in the morning. Entry could, therefore, wait for yet another day.

The Commissioner was persuaded to change his decision because the present time would be the most effective for launching a successful operation and that the leader was not even prepared to release one hostage to reflect his honourable intentions. The Commissioner gave his approval for the action to continue in the morning.

At 02:00 the members advanced towards various entrance routes and took action at 03:25.
The hostages were rescued into safety within 40 seconds. All five of them were unharmed. Members of the Special Task Force then withdrew. Correctional Services and members of POP ensured that the cells were safe and searched them.

The outcome was as follows:

  • Five hostages were rescued.
  • One prisoner died.
  • One prisoner was wounded.
  • Two steel doors were shot open.
  • The locks of various store doors had been broken.
  • The SAPS suffered no losses.


On 2 February 1996 the Special Task Force was deployed to assist, in Port Shepstone, the National Investigation Task Unit, Natal South, which was charged with the investigation into the Shobashobane massacre in the Izingolweni district.

The Special Task Force performed the following services:

  • The protection of Director Engelbrecht, Superintendent Moodley and four other officers.
  • Making arrests and also protecting investigating officers.

The following members of the Special Task Force were on duty from 1996-02-02 to 1996-06-31 during the Shobashobane investigation:
Protection services: 1996-02-02 to 1996-06-31

Seven Officers’ names removed for safety reasons

On 18 April 1996 Operation Shobashobane commenced and these tasks were performed by the members of the Special Task Force. The operation ran from 18 to 29 April 1996.
On 29 April 1996 Senior Superintendent Fryer scaled down the assistance to only one team, as well as two members for protecting Director Engelbrecht. The team consisted of the following Special Task Force members:

  • Six officers


  • Two officers

During Operation Shobashobane the Special Task Force and the investigating officers were assisted by Captain W N, a SAPS pilot flying one BK 117 helicopter, Doctor F and six medical orderlies of 7 Medical Battalion, Pretoria. Sincere thanks is expressed to these persons, and the organizations they represent, for their contribution to the operation.
Suspects were arrested by the Special Task Force and investigating officers.
The Special Task Force’s services and assistance were terminated on 3 June 1996.
No difficulties were experienced.
Good cooperation was experienced between the various units and other organizations.

Some Weapons used by the SAPS Special Task Force


R1 7.62x51mm

In 1958, SA tested 16 different infantry firearm to replace the .303 No4Mk1/2 rifle. One of these firearms was the Belgium FN FAL.

Thousands of FN rifles was bought by the South African Government (The first batch – or batches – of rifles arrived in the SA in 1960 or 1961) and issued to members of the South African Defense Force and South African Police during the 1960’s and 70’s.

SA made FN FAL type rifles after they learned from Belgium how to do mass production. At some time in the early 1960s an agreement was signed between FN and Armscor whereby the FAL would be produced, under licence, by LIW (Lyttleton Ingeneurswerke), an Armscor/Denel subsidiary located outside Pretoria. They named these firearms the R1 rifle (Rifle 1).

(Sources: Hamann, Hilton. The Gun and You: The safe use of firearms in South Africa. Chapter 25: The Controversy about the R1 and R4 South African Assault Rifles. Wells, Peter. The History of the 7.62mm FN-F.A.L. Rifle in South Africa.

R5 5.56x45mm

The R1 was phased out by the R4 (rifle 4) in the early 1980’s, as development started in 1979. About the time when South Africa carried out its first large scale incursion into Angola (Operation Savannah in 1975-76) the new military rifle made its appearance. Troops were told that it would take the place of the venerable R1 or FN that so many soldiers had grown to trust.

As the R1 was an infantry rifle, the trend in the world was to move away to assault rifles. The AK47, M16 and Galil are an example of some assault rifles. It needs to be noted that the first Galil’s were chambered for the 7, 62 x 51 mm round of ammunition. R1 rifles were sent to the Commandos to protect the home land. These rifles was only finally recalled in the late 1990’s

In the 1970’s and 1980’s there was close co-operation in defense matters between Israel and South Africa, one fruit of which then was the 5.56 mm R4 rifle, which was in essence a modified version of the Israeli Galil rifle. The R4 was first fielded in 1982, and replaced the Belgian FN FAL in South African service.

