The first Commando rode out against marauding Bushmen in 1715 in the Cape, all the members serving at their own charges, choosing their own officers, and deciding their course of action in open debate. The last, or presumably the the last, horsed Commando operated on the Witwatersrand during the Revolt of 1922. The men were paid, fed and equipped by government, and the appointment of officers was controlled to a very large extend. In between these two dates every variation of pay, supply and appointment of officers is found; the first large scale issue of arms and clothing with pay occurred in 1880, when the Cape called out its Commandos for service in the Basutuland Rebellion. The call up was by levy, substitutes were allowed, and cases occurred where these men were elected as officers.. The senior commandant of one of the largest groups, duly elected, was an Englishman, son of a Leicestershire farmer, who did extremely well.
On 13th April 1846 the Commissariat at the Cape asked for tenders for 1500 great coats and forage caps for the Burghers. It would be of interest to know if the caps were drawn and worn on service. They would be round with a wider top. This note sent by J. J. Hulme is a very early instance of a clothing issue to Commandos. (Cape Town Mail)
The Cape men were called out again for the Langberg campaign of 1897, this being their last appearance in the field before Union. Apart from the Commandos of the short-lived Republic of Natal in the eighteen-forties, the system was not much in evidence in that Colony, though burghers were in the field in 1861, and there is a note in a book of the fifties, which states that "volunteer corps were proposed (in 1854) so as to avoid the conscription of the Burgher Law with its loose undisciplined organisation."
The Militia Reserves of the Natal Militia Act of 1894 were definitely Commandos, and were in force for the Zululand Rebellion. The Orange Free State relied solely on Commandos, and all efforts to set up any other organisation on foot were severely put down, although Bloemfontein did supply a volunteer unit for the Basutu wars. In the Transvaal volunteer units were encouraged to a limited extend, though all were swept into the Commandos when war broke out in 1899. The stress of the long S.A. War, which began in that year, led to the leaders, both in the O.F.S. and Transvaal, to put sharp limits to the election of officers, to do away with the popular Councils of War, where anyone could give an opinion, and to arrange for pay to be given in the event of victory.
The Union Defence Act of 1912 provided for Commando organisations, under the name of Defence Rifle Associations, with definite age limits. But when war broke out with Germany in 1914, and rebellious Commandos took the field against the Government, for a short period in that year, men of any age, who could sit on a horse and handle a rifle, were taken for service. The Cape men were used as Commandos in the fighting along the Orange River with Germans and Rebels, but the Transvaal and O.F.S. men were properly regimented and uniformed and lost even the name of Commandos. They were known as Mounted Brigades in G.S.W.A. and as S.A. Horse in G.E.A.