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Military Records + how do you get them

How to obtain Military Documents in South Africa

To obtain access to this information, the members written permission is required, or if he/she is deceased, that of his/her next-of-kin. You are thus requested to submit the following documentation in order for your enquiry to proceed:

a). A certified copy of the requester’s identity document or passport.

b). A signed letter of permission from the member, if passed away.

c). A certified death certificate of member, if passed away

It the member has passed away, a signed letter of permission must be obtained from a living blood relative including proof of the identification.

The approximately 3 million personnel records in the Department of Defence Archives are indexed according to a specific convention. You are therefore requested to provide the Documentation Centre with as much detail as possible regarding the person you are seeking information on.

The following are guidelines:

a. Force number

b. Date of assumption of military service

c. Date of discharge from military service

d. Regiment/unit where the person served

e. Name and address of next-of-kin at the time of his attestation

Upon receipt of the required documentation, the matter will receive further attention.

This law now falls under the new Access to Information Act (Act 2 of 2000), certain restrictions have been placed upon the release of information to third parties.

Obtaining Military Documents


Street: Documentation Centre of the SANDF

Department of Defence

Private Bag X289



Tel: +27 (012) 322 6350

Fax: +27 (011) 322 6360

Email here

Contact: Miss Louise Jooste

South African servicemen’s records from the Army, Navy and Air Force are held in these archives. Copies of service records can be obtained if a written application is made.


Accessibility is in accordance with the National Archives of South Africa Act (Act No. 43 of 1996) and in the case of classified documentation accessibility is subject to approval of the Chief of Defence Intelligence of the Department of Defence.

Brief history:

The Department of Defence Archives was established as the SA Defence Force (SADF) Archives on 14 May 1968 following the approval by the Minister of Education of a separate military archives. Prior to this date an organisation for the preservation of the archives of the SADF Archives and its predecessor, the Union Defence Force, did exist but it had no legal status. The SADF Archives had a twofold function, namely to preserve the military archives and to undertake military historical research and history writing. It was therefore decided to rename it the Military Historical and Archival Service (MHAS).

In response to the SADF’s requirements, the MHAS gradually developed into a documentation service and this resulted in another change of the name in October 1972. The organisation then became known as the Central Documentation Service. Sweeping changes to the SADF in 1974 resulted in the reference library service, including the Central Library, being integrated into the Central Documentation Service. This led to a change in the status of the organisation. On 1 February 1975 it became a directorate and was designated the Documentation Service Directorate. In 1982 the directorate’s functions were augmented considerably when the SADF’s museums and ethnology service were added to it. Its function then comprised the preservation and management of records and archives; research and history writing; the reference library service; the museum service; and the ethnology service. The organisation was named the Military Information Bureau.

Regrettably the Military Information Bureau was disestablished on 31 December 1986 and some of its functions were decentralized to the arms of service. Fortunately the nucleus, namely the SADF Archives and the Military History Section as well as the Central Library, was retained as the SADF Archives. Early in 1991 the SADF’s personnel records were added to the SADF Archives. This warranted the re-instatement of an organisation with directorate status and the SADF Archives became part of Documentation Service Directorate. Following the election in 1994, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was established through the integration of the former statutory and non-statutory forces. On 1 April 1999 the name and status of this organisation was once again changed to bring the organisation in line with the transformation process, it is now known as the Documentation Centre. The Documentation Centre continued its functions and its archival service section, now known as the Department of Defence Archives, is still the official custodian of the documentation of the Department of Defence, the SANDF and its predecessors dating from 1912.

Acquisitions policy:

Documentation Centre (Department of Defence Archive) is the custodian of the archives of the Department of Defence/SANDF since its inception in 1912 as the Union Defence Force. All records of offices of the Department of Defence are transferred to the Department of Defence Archives when they are ten years old or older.

Areas of specialisation: The Department of Defence Archives specializes in military history. It houses the official records of the Department of Defence as well as a collection of unique publications, unit history files, photographs, maps and pamphlets pertaining to the Department of Defence/SANDF and its predecessors dating from 1912. The Personnel Archives and Reserves (PAR) which also forms part of Documentation Centre, houses the personnel records of all former members of the SANDF and its predecessors. These personnel files are invaluable as a source for biographical details. Documentation Centre is also in possession of a collection of files pertaining to the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). It consists of applications by members of the South African Republican Forces during the 1920′s for the following medals: the “Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst Anglo-Boereoorlog”, the “De Zuidafrikaanse Republiek en Oranje Vrijstaat Oorlogsmedalje” and the “Lint voor Verwonding opgedaan gedurende de Anglo-Boereoorlog”.

Core holdings:

The Documentation Centre currently houses approximately two million files consisting of 1 607 different archival groups and approximately 250 680 personnel files. The most frequently consulted archival groups are as follows: Adjutant General. Chief of the General Staff. Commandant General. Director General Air Force. Divisional Documents. Naval Ships Logs. Chief of the Navy Ships Logs. Quartermaster General. Secretary for Defence. Union War Histories. Various War Diaries for the First and Second World Wars.

Finding aids:

The main finding aids used at Documentation Centre comprise of the List of Archives, inventories, indexes and a computer retrieval system. The List of Archives reflects the entire content of the repository. Information such as the name of the archival group, abbreviation, the extent of the group in terms of archive boxes, the location and security classification are provided. Inventories provide detailed information on the content of each archival group. The items are described individually according to the title of the file, the file reference, the dates and the box number. Card indexes are available for the book, manuscript and map collections. Approximately 120 000 documents are available on the computer retrieval system of which about 48 000 are photographs. This represents only a small portion of the total holdings.