The Military Academy was established on 1 April 1950 under the auspices of the University of Pretoria, as a branch of the SA Military College (now the SA Army College) at Voortrekkerhoogte (now Thaba Tshwane). In order to establish the Academy as a separate, independent institution, it was decided in 1953 that the Military Academy would move to Saldanha. Here it was to resort under the trusteeship of Stellenbosch University from which successful candidates would receive a BMil degree. On 1 February 1956, the Military Academy was organisationally divorced from the SA Army College, whereupon its headquarters were temporarily shifted to Stellenbosch and later, in December 1957, moved to Saldanha. The offices of Officer Commanding and Dean of the Military Academy were combined in a single post. In January 1961 the Academy became a faculty in its own right - the Faculty of Military Science of Stellenbosch University.
In 1967 the military authorities decided to involve the Academy to a greater extent in the military training of candidate officers. The office of Dean and Officer Commanding was thus separated in December 1967, to facilitate the appointment of a career officer as Officer Commanding, in order to do justice to the military component of the training mission. The formative training of young officers was consequently presented at the Military Academy from 1970, whilst the three-year degree course for Academy students was compressed into two years. Since the combined formative training did not satisfy all the needs of the different arms of the service, the responsibility for formative training was, however, once again transferred to the services in 1976. The degree course was at the same time extended to the normal three-year period.
The first female and coloured students were respectively admitted to the Military Academy in 1978 and 1979. However, it was only in 1990/91 that a concerted effort was made to make the student body representative of the South African population. This objective was achieved by 2005. The first black commanding officer was appointed at the Academy in January 2001. Since then great strides have been taken towards also making the staff component at the Academy more representative. The first black female was appointed as Dean in January 2007 (following her appointment as interim Dean in May 2006).
In February 2001 the Faculty of Military Science was substantially reorganised. The 16 academic departments were restructured into five academic schools. These schools are: the School for Security and Africa Studies; the School for Defence Organisation and Resource Management; the School for Human Resource Development; the School of Science and Technology; and the School for Geo-spatial Studies and Information Systems.
In 2002 the SANDF decided to route all its prospective officers through the Academy by means of a newly designed Military Skills Development System (MSDS). In addition to the MSDS programme, a distance education programme, subsequently redesignated an interactive telematic education programme (e-learning), was introduced at the Academy with effect from 2003. This initiative took the Academy’s degree programmes not only to officers who are unable to study at the Academy on a residential basis, but also to all other members of the Department of Defence (DoD), including non-commissioned officers, civilians and members of the part-time forces.
From 2001 a short certificate programme, called the Preparatory Certificate in Military Studies (PCMS), was presented twice a year and the successful completion of this programme enabled struggling students to gain access to mainstream graduate programmes. The PCMS programme ceased to be presented in 2002 due to financial and capacity constraints. From 2004 to 2007 the Military Academy restructured the design of its undergraduate programmes to include a one-year certificate course in Military Studies, The Higher Certificate in Military Studies (HCMS). The HCMS was officially recognized as an undergraduate certificate course of Stellenbosch University in 2007. The Department of Defence will annually nominate from the cohort of Certificate students a number of students to be considered by the University for admission to the BMil programme provided that they have achieved an average mark of at least 60% for the Certificate programme. These students must comply with the full requirements of the first year of the BMil programme to continue with the second year of the BMil programme. The HCMS is only awarded to students that do not complete the BMil degree, but have qualified for the Certificate.
The Academy is presently well-positioned to take care of the SANDFs tertiary education needs and plays an indispensable role in preparing officers for their complex role scenario in the 21st century. It is from the graduandi of the Military Academy that the SANDF will draw the military leaders of tomorrow.