End Conscription Campaign

End Conscription Campaign

The End Conscription Campaign was an anti-apartheid organisation allied to the United Democratic Front (UDF) and composed of conscientious objectors and their supporters in South Africa. It was formed in 1983 to oppose the conscription of all white South African men into military service in the South African Defence Force.

Apartheid government's policy on compulsory military conscription

The apartheid government had a policy of compulsory conscription for young white men who were expected to perform military service at regular intervals, starting with an extended training which began in the year immediately following the one in which they left school or as soon as they turned 16, whichever came last. Many were granted deferment, for example to attend University and complete an undergraduate degree first, but very few young men were exempted from conscription for any reason other than being medically unfit or for a race classification error.

Increasingly stringent laws were passed increasing periods of service, broadening the base of eligible white men who could be called up, and providing stringent sentences for those men who objected. Conscripts provided the major part of South African Defence Force (SADF). They were seen to support the government's policies with actions against liberation movements, exercises in the black townships and the repression of anti-apartheid activities.

1983 The End Conscription Campaign formed

The End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was formed in 1983, in protest against compulsory military service. It mobilised support for its campaigns, proposed service alternatives, supported conscientious objectors and provided a forum for the public with information and education on conscription and the alternatives. Conscientious objection was a serious choice as the consequences were severe. The reasons for conscientious objection included political, ethical and religious reasons. Some religious organisations, parent groups and student organisations such as the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) also engaged in anti-conscription activities. At its peak, conscription in South Africa consisted of two years of mandatory military service, followed by camps at intervals. Under apartheid, the call-up applied to all white men after completing their schooling or further studies.

Objections against War and participation in the Apartheid State

Objections to military service and the War in Angola were generally based on the role of the military and security forces in enforcing the policy of apartheid. Although South Africa's defence forces were active against various liberation movements in Southern Africa and the frontline states (countries bordering the republic including Angola, South West Africa (now Namibia) and Mozambique), suppressing a guerrilla war, they also waged war against SWAPO and Cuban forces in a conventional war at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The military had also became increasingly active in suppressing a civil war in South Africa's black townships.

Those who refused military service were subject to contempt from the minority white community, and left with the choice of either going underground (internal exile) fleeing the republic (external exile) or imprisonment of up to double the length of the allotted military service. Many conscripts simply went Absent Without Leave (AWOL), failed to arrive at BASICS (training) or got lost in the system.

The End Conscription Campaign, one of many anti-war movements alongside Congress of South African War Resistors (COSAWR) mobilised against the draft, promoted alternatives to military service, provided information about the situation in the townships and support to those brave enough to speak out against the war, as conscientious objectors.

1985 Troops out of the townships

In 1985, the ECC held the "Troops out of the Townships" rally and were overwhelmingly successful in demonstrating the growing dissatisfaction within the white community, with the government of the day

The rally was preceded by a three-week fast by objectors Ivan Toms, Harold Winkler and Richard Steele.

It was announced in parliament that 7 589 conscripts failed to report for National Service in January 1985, as opposed to only 1 596 in the whole of 1984. [At Ease, ECC newsletter, May 1986, cited in Jacklyn Cock, Colonels & Cadres - War & Gender in South Africa, Oxford University Press, 1991, pg81] . As there were two intakes annually, in January and July, this would suggest a tenfold increase in non-reportees over the previous year. An estimated 7 000 "draft-dodgers" were also said to be living in Europe in 1985.

1987 Group of 23 refuse military call-up

In 1987, a group of 23 conscientious objectors from the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, including Cameron Dugmore, then University of Cape Town Students Representative Council Chairperson and Jonathan Handler, South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) Chairperson, refused to do military service in the Apartheid war machine. Handlers' objection was based upon the notion of an "Unjust War" as opposed to the Pacifist position held by many Christian students.

1988 ECC banned

The organisation was banned in August 1988 under emergency regulations. In a press statement Adriaan Vlok, then Minister of Law and Order said: "The changes posed by the activities of the End Conscription Campaign to the safety of the public, the maintenance of public order and the termination of the State of Emergency, leave no other choice than to act against the ECC and to prohibit the organisation from continuing any activities or acts."

The same month, an issue of an alternative newspaper, the Weekly Mail, were confiscated by security police, "on the grounds that it had covered, and therefore promoted, opposition to conscription." News coverage included a cartoon, an advertisement from War Resisters International, and "a report on 143 men who stated they would never serve in the South African Defence Force." [ Merret, C, Saunders, C, in Switzer L, Adhikari M, South Africa's Resistance Press, Ohio University, 2000, pg 473]

As a result of the banning of the ECC and confiscation of the Weekly Mail, protests at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and other campuses were held. According to Grassroots, a crowd of 3000 UCT students marched on campus after a meeting condemning the banning. [Grassroots, August 1988] The paper said, "government fears losing control of white youth. This is the message sent by the banning of the ECC under emergency regulations...the ECC pointed out that there is a civil war in our country, and that the SADF is being used against fellow South Africans....ECC's growing influence led PW Botha and Magnus Malan to close it down. They fear that the message of the ECC will undermine apartheid's defence force." After the End Conscription Campaign was banned, hundreds of white South African war resisters refused the call-up, and conscription into the War in Angola and Civil War raging in South Africa's Black Townships continued. Some dodged the draft, others fled the country, some stood-up and faced the consequences for what they believed. None were ever given recognition by either the South African government or the newly elected democracy.Fact|date=April 2008

1989 Forced conscription shortened

In 1989, conscription was reduced from two years to one year, and during the negotiations to end apartheid from 1990 to 1994, it was less rigorously enforced. A Kairos campaign against conscription was the 1989 Campaign focussing on the End Conscription Campaign with participation of Alistair Teeling Smith, Rob Watson and Mandy Tailor. Saul Batzofin, 27, a member of the End Conscription Campaign, was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment in 1989 for refusing to serve in the South African Defence Force. After he had completed his sentence he later told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he wanted to apply for amnesty to clear his criminal record. Although he was proud to have been a conscientious objector, the record caused difficulties with visa applications for foreign countries.

