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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 231

Paragraph Numbers 26 to 29

Volume 4

Chapter 8

Subsection 5


26 As is the case with other individual testimonies before the Commission, it is impossible to capture the complexity and richness of the various oral and written individual submissions on compulsory military service. This section provides only an illustration of the wide divergence of mainly negative experiences brought to the attention of the Commission.

Conscientious objectors

27 In his testimony to the Commission, Dr Ivan Toms made a useful distinction between what he described as ‘two waves’ of conscientious objectors. The ‘first wave’ began in the mid-1970s, when objections to conscription and the SADF were based primarily on religious grounds. The ‘second wave’ of objectors was linked to the ECC in the 1980s, and its objections were more explicitly political. The Commission heard testimonies from Mr Peter Moll and Mr Richard Steele, who represented the first wave, and from Dr Ivan Toms and Dr Laurie Nathan, who formed part of the second wave. The following extracts illustrate these points of view:

28 Mr Peter Moll said:

I became a conscientious objector in July 1976 at a conference held by the Students Christian Association on the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus. It was pointed out by Michael Cassidy of Africa Enterprise that the guerrillas of the ANC and SWAPO were young men like myself who wanted justice and an end to apartheid; thus the SADF was not fighting a foreign aggressor but was engaged in a civil war. The message struck home. I decided that it was no longer possible for me to go to military camps or to prepare for action in Namibia.
My motive was based upon general moral reasoning and Christian theological ethics. I was not a pacifist, although I had and still have great respect for pacifists. My objection was to the unjust nature of the war being conducted by the SADF inasmuch as it was in defence of white supremacy under the guise of protecting Christianity from Communism.

29 Dr Ivan Toms said:

I started this clinic in Crossroads from nothing. We built it with builder’s rubble ... and some of my friends from the End Conscription Campaign started to help us. There, experientially, one saw what apartheid was all about. So my resistance to apartheid and to the army was not something from a book or from some intellectual view of life; it was experiential.
Perhaps just to raise one specific experience that led me to publicly refuse to serve in the SADF. In September 1983, we had a situation where many women and children came down to join their husbands in Crossroads. It was not a political thing; it was about being part of a family. And they were making these little structures of branches that they cut from the forests with black plastic over them. As we all know, September is the Cape Town winter so it was raining a lot. And for three weeks, day in and day out, the security forces - the riot police - came in their Casspirs [armoured personnel carriers]. They’d bring camouflaged Casspirs and, in their dark green, light green camouflage uniforms, [would] rip down these structures, pull the plastics and branches to a spot and burn them in front of everybody...
Then one Friday, after three weeks of this, some of the women held on to the branches and to the riot police that constituted a riot. And they used teargas, rubber bullets (which, I don’t know if you know, are six inches long and about an inch and a half in diameter of solid rubber) and police dogs to quell the riot, and we were having to treat the results of that. So we had kids with severe respiratory distress from the teargas, people with dog bites. I remember one time having to go out and see a mother who had a twenty-four hour old baby that was left in the rain because her structure had been torn down.
And a reporter asked me, “Does this make any difference to you”? I no ways could I from that point on ever put on that SADF uniform again. Because you see, to the kids and to the people in Crossroads, those riot police in camouflage uniforms were the Amajoni; they were the soldiers. And to put on that uniform would be to identify with those Amajoni who had actually been oppressing the very community that I served.
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