The Witwatersrand Rifles

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The Bambatha Rifles (formerly the Witwatersrand Rifles) is a reserve mechanised infantry regiment of the South African Army.  Proud of their Scottish heritage, they wear Douglas tartan.

The Witwatersrand Rifles (often familiarly known as the "Wits Rifles or the Wit Rifles") was formed by proclamation on 1 May 1903 and absorbed the members of the Railway Pioneer Regiment and the Rand Rifles, both of which had fought on the British side during the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902.

As befitted a regiment based from the gold-rich Witwatersrand region, it had a very close relationship with the mining establishment of the time; and its cap badge further emphasised this link.

Bambatha Rebellion
The regiment first saw action during the Bambata Rebellion of 1906, when it deployed a contingent to (the then) Zululand.

Absorption of the Transvaal Light Infantry

Transvaal Light Infantry insignia
In 1907 the regiment was further strengthened when it absorbed the Transvaal Light Infantry Regiment.

World War 1
The regiment was mobilised again when World War I broke out.

German South West Africa
The first action that it took part in was the South African invasion of German South-West Africa (now Namibia).

After the successful conclusion of this campaign, virtually all members volunteered for overseas service.

Western Front
Most of the volunteers were consequently assigned to the 3rd South African Infantry Battalion. (Due to the South African military law of the time, soldiers could not be forced to serve overseas, nor could existing military units be deployed there.) The most well-known action that this unit took part in was the Battle of Delville Wood in the Somme.

East Africa
Other members of the regiment served in the Witwatersrand Rifles company of 7th Infantry ACF, which served in German East Africa against the forces of General von Lettow-Vorbeck.

Rand Revolt
The inter-war years saw the regiment deployed during the 1922 Rand Revolt, when rebellious South African Communist Party miners attempted to overthrow the government of General Jan Smuts.

In the early 1930s the regiment affiliated with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) Regiment of the British Army. As a consequence, the Witwatersrand Rifles adopted the uniform and many of the traditions of this Scottish Lowland regiment. Despite the Cameronians' disbandment in 1968, the Wits Rifles still continues this heritage today.

World War 2
As a result of the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the regiment was expanded to two battalions. However, due to the battalions being used to supply replacements in a piecemeal fashion to depleted South African units taking part in the North African campaign, the Witwatersrand Rifles was only deployed as a coherent unit (to Egypt) in 1943.

During its service in North Africa, the Witwatersrand Rifles was amalgamated with Regiment de la Rey. This combined regiment, was nicknamed the "Royal Boere" and saw extensive action in Italy as part of the South African 6th Armoured Division, particularly at Monte Caprara and Monte Stanco.

Border War
From 1970 until the first all-race democratic elections in 1994, the regiment saw action in the South African Border War in South-West Africa (now Namibia) and Angola as well as on the South Africa/Botswana border and in South African townships.

Post 1994
When conscription ended in 1993, the regiment began an active recruitment drive to maintain reserve troop strength. During South Africa's second democratic election in 1999, the regiment deployed 180 volunteers in support of the South African Police Service (SAPS).

Late in its history the Witwatersrand Rifles Regiment attracted volunteers for regular part-time training.

Scottish tradition
To maintain its Scottish links, the regiment had formed alliances with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and the King's Own Scottish Borderers (now amalgamated into the Royal Scots Borderers). Up to the disbandment and name change, members of the regiment continued to maintain their traditional Scottish Lowland uniforms and traditions and uphold very high standards of discipline and effective military training.  The Witwatersrand Rifles are affiliated to the Perth Regiment of Canada, who also wear Douglas tartan.

The regiment also had an active pipe band as well as one of the top shooting teams in the country and was ably supported by a Regimental Council, a very active Regimental Association and a Ladies Committee up to the point of the renaming process.

The Witwatersrand Rifles Regiment provided troops for internal operations in support of the South African Police Service and on the border (as part of Operation Corona) as well as for United Nations peacekeeping operations in the DRC and the Sudan.

Name Change
In August 2019, 52 Reserve Force units had their names changed to reflect the diverse military history of South Africa. The Witwatersrand Rifles became the Bambatha Rifles, and have 3 years to design and implement new regimental insignia.



Sources for this article include:
  • Witwatersrand Rifles Regimental History Archive

  • Any contributions will be gratefully accepted


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    Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022