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Candidates for the South African Police Special Task Force are selected for training exclusively on a voluntary basis and may opt out at any stage. Applicants must have completed the six (6) month long basic police college training and must have had two (2) years’ active service. Only non-commissioned officers between the ages of twenty-one (21) and thirty (30) will be considered. Prior to acceptance for training, candidates are required to undergo pre-selection and orientation and a letter of recommendation must be provided by the current course officer. The pre-selection or preparation and condition phase, PREPCON, has an average turn away rate of fifty (50) percent. For example, the Special Task Force Training Course 25 of 2005 saw a total of 453 applicants with only 108 remaining subsequent to pre-selection. The reasons provided for rejection included lack of physical fitness or inability to swim. Of the 108 successful pre-selection candidates, forty-two (42) completed PREPCON while a mere twenty (20) candidates successfully finished ’vasbyt’.

Upon receipt of the applications, the provincial pre-selection process commences. This is hosted as various venues and includes:

• The submission of a medical form provided by the Special Task Force to be completed; and
• A psychological assessment including a cognitive evaluation and a personality profile.

Special Task Force Assessment

Physical Fitness and Strength

The following activities must be completed to demonstrate an acceptable level of fitness and strength:

• A 3,2-kilometre run in boots, long trousers and with a rifle within eighteen (18) minutes;
• Five (5) uninterrupted, consecutive pull-ups (palms forward);
• Sixty (60) sit-ups in two (2) minutes;
• Thirty-five (35) consecutive and uninterrupted push-ups in one (1) minute; and
• Ten (10) twenty-five (25) metre sprints in sixty-five (65) seconds.


The following activity must be completed to demonstrate acceptable swimming competence:

• An unassisted 200 metre swim in dark water, such as dam water, adopting any swimming style.


The following activity must be completed to demonstrate acceptable endurance capacity:

• A fifteen (15) kilometre walk carrying fifteen (15) kilograms in three (3) hours.

The level of fitness demonstrated by actual Special Task Force operators is however far higher than required to pass these preliminary tests.

The three (3) week long PREPCON phase is hosted outside Pretoria with the purpose of preparing candidates for the extremely rigorous ‘vasbyt’ – literally meaning to grit one’s teeth in Afrikaans - stage. PREPCON focuses on conditioning and those candidates not possessing the necessary fitness will fail this level which physically and mentally readies candidates for the skills required at later stages and establishes basic competencies in those areas which may prove to be quite difficult to master during the various modules presented within the full course.

PREPCON also prepares candidates to be better equipped to handle discomfort, lack of sleep and overall physical and mental hardship. Delegates successfully completing this stage automatically gain entrance to the basic selection phase.

Applicants will proceed to a Special Task Force Selection Training Course which involves psychological and aptitude testing; a six (6) month long basic training course and approximately two (2) years’ additional specialised training.

The most gruelling stage of the entire training course is probably without question the notorious ‘vasbyt’ phase and for some the not much spoken about ‘survival phase’. In both phases you’ll need copious amounts of grit to successfully complete them. Jonah Lehrer discussed the psychology of grit in his blog, The Frontal Cortex, and in the Boston Globe. He described it as follows: ‘... Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going.’ ‘Grit, it turns out, is an essential (and often overlooked) component of success.’ ‘Consider, for instance, a recent study led by Duckworth that measured the grittiness of cadets at West Point, the elite military academy. Duckworth has since repeated the survey with subsequent West Point classes, and the result is always the same: the cadets that remain are those with grit. ...’

The purpose of selection and ‘vasbyt’ is multi-facetted:
• It verifies whether a candidate has the physical ability and mental strength to complete the relevant training.
• It confirms whether potential candidate has the cognitive ability to grasp the material within the allocated time frame and under severe physical and mental pressure.
• ‘Vasbyt’ serves to push the candidate demonstrating the inaccuracy of ‘perceived’ physical and mental limitations. This realisation is vital when confronted with physically or mentally challenging situations in the operational arena.
• It solidifies the esprit de corps of operators and forges a lasting bond regardless of race, culture, religion or gender.

At this point, the selection and ‘vasbyt’ training course phase begins which will continue for the next twenty-eight (28) weeks, excluding breaks.

On the discretion of the course officer, ‘vasbyt’ will generally commence within the first three (3) weeks of the Special Task Force Selection Training Course. By this stage, the less resilient candidates would have abandoned their efforts due to the gruelling pace. The remaining few, who have experienced hardship and mental degradation, are likely to be in peak physical condition. The commencement of this phase is generally a blur but, by day two (2), is becomes clear that the only logical course of action for the would-be operators is to hold tight. This training phase serves to increase the pace just enough so as to protect those candidates demonstrating the most potential from injury while siphoning out the less desirable or mentally and physically weaker candidates.