During September 1989, thirty Stellenbosch conscientious objectors joined more than 700 listed COs nation-wide by publicly refusing to do military service. The National Registry of Conscientious Objectors was also launched. [Argus, Thursday 21, September 1989]

1993 The end of conscription announced

On 24 August 1993 Minister of Defence Kobie Coetsee announced the end of conscription. In 1994 there would be no more call-ups for the one-year initial training. But although conscription was suspended it was not entirely abandoned. Indeed in January 1994 for the first time there was no call-up for initial training, but at the same time conscripts who had already undergone training could be subject to "camp" call-ups. Actually "camp" call-ups reached record proportions over the period of the April 1994 elections, and for the first time in history the ECC called on conscripts to consider these call-ups to be different from previous call-ups. [ [http://www.wri-irg.org/co/rtba/index.html War Resisters International] ]

1994 Conscription moratorium

Until the August 1994 moratorium on prosecutions for not responding to call-ups, several of those who did not respond to "camp" call-ups were fined. After the first multi-racial election in 1994, conscription has no longer applied in South Africa and the civilian draft has been exchanged for a professional standing army.However, conscripts who failed to report for duty, still faced prosecution under South Africa's Defence Act. An amendment to the act promulgated in 2002 allows for absentee members of the SANDF to be regarded as discharged from official duty.

Absent without leave

3 Section 59(3) of the Defence Act determines that: A member of the Regular Force absent from official duty without permission of their commanding officer for more than thirty days is regarded as having been dismissed if an officer, or discharged if of other rank, for misconduct with effect from the day immediately following the day of attendance to duty or last day of official leave, but the Chief of the Defence Force may, with good cause, authorise reinstatement of such conditions as they determine.

According to a Department of Defence bulletin, dated July 10, 2003, "In essence, this means that if a member has absented himself or herself for a continuous period of thirty days, he or she is automatically discharge from the SANDF. It is therefore no longer necessary to approach the Minister of Defence for such a dismissal or discharge, as the individual will effect their own discharge if absent thirty days without permission. Should a member wish to be reinstated in the SANDF, he or she should approach the Chief of the SANDF with sound reasons why he or she was absent without permission." [Department of Defence Bulletin, 10 July 2003: No 43/03]

End conscription cases

Prominent cases of conscripts refusing to serve included: Philip Wilkinson; the late Ivan Toms (formerly Director of City Health, Cape Town), David Bruce, Charles Bester, Saul Batzofin, Michael Graff, Andre Zaaiman, Billy Paddock, Neil Mitchell, Charles Yeats, Brett Myrdal. Fact|date=February 2007

Forces Favourites and musicians against conscription

In 1986, Shifty Records released "Forces Favourites" in conjunction with the ECC. Named after a radio programme for "tannie en sussie to stuur groete to boetie who was doing his bit op die grens" (a dedications programme for "aunties and sisters" to send greetings to the boys "little brothers" fighting on the "border" - the frontline of the Angolan campaign).

The ironically titled "Forces Favourites" compilation features some of the strongest political songs of the time.

#"Pambere" - Mapantsula
#"National Madness" - Aeroplanes
#"Potential Mutiny" - Stan James
#"Numbered Again" - The Facts
#"Shot Down In The Streets" - Cherry Faced Lurchers
#"Don't Dance" - Kalahari Surfers
#"Whitey" - The Softies
#"Don't Believe" - In Simple English
#"Too Much Resistance" - Nude Red
#"Spaces Tell Stories" - Roger Lucy
#"Suburban Hum" - Jennifer Fergusson

Counter-operations against the ECC

Many ECC members were subject to persecution. During 1986, 98 members were detained, and others subjected to systematic harassment and intimidation. Meetings, publications and activities of the organisation were banned. Disinformation, death threats, fire-bombings, assaults, break-ins, and anonymous counter-propaganda against the organisation was commonplace. Evidence in a Cape Town court in 1988 revealed that the SADF itself had been running a disinformation campaign against the ECC. [Jacklyn Cock, Colonels & Cadres - War & Gender in South Africa, Oxford University Press, 1991, pg88]

See also

* Conscientious objection throughout the world
* South African resistance to war
* Committee on South African War Resistance
* Cape Town Peace March
* South African Border War
* Truth and Reconciliation Commission



*Out of Step; War Resistance in South Africa. CIIR, 1987
*KAIROS documents http://www.wits.ac.za/histp/kairos/AG2918series7.html

External links

* [http://www.wits.ac.za/histp/kairos/AG2918series7.html Kairos collection documents about conscription in South Africa]
* [http://www.wri-irg.org/co/rtba/index.html Refusing to bear arms: a world survey of conscription and conscientious objection to military service]
* [http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=335431&area=/obituaries/ Ivan Toms, first SA conscientious objector, dies in Cape Town]

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