The modifications were intended to make the weapon easier to use by the South African troops who were taller and more heavily built than the Israelis, and also to meet the more stringent demands of bush warfare.

The R4 was originally fitted with a solid butt, but this was later replaced by a twin-strutted stock which could be folded to the right. A detachable bipod was also issued with every weapon.

The R5 was a shorter version of the R4 used by the South African Marine Corps and Airforce, as well as SAPS.

(Sources: Denel DLS Vektor. Product Data Sheets. Hamann, Hilton. The Gun and You: The safe use of firearms in South Africa. Chapter 25: The Controversy about the R1 and R4 South African Assault Rifles.)


Browning High Power 9mmx19

Both the South African military and police made use of the HP as it was called. The military Special Forces up to today still use the weapon. A small quantity of HP’s come from the Railway Police and was used by the SAPS Special Task Force.

Some of these weapons were also issued to practical pistol shoots in the SAP and SAPS that take part in IPSC championships.

(Sources: Odendaal, H.J. Capt. Serious and Violent Crime Unit – South African Police Service. Q AND A: POST WW2 ARMS OF SOUTH AFRICA: A Brief South African Small Arms History in relation to the Military and Police)

Heckler & Koch USP 9mm x 19

The SAPS Special Task Force replaced its Browning HP’s with Heckler and Koch USP semi automatic pistols. It was decided upon on the fact that it could accommodate a tactical light, as none of the Glocks nor the Sig Sauers had tactical light rails at that stage.

It is said that the Sig-Sauer P226 (which is also issued to the British Special Air Service) and P228 (which is a compact version of the P226) gave the USP a good run for its money.

It is rumoured that the STF is currently looking at replacing their USP’s.

(Sources: Odendaal, H.J. Capt. Serious and Violent Crime Unit – South African Police Service. Q AND A: POST WW2 ARMS OF SOUTH AFRICA: A Brief South African Small Arms History in relation to the Military and Police, Gunsite:


Uzi and Mini-Uzi SMG’s 9mmx19

The Sten was one of the first SMG’s in Africa. With the Sterling SMG, it was used hand in hand by the military and law enforcement in South Africa. The Sten was fazed out by the Walther MPL, commonly revered to as the Walther HMC (hand machine carbine) All HMC’s was withdrawn by 1990. Some BXP SMG’s was used in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but it was never a success. The Railway Police once again supplied the SAP with some Uzi and Mini Uzi SMG’s. It was and still is been used today by specialized units of the SAPS and Special Task Force.

(Sources: Odendaal, H.J. Capt. Serious and Violent Crime Unit – South African Police Service. Q AND A: POST WW2 ARMS OF SOUTH AFRICA: A Brief South African Small Arms History in relation to the Military and Police).

Heckler & Koch MP5-A3 9mm x 19

Both the SAPS Task Force and Military Special Forces use the Heckler and Koch MP5 as a sub machine gun during deployment. The A3 version has a retractable butt stock. The Heckler & Koch MP5 is considered the standard by which all other sub machineguns are judged.

(Sources: Odendaal, H.J. Capt. Serious and Violent Crime Unit – South African Police Service. Q AND A: POST WW2 ARMS OF SOUTH AFRICA: A Brief South African Small Arms History in relation to the Military and Police)

Accuracy International PM 7.62 mm Sniper Rifle

The Accuracy International Model PM rifle was designed from the start for tactical use. The A.I. was designed to meet challenging criteria: guaranteed first round accuracy; unchanging zero; a stock unaffected by environmental changes; bipod, stock and trigger adjustable to meet individual firer’s requirements; telescopic sight; reliability; interoperability; and economy. A.I.’s solution was to use a massive and very stiff integral chassis, which would be impervious to environmental changes and is precisely reproducible. The barrel is made of stainless steel, and has a normal accuracy life in excess of 5 000 rounds. It attaches to the action by a screw thread bedding against a locking ring, and can be changed in approximately five minutes without stripping the rifle. The shooter can carry out all but the most major repairs on his weapon himself, three Allen keys and a screwdriver being the only tools required. All accessories mate directly to the chassis, including the stock, butt, spacers, sling swivels, trigger unit, magazine and catch, handstop and bipod. The weapon entered service with the British armed forces in 1985 as the L96A1.