Although many group exercises are performed, candidates are tested as individuals, and require self-motivation with no encouragement from instructors. To increase the difficulty, the potential operators are not provided with distance and timing indicators with the result that maximum output is constantly required to reach objectives.

The duration of ‘vasbyt’ is approximately ninety (90) hours. During this time, members are constantly gauged by the course officer, instructors and medical consultants with the aim of monitoring and testing the limits of their mental and physical stamina and endurance for as long as possible before complete system shut down is experienced. Candidates may not sleep or eat during ’vasbyt’ and are limited to between two (2) and five (5) litres of water a day. The only constant is the incessant physical endurance routines designed to ensure that candidates remain awake. They are also constantly taunted by jibes accusing them of being too soft and requiring the comforts of civilian life in order to heighten the discomfort and intensify the experience. The vast majority of candidates will leave the course within the two (2) weeks leading up to ‘vasbyt’ or during ‘vasbyt’ itself.

A scientific approach and constant psychological evaluation ensure the attainment of the pinnacle of physical and mental endurance by the end of this session. Once the required ninety (90) hours have elapsed, the candidates do not believe that the course has been completed and view the confirmation of such by the instructors as just another cruel joke. Generally, candidates will quite suddenly be overcome by exhaustion and relief.

After a well-earned two (2) days’ rest, official training begins. From this point on, candidates are evaluated based on competency, skills and the ability to function as a team member. Instructors interact personally with all candidates and individual performance and capabilities are discussed and evaluated in the finest detail. The basic training of the Special Task Force is divided into various categories as described below.

Weapons Training – Six (6) Weeks

Members are trained for proficiency in the following categories:
• The use of assault rifles;
• The use of shotguns;
• The use of submachine guns;
• The use of pistols;
• Fitness and strength; and
• Unarmed combat.

Basic Rural Operations – Six (6) Weeks

Members are trained in the following aspects:
• The use of support weapons;
• Reconnaissance;
• The use of grenade launchers;
• The use of foreign weapons;
• The use of minor explosive devices;
• Pyrotechnics;
• Bush craft;
• Battle craft;
• Navigation;
• Heavy vehicle operations;
• Follow-up operations; and
• Helicopter orientation.

Urban Operations – Seven (7) Weeks

Members are trained for proficiency in the following categories:
• Urban reconnaissance;
• Securing dangerous suspects (high-risk warrants);
• Securing dangerous barricaded suspects;
• Other high-risk urban operations;
• Urban helicopter orientation; and
• Planning, command and control of urban operations.

Hostage Release – Five (5) Weeks

Members are trained for proficiency in the following categories:
• Advanced individual/team movement;
• Hostage assault planning, command and control; and
• Tactical assaults on -
   o Aircraft
   o Trains
   o Vehicles
   o Marine Vessels.

Parachuting – Four (4) Weeks

Members are trained to deploy by:
• Basic static line;
• Static line with equipment;
• Static line night parachuting;
• Free-fall;
• Free-fall at night or water jumps; and
• Free-fall with equipment.

Survival – Two (2) Weeks

Members are trained on:
• Static and mobile survival in the bush;
• Basic tracking;
• Escape and evasion;
• Resistance to interrogation; and
• Unsupported route march through the Kalahari Desert.

Upon successful completion of the course, members are issued with ‘wings’ to demonstrate that candidates are free-fall parachute qualified and full-fledged members of the unit. A further two (2) years’ service is required.

Special Task Force Advanced Training Cycle

This phase requires two (2) additional years whilst working operationally within one of the Special Task Force units. The training cycle includes:
• Rescue operations (mountaineering and other rescue techniques);
• Chemical and biological defence;
• Explosive identification, breaching and bomb disposal;
• Improvised explosive devices and weapons;
• Operations medical level 3;
• Advanced VIP protection;
• Emergency scuba diving;
• Advanced rural tactics and survival; and
• Counter-insurgency (bush warfare).

Once a member has completed all the compulsory post selection training courses and has served in a combat section for a period of two (2) years, operator status will be achieved and confirmed by the receipt of the operator’s badge at a parade usually presented by the Chief of the South African Police.

Other Optional or Specialised Courses for Special Task Force Operators

The following additional courses are offered:
• Sniper course;
• Advance medical ordinance (level 6);
• Advanced tracking;
• Skipper’s course;
• High-speed driving;
• 4x4 driving; and
• Operational commanders’ training.

Members of the Special Task Force must continually undertake refresher training to ensure the maintenance of the highest standards of fitness and expertise. Members must be prepared to depart to any destination within the country at short notice. In addition, as operators’ family members are not given information on the destination, nature or duration of an operation, they too remain in a constant state of tension and uncertainty.

More detailed information can be found within the book;

“The SAP Special Task Force – An Operator’s Perspective - One of the World’s Foremost Elite Special Forces Units”

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