How do I Join the Military in South Africa?

There are relatively few people who make the decision to serve their country in a military capacity. There are even fewer who are able to cope with the struggles and challenges that such a life can produce. Perhaps you are one of these special individuals. Maybe you’ve already made your choice and are now wondering, how do I Join the Military in South Africa?

The first phase of military service in South Africa involves joining the Military Skills Development (MSD) program. The MSD is a 2-year voluntary service program that aims at introducing individuals to the military way of life while providing them with basic military training.

How do I Join the Military in South Africa?

The MSD programs are divided amongst the various branches of the armed services. Simply apply for the relevant MSD programs for the branch that you wish to join. Applications for all branches are available online and are frequently displayed in Sunday newspapers. These branches are –

  • Navy
  • Army
  • Military Health Service
  • Air Force

During the second year of the program, applicants will be deployed where they are needed and will be able to practically apply the skills that they have learnt. Additionally, if you wish to join the Reserve forces of the SANDF you will also have to make it through the MSD program unless you are applicable for direct recruitment.

Once you have completed the MSD program with acceptable results (and providing that there are positions available in your chosen branch) you will be given the choice to either continue your service with the SANDF or return to civilian life. 

How do I Join the Military in South Africa?

It should be noted, however, that after completing the MSD program if you do not choose to continue with full-time service you will still be expected to serve part-time in the Reserves. Specifically, this service involves 30 days of service in the Reserves per year for a period of 5 years. 

What are the Requirements for Joining the MSD Program?

Not just anybody can join the MSD programme, you will need to fulfil the following conditions before being accepted –

  • South African citizenship
  • 18-22 years old (graduates up to 26)
  • Completed or currently in Grade 12
  • Not area bound
  • No criminal record
  • Physically and mentally fit

Applicants will also be divided based on certain factors. For example, MSD entrants with relevant college degrees or above average matric results may be prioritised for specialised positions or leadership roles.

Additionally, certain branches tend to have stricter requirements for application. For example, Air Force applicants wishing to specialize in fields such as engineering or navigation will normally need to have completed both mathematics and physical science courses (minimum level 3) in high school while more generalized restrictions may apply for pilots such as not suffering from claustrophobia or acrophobia.

It may also be a good idea to temper your expectations regarding military service and your odds of being accepted. DefenceWeb reports that in 2020, out of 133 000 MSD applicants only 1704 made it into the SANDF.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf”

Richard Grenier

Why is it so Difficult to Get into the SANDF?

You may be wondering why such a tiny proportion of individuals actually make it into the armed services when there are so many applicants.

The primary issue lies with the budget. A recent committee meeting involving the SANDF revealed that the military cannot hope to house and employ all the applicants who complete the MSD program on their current budget, thus many are turned away and could end up in poverty-stricken communities.

In many countries around the world, the military is often seen as a path forward for youths who are in desperate need of training, employment, and a sense of responsibility. Unfortunately, it does not seem like the SANDF will be able to truly fulfill that role in the foreseeable future.

Are Military Recruits Paid During their Training?

Obviously, 2 years is a long time to give up for basic training before you even make it into your branch of choice, as such, many potential members have wondered whether or not they will receive any benefits during this time.

Speaking on the topic of MSD applicants, a SANDF spokesperson has confirmed that during the 2-year training program, recruits will be paid a salary and will be provided with accommodation, food, and travel.

How Much are Soldiers Paid in South Africa?

Many people often view the military as a stable, alternative job path when compared to most civilian careers. This raises the question, how can you expect to be paid when you join the military?

Payment for military personnel varies depending on the role you find yourself in as well as your rank. The average income of a soldier in the SANDF is reported to be around R12 000 per month, though it is safe to assume that higher-ranking military members or soldiers in more specialized roles can expect to be paid more.

How do I Join the Military in South Africa?

Has the Military Stopped Recruitment? – How do I join the Military in South Africa?

If you’ve been hoping to apply for the MSD’s recently, you may have noticed a sudden reduction in advertisement and up to date application forms.

Due to the aforementioned budget cuts as well as the turmoil caused by the current pandemic, there are currently plans to put the MSD program on pause and potentially run it once every 2 years. As such, it may be the case that the next MSD intake will only occur in January 2022 followed by another in January 2024.

Where is the SANDF Deployed? – How do I join the Military in South Africa?

It is understandable that before joining the armed forces, a person may wonder where in the world they might end up.

Although South Africa is not currently involved in any wars, there are multiple instances of minor conflict in which the SANDF is involved.

Many cases involving SANDF deployment are often aimed at peacekeeping initiatives and foreign aid, as such, a member of the SANDF could reasonably be expected to serve in areas such as –

While it’s impossible to accurately predict where and when military forces will be called to serve, the most likely outcome for the majority of members is that they will be deployed throughout the country to provide aid during the current pandemic or along the border with Zimbabwe to enforce the country’s immigration policies.

Can you be Kicked out of the Military for Committing a Crime? – How do I join the Military in South Africa?

As noted, a prior criminal record will prevent you from joining the SANDF, but what happens if you commit a crime after joining the military?

Violations do not always result in dismissal from the military. Depending on the severity of the crime, a member of the SANDF will be tried either in a military or civilian court. Minor violations will usually result in reductions in pay, temporary confinement and/or a demotion. More serious infringements can lead to dismissal from the armed services and even a prison sentence.

In Conclusion – How do you Join the Military and How Much can you Earn?

Before acting as a regular in the SANDF, individuals must first apply for the Military Skills Development (MSD) program and complete a 2-year training period. This program will teach the applicant basic military skills and introduce them to life in the armed services. Different MSD’s exist depending on the branch of the military you wish to join. For example, a Navy MSD is available for recruits who wish to one day join the Navy.


Applications for the MSD program can usually be found online or in your local Sunday newspapers however, recent budget cuts and the pandemic have sparked debates over the ability of the SANDF to accept MSD graduates in the current climate.

How do I Join the Military in South Africa?

Once the training period is completed the applicant may be offered a chance to join the SANDF in an official capacity, though it should be noted that the recent number of applicants who have been accepted has been extremely low. Members of the MSD program can expect a relatively small salary during their training along with housing, food, and travel.

Once officially in the SANDF, a soldier can expect an average salary of around R12 000 per month although this amount will change greatly depending on the rank and role of the individual with higher-ranked members or soldiers in more specialized roles generally earning more money.

To apply for the MSD program me/ you must –

  • South African citizenship
  • 18-22 years old (graduates up to 26)
  • Completed or currently in Grade 12
  • Not area bound
  • No criminal record
  • Physically and mentally fit

Individuals who do not make it into the SANDF are still expected to serve for 30 days a year for 5 years in the Reserves.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although in many instances, our posts cite the constitution, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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