news 2007

Compliments and Saluting

Warrant Officer of the South African Military Health Service
WO1 M.M.T. Sebone

The military salute is one of many customs that form part of the traditions of the South African National Defence Force. It is not a new custom, but a service tradition. Opinions are sometimes voiced that it is not the individual who is being saluted, but the uniform he/she wears. This theory is incorrect. It is neither the uniform nor the individual that is saluted, but the dignity vested in the individual when authority is placed in his/her hands by the President through the granting of a commission. Once this is understood, it becomes apparent that there is nothing servile or derogatory in saluting. Neither is it an obeisance, but a mark of respect for the authority of the President, whose commission the officer bears, and also in these enlightened days, an expression of esteem and goodwill.


All officers will salute their seniors at all times while in uniform, except on board vessels of the SA Navy, where a salute of first greeting for the day is sufficient. A senior officer in civilian clothing will be saluted if recognised.

When not wearing a cap or beret, an officer will salute by assuming the position attention. This also applies when he/she is in civilian clothes. A male officer in civilian clothes and wearing a hat, will raise his hat when greeting a senior or acknowledging a salute. A greeting such as “Good morning … (rank)” should also be given when appropriate.

When a group of officers is being passed by an officer senior to them, all the officers in the group will salute. When an officer lower in rank than some of the officers in the group approaches them, he/she will salute. The salute is to be returned by the senior officer in the group.

A salute made to two or more officers will be acknowledged by the senior officer only. If, however, the salute is not acknowledged by a senior, it must be acknowledged by the next senior officer who sees it.

Officers should not walk more than three abreast. In such cases, the officer senior in rank will walk on the right and will acknowledge all compliments. Where officers of equal rank are saluted, the officer nearest the person paying the compliment will acknowledge the salute.

An officer about to pass a senior officer who is standing still, will commence saluting at three paces distance. If there is more than one officer, on a signal from the right hand or senior officer, they will commence saluting at four paces distance. When officers pass one another, the salute must commence at six paces distance to enable it to be acknowledged before they pass one another.

Officers with swords drawn will acknowledge salutes from their juniors. Swords will not be acknowledged by staff officers on ceremonial parades whilst accompanying the inspecting officer or dignitary. Officers carrying rifles will salute at the cap/beret.

It is a customary form of greeting for officers in uniform to salute civilian men and ladies known to them.


Warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and privates (or equivalent) will salute all officers in uniform. When an officer dressed in civilian clothes is recognised he/she is to be saluted.

The only occasion on which a regimental sergeant major of the Citizen Force, where applicable, or master-at-arms (SA Navy) will draw and salute with a sword, is at a Trooping of the Colour.

WOs, NCOs and privates (or equivalent) dressed in civilian clothes will pay compliments as follows:

a. Raise their hats to an officer (only male members).

b. When not wearing hats, come to attention and greet the officer by saying “Good morning … (rank)”, or giving other appropriate greeting.

c. If walking, turn the head in the direction of the officer and greet him/her as in paragraph 11.b. above.

A WO, NCO or private (or equivalent) in uniform, without cap/beret or carrying anything which prevents him/her from saluting properly, will, if standing still, come to attention. If on the march, he/she will continue marching and turn his/her head in the direction of the officer and cut his/her arms to his/her side for four paces, as the case may be. A greeting such as “Good morning ... (rank)” should also be given when appropriate.

If two or more WOs, NCOs or privates (or equivalent) (not in an organised party), who are sitting or standing together, are approached by an officer, they will be called to attention by the senior person in the group, who alone will salute. If the senior person in the group does not see the officer in time, the next senior of the one who first observes the approach of the officer, will warn the senior but if there is insufficient time, he/she will carry out the actions as described above. If the person calling the party to attention is without cap/beret, he/she will stand to attention facing the officer, until the officer is clear of the party. He/she will then order the party to stand at ease, and carry on with whatever they were doing. This is also applicable to parties dressed in civilian clothing.

A WO, NCO or private (or equivalent), whilst conversing with or accompanying an officer, will stand or sit to attention when the officer he/she accompanies salutes or is saluted by other officers, but he/she will not himself/herself salute. When marching, compliments as per paragraph 11.c. are to be paid.

WOs, NCOs and privates (or equivalent) should not walk more than three abreast, and should always walk with seniors on the right and juniors on the left.

When a WO, NCO or private (or equivalent) passes an officer who is standing still, he/she will commence his/her salute four paces from the officer. If there is more than one in the party, the senior member of the party will give the signal “UP” and thereafter they will salute together.

A WO, NCO or private (or equivalent) being passed by an officer from the opposite direction, will commence his/her salute six paces away from the officer, and will salute for four paces. If there is more than one in the party, the senior member of the party will give the signal “UP” in time to start saluting when approximately six paces away from the officer. If an officer passes across the front, personnel will salute to the front (on the march) for four paces.

When personnel are sitting down to meals in their mess, and are called to attention, they will not stand, but will place their eating utensils on their plates and then place their hands on their knees and thereafter sit to attention. All personnel must remain seated.

When meeting officers in restaurants, lounges of hotels or other public places, WOs, NCOs and privates (or equivalent) will salute, provided that they are still wearing their caps/berets, and space permits. If they have already removed their caps/berets, they will pay compliments as described in paragraphs 11 and 12.

A junior always stand to attention when addressing or being addressed by a senior, unless given permission to do otherwise. It is customary for junior WOs, NCOs or privates (or equivalent) to greet senior WOs, NCOs or privates (or equivalent) with the words “Good morning ... rank)”.