Former first commander of the apartheid-era SADF commander Dirk Breytenbach dies

Jan Dirk Breytenbach

Jan Dirk Breytenbach

Published Jun 18, 2024


Cape Town - The first commander of the apartheid-era SADF’s 32 Batallion, Colonel (Ret) Jan Dirk Breytenbach, has died. He was 91.

According to a statement from his family, he died peacefully, surrounded by his family at 12.30pm on Sunday in the George Mediclinic. He was also the brother of anti-apartheid poet and artist Breyten Breytenbach.

Breytenbach, who retired from the SADF in 1987, was a Special Forces officer and the first commander of 1 Reconnaissance Commando, South Africa's first Special Forces unit.

Later he would become the first commander of the SADF’s 32 Battalion and 44 Parachute Brigade.

The 32 Battalion became notorious for its part in the brutal nature of the SADF’s war in Angola. Many 32 Battalion veterans became mercenaries in the failed coup de’tat in Equatorial Guinea 20 years ago.

Breytenbach attended the Army Gymnasium in 1950 and was awarded the Sword of Honour in 1953.

After having served in the Armoured Corps, he joined the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1956.

He rejoined the SADF in 1961 and in 1970 founded the SA Special Forces. During 1976 he was instrumental in establishing 32 Battalion. He attended Staff College in 1977 and was promoted to Colonel. He then became the Senior Staff Officer for Operations at Northern Transvaal Command.

Col Breytenbach commanded 44 Parachute Brigade from September 24, 1980 to December 31, 1982 and founded the SADF Guerilla School, which he commanded until his retirement in 1987.

He wrote several military and nature conservation books since.

“Colonel Breytenbach is not only revered as an icon by many in South Africa, but also in the international special operations world.

“The Breytenbach family understand and appreciate the widespread interest in, and sympathy for, the demise of our dearly departed husband, father, brother and grandfather, and wish to bid him farewell in a dignified manner,” read a statement from his family.

Colonel Breytenbach is survived by his wife Rosalind, his son Richard, daughter Angela and his grandchildren Christopher and Matthew.

Cape Argus