The first-ever book to deal with the entire history of the key part of the South African Army has just been released in Pretoria by the Infantry Association.
The “key part” referred to is described in the book, Assegais, Drums and Dragoons which tells the story of the birth of what is referred to as a Corps, in this case, the Infantry Corps. The book is of a new type, combining social history with military history.
Brigadier General John Lizamore (retired) National Chairman of the Infantry Association told Digital Journal at the book launch that:
“There wasn’t, as far as we knew, a book or books written about the history of the infantry of South Africa as such, and we thought it very necessary, as the Infantry Association, to get this penned down.”
Author Willem Steenkamp, himself a former infantryman and author of 17 earlier works, said the book had been a challenge as there were fewer records for this earliest period of South African history (1510-1806) and he had had to seek the motivations of the men who fought in this, South Africa’s earliest recorded era. He added:
“This (the British occupation of the Cape) is one part of the Napoleonic Wars that’s been totally forgotten. But the fact was that it was intimately connected with what was happening in Europe. They were fighting about control of the Indian Ocean and up to a few years ago, all the fighting in Southern Africa, in the end, was always about the control of the Indian Ocean, but this time between the Free World and the Communist Bloc. So the issue had not changed, just the dramatis personae had changed.”
Author Willem Steenkamp signs Digital Journal reporter Chris Szabó's copy.
The book, the first of a series of three on the infantry, taking the reader up to the present day, contains such surprises as the indigenous Khoi people’s secret weapon (fighting oxen) and gives the reason for the apparent cowardice of the elite Waldeck Regiment at the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806, as well as an important chapter on the founding of the Commando system.
Steenkamp explained that the Commandos were a combination of the original dragoon concept, which meant mounted infantry, and the Khoi people’s highly mobile warfare.
The term “commando” has gone around the world but was first publicised during the Anglo-Boer Wars when the Boer commandos tied down much larger British forces. The term today is used worldwide to mean a “special forces”-type soldier, but originally meant a kind of militia.
The book Assegais, Drums and Dragoons is published by Jonathan Ball and retails for R250.00 (about 32 US dollars).