Recalling the ‘exodus’ to Fort iKapa

Fort iKapa, the military base nestled between the N1 and the N7 in Goodwood, is home to 12 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) reserve units.

Members of these units are referred to as citizens in uniforms or part-time soldiers.

Before their move to Fort iKapa, the units, such as the Cape Town Rifles, the Cape Town Field Artillery, Cape Garrison Artillery, Regiment Westelike Provincie, 4 Maintenance Unit, were scattered all over, some even based at schools.

In 2001, Colonel Dr Alan Nelson was tasked with investigating the accommodation of the reserve forces. The retired air force engineer, with 20 years regular and 40 years reservist service under his belt, had moved to Durbanville from Gauteng.

He said in 2002 he had had to present a plan to the then chief of the army, Lieutenant General Gilbert Romano, on how to get all the reserve units together.

“It was like planning an exodus to get all the commandos here,” he said.

Dr Nelson met honorary colonel Sir David Graaff, of the Cape Garrison Artillery. While doing initial research on the base, then known as Acacia, Dr Nelson found it was part of the Graaff Trust and was entrusted to the army on a 99-year lease, or in perpetuity.

“As long as the army occupies this property, it remains for them to use,” Dr Nelson said.

With the help of all the units’ commanding officers, there were talks about how hangars, which had been at the base since World War II, would be allocated.

Once the hangars had been restored at a cost of R74 million and using the reserves’ own labour, the units could relocate to Goodwood.

“They showed their innovation, their team spirit,” Dr Nelson remembers. “As we finished buildings, people moved in.”

Then the base had to be renamed: “I thought it looks like a fort, and we were in the Cape,” he explains.

The Cape Town Rifles was the first to move. By 2005/06, all the units had made Fort iKapa their home, except the Cape Town Highlanders, who remained at the Castle, although a hangar was made available for them at the base.

The move to Fort iKapa has cut the cost of accommodating reserves at facilities across Cape Town, and now units can share services, such as ablution facilities and the mess.

Fort iKapa base commander Lieutenant Colonel Stephan Pierce grew up in Kimberley Street, Goodwood, but now lives in Joostenbergvlakte. He matriculated at JG Meiring High School, in 1979, and later studied construction technology at Cape Technikon.

He runs his own business and has been a reserve with the Regiment Westelike Provincie for 36 years, becoming Officer Commanding for Fort iKapa in August 2012.

Asked why people would juggle a military career with regular jobs, Dr Nelson sums it up: “It’s in my DNA, My father was in the army.

“It becomes a passion, and you can’t leave it,” he said.