(Sources: Darman, Peter. Military Handbooks: SAS; Miller, David. Special Forces: The Men, The Weapons and The Operations)

Various Pictures
(Sources: MSN Groups: PoliceService Photos/varioussapsphotos.msnw; ServicePhotos/specialtaskforcepics.msnw; http://; Special Task Force. http://samagte. taakmag.html)

Task Force Members practicing Air Craft Assault and Building Clearance with Heckler & Koch MP5’s and 9mm USP Pistols.

Task Force members with HK MP5 submachine guns in a Bus Assault Exercise.

Task Force members with HK MP5 submachine guns in a Bus Assault Exercise.

Task Force Members practicing Building Clearance with MP5 A3 Sub machineguns and what appears to be a High Power 9mm pistol.

Chest and Shoulder Badges of the SAPS Special Task Force

Task Force members posing with the R5 5.56 mm Assault Rifle, Uzi 9mm sub machinegun and a pump action shotgun.

This article was compiled by Johan van Heerden, a GunSite SA Forum Member.

Discuss this article in our forum here

Many thanks from GunSite SA Admin for this continbution.


Bothma, L.J. Die Buffel Struikel: ‘n Storie van 32 Bataljon en sy mense.

Darman, Peter. Military Handbooks: SAS.

Denel DLS Vektor. Product Data Sheets. SAPS Special Task Force.

Google. &q=special+task+force

Google. &q=&hl=en

Hamann, Hilton. The Gun and You: The safe use of firearms in South Africa. Chapter 25: The Controversy about the R1 and R4 South African Assault Rifles.

Miller, David. Special Forces: The Men, The Weapons and The Operations.

MSN Groups:

Odendaal, H.J. Capt. Serious and Violent Crime Unit – South African Police Service. Q AND A: POST WW2 ARMS OF SOUTH AFRICA: A Brief South African Small Arms History in relation to the Military and Police.

Quarrie, Bruce. SAS and Elite Forces: The Elite Military Units of the World. htm june04/ taskforce.htm special_task_force.htm

South African Special Forces League. The History of the Special Forces in South Africa. Africa/Special_Task_Force/ Default2.htm

Special Task Force. taakmag.html

Stiff, Peter. The Silent War: South African Recce Operations 1969 – 1994.

Time-Life Books (ed.) The New Face of War: Special Forces and Missions. By the Editors of Time-Life Books.

Wells, Peter. The History of the 7.62mm FN-F.A.L. Rifle in South Africa.



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Comments (9)

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    I used to be a k9 handler in the SAPS ,but i am currently workoing in Afghanistan for AMK9 DETECTION SERVICE.There is one thing i can tell i use to and still admire the SPECIAL TASK FORCE members they are “THE BEST”!!Keep up with the good work ladies and gents your families can be pretty proud on yall.

  2. jacquesvanzijl says:

    Keep up the good work guys, i will give anything to spend one day with you !!!
    i watch all the clips on you tube about the STF….

    keep well and be save

  3. jan says:

    Can someone please tell me how can I sign up for police services?? Want to service and protect the people of south africa!!!

  4. tladi says:

    i’m currently working at saps at the station level csc. I would love to be embraced and trained to be member of stf, they are doing a good job for our country and i would like to say keep it up collegues.

  5. hezron says:

    can you please email me the application form i want to apply…i’ve read everything about the special task force and i’m really interested in applying for the job

  6. Russel says:

    Do you have some close up photo”s of the police task forces ops badge the metal ,front and back, of all or some badges, thanking you Gogga

  7. Nkosinathi Duncan Ngantweni says:

    I’m very impressed, special force standard I would like to join the family

  8. Xolisa says:

    I would like to know what are the medical requirements and if any does the stf not accept chronic conditions.

  9. vuyo says:

    I also would like to join this family stf,i am past of age 36 bti am energetic and fit can i be given a chance? That is at the best of my interest um currently at POP unit

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