The Southern Africa Medal is a military campaign medal which was instituted by the Republic of South Africa in 1987. It was awarded to members of the South African Defence Force for service in military operations in Southern Africa, outside the borders of South Africa and South West Africa, between 1 April 1976 and 21 March 1990.
In August 1981, during Operation Protea, several Russian T34-85 tanks were shot out by the South African Defence Force at Xangongo in Angola. The Chief of the South African Defence Force at the time, General Jannie Geldenhuys, expressed the wish that one of these tanks should be recovered and taken to Pretoria, with the intention to use it as material to strike medals from. His idea was based on the origin of the British Victoria Cross, which was struck from the copper cascabels of a cannon from the Crimean War. The tank is still on display at the Fort Klapperkop Museum in Pretoria, while the resulting medal was the Southern Africa Medal.
Unlike a copper cannon cascabel, however, the armour steel of a battle tank is too hard to be struck into medals, using hardened steel tooling. The tank itself was therefore not suitable to use to strike medals from. However, since the medal was to be struck in nickel-silver, an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc, several kilograms of copper was recovered from burnt cables in the Xangongo tank, melted, mixed in with molten nickel-silver and then used to manufacture a limited number of the Southern Africa Medal.