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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 230

Paragraph Numbers 20 to 25

Volume 4

Chapter 8

Subsection 4

The Committee on South African War Resistance and the End Conscription Campaign

20 Mr Roger Field provided a brief input on the Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAW), an organisation of exiled conscientious objectors, formed in the aftermath of South Africa’s invasion of Angola in 1975 and the Soweto uprising the following year. Its aim was to raise international awareness about the role of the SADF and to provide support to objectors in exile. Mr Field, who worked for COSAW between May 1985 and December 1989, emphasised that:

exile was the most important decision and, I think, often the most traumatic experience of [these resisters’] lives and its long-term effects should not be underestimated.

21 He also presented the Commission with a book “which contains the distillation of analyses by COSAW and resisters of the SADF and its occupation of Namibia, its war against the frontline states and its war against the people of South Africa.”8

22 Dr Laurie Nathan was a founding member of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) in 1983, ECC national organiser in 1985 and 1986, and is currently director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town. He made a submission on the background to and objectives of the ECC. The ECC Declaration read as follows:

The Declaration is headed towards a just peace in our land, a Declaration to end conscription. We live in an unjust society where basic human rights are denied to the majority of the people. We live in an unequal society where the land and wealth are owned by the minority. We live in a society in a state of civil war, where brother is called on to fight brother. We call for an end to conscription. Young men are conscripted to maintain the illegal occupation of Namibia and to wage unjust war against foreign countries. Young men are conscripted to assist in the implementation and defence of apartheid policies. Young men who refuse to serve are faced with the choice of a life of exile or a possible six years in prison. We call for an end to conscription. We believe that the financial costs of the war increase the poverty of our country and that money should be used rather in the interests of peace. We believe that the extension of conscription to Coloured and Indian youth will increase conflict and further divide our country. We believe that it is the moral right of South Africans to exercise freedom of conscience and to choose not to serve in the SADF. We call for an end to conscription. We call for a just peace in our land.

23 Dr Nathan described the ECC as a broad, dynamic and creative coalition.

We had within our ranks English and Afrikaans-speaking people; we had school pupils, university students and parents. Some of us regarded ourselves as liberals; others as radicals, Marxists, pacifists, Christians, humanists. We had rock musicians, poets, artists ... All of these different sectors were able, through the ECC, to campaign against conscription in a way that they felt comfortable [with].

24 He noted that, because of the significance of the ECC’s objectives and the high profile nature of its campaigns, its efforts were met with extensive state repression.

We were subjected to merciless vilification, the thrust of which was that we were traitors, cowards, ‘mommy’s boys’ (as Magnus Malan once put it); that we were in bed with Communists and that we were part of the revolutionary onslaught against South Africa.

25 In 1988, following a successful court action against the defence force and a stand made by 143 conscripts who collectively announced their refusal to serve, the ECC was formally banned and became operative again only after the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations.

8 See Cathra, G. et al, 1994, War and Resistance, Macmillan.
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