The necessity for the South African Police to establish a unit capable of handling high risk operations was identified during the early 1970’s.
A high profile hostage situation, known as the Fox Street Siege, unfolded on 28 April 1974. As a result, a decision was taken to formalise the then unofficial and private initiatives of certain members within the South African Police Security Division. The aim of creating this specialist task force would be to ensure the existence of a unit capable of handling high risk situations, for example hostage release.
It was envisaged that the unit would be an elite force comprising approximately 200 officers and non-commissioned officers. The South African Police Service's commitments in Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, rendered the formation of this unit impossible until 1 February 1976.
Since inception, selection courses have been the sole source of operational manpower. To date, roughly 1656 applicants have participated in the selection courses with only 362 successful completions.
At present, applicants must be permanent members of the South African Police Services; they must be at minimum twenty-one (21) years of age; must have served at least two (2) years in the police services and must be physically and mentally stable so as to endure the rigorous and demanding training. Applicants must furthermore demonstrate maturity; have sound judgement and display leadership qualities. Training is conducted approximately 230 kilometres from Pretoria at the Task Force Training Centre and, on average, only ten (10) percent of applicants pass selection.
Due to the heightened risk associated with the activities and duties of this unit, a decision was taken to accept candidates exclusively on a voluntary basis. Members wishing to join this unit are expected to meet certain requirements; pass a strict screening test and undergo specialised training.
The Special Task Force has participated in numerous operations including the tracing and elimination of terrorists, terrorist bases and arms caches; the rescuing of hostages; underwater searches for bodies and exhibits; protection of VIPs; provision of specialised training to other units and various rescue operations.
Those practices successfully adopted by special units abroad have been adapted for use within our prevailing circumstances. The techniques employed by the unit were however for the most part developed and perfected locally.
In 1993, the South African Police’s Efficiency Services Department approved the restructuring of the unit and, based on operational needs, two (2) further components were established in Durban and Cape Town.
Similar foreign units have been visited by local members on several occasions so as to ensure the alignment of structures and procedures to international trends and in order to keep abreast of changes in training and various other specialised fields.
Members of the Special Task Force play a pivotal role in the combating of serious crime and this places heavy demands on each of these individuals.
To become a member of this unit, perseverance and dedication are two (2) of the main characteristics which will need to be espoused.
‘The Special Task Force of the South African Police Service provides a specialised 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 statement – which fundamentally embraces the constitutional framework - is in line with the purpose of the South African Police Service and embodies the philosophy and policing policy of the Minister for Safety and Security.
The primary aim of the unit, as per Section 218(1) (m) of the Constitution, is to manage‘... high risk operations which require specialised skills.’
The broad objectives as determined within the constitutional requirements for the unit necessitate that it be multi-facetted and that trainees be diversely skilled to fulfil an array of functions.
The functions of the unit are primary to:
• Manage high risk situations for which the general South African Police is not equipped or trained.
• Control hostage situations on land, sea and air -
Land encompasses busses, trains and buildings such as national key points and embassies;
Sea refers to oil platforms, ships in harbours and own territorial waters; and
Air relates to all civilian local and international aircraft.
• Deal with urban and rural terror.
• Provide assistance to the remaining divisions of the South African Police requiring the unit’s specialised skills, techniques and equipment as relates to, for example, murder, robbery, motor vehicle theft or SANAB .
• Furnish assistance to units responsible for the protection of high profile VIPs and periodically to undertake unassisted protection of prestigious VIPs where the skills required fall beyond the capabilities of available units – for example counter-sniper measures or sniper allocation.
• Provide a specialised rescue service and assist in natural disasters should skills in mountaineering, emergency diving or other expertise in rescue be required.
• Render specialised operational, tactical and continuation training to all members of the Special Task Force to facilitate the performance of the unit’s primary and secondary functions.
• Undertake a specialised policing service to neighbouring countries' police in accordance with agreements reached between these countries and the South African government.
The secondary roles of the unit are to:
• Consult on and provide specialised training to the remaining South African Police divisions, military special forces and approved organisations.
• Evaluate specialised equipment.
• Execute any other duties falling within the scope of high risk operations assigned by the Minister for Safety and Security and the National Commissioner of the South African Police Services or the Divisional Commissioner, Crime Prevention and Response Services.
The Task Force falls under the operational control of the Division for Operational Response Services and is responsible for handling all high-risk operations – for example hostage situations on land, sea and air and rescue-related activities.
Task Force applicants are considered exclusively on a voluntary basis and must conform to stringent physical requirements prior to admittance into the twenty-six (26) week long basic training and selection course which includes instruction on weapons, rural and urban combat and basic parachuting.
Compulsory advanced courses include training on specialised skills relating to diving, VIP protection, explosives and medical training. Although the total initial training period is nine (9) months, completing all required advanced courses to achieve the status of a fully-fledged Special Task Force operational member may take up to three (3) years.
Operational Fitness Standard
To remain operational, the Special Task Force Fitness Standard requires that operators maintain a minimum of seventy (70) percent for the following:
Physical fitness and strength
• Five (5) kilometres run within twenty-one (21) minutes;
• Fifteen (15) uninterrupted, consecutive pull-ups (palms forward);
• Ninety-five (95) sit-ups in two (2) minutes;
• Fifty (50) uninterrupted, consecutive push-ups in one (1) minute; and
• Ten (10) twenty-five (25) metre sprints in fifty-six (56) seconds.
• 300 meter swim in less than ten (10) minutes.
• Twenty (20) kilometre walk carrying twenty (20) kilogrammes – 3 ½ hours.