To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the launch of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), the South African History Archive (SAHA) has developed this virtual exhibition to document how this campaign provided a voice for young white South Africans opposed to an increasingly militant apartheid state.
The ECC was launched in 1984 as a widely publicised radical collective of activists and conscientious objectors opposed to the application of the Defence Act (1957) in 1967, compelling all white South African men to serve a minimum of two years in the South African Defence Force (SADF). Tens of thousands of prospective conscripts opposed being forced into cross-border raids in South-West Africa (Namibia), Angola - and particularly their deployment in segregated townships.
The ECC thus provided a platform for white South Africans to take a united political stand around an issue that directly affected them. The ECC was fundamentally an anti-war movement, but the fact of its existence during the turbulent 1980s linked it to the broader anti-apartheid resistance movement. The strength of the ECC was disproportionate to the number of its members. This reflected how far-reaching its support base was in the white community, particularly amongst conscientious objectors, whose refusal to serve was founded on both ethical and ideological reasons.
The energy of the ECC is exemplified in the poster art showcased in this virtual exhibition. SAHA's poster collection is made up of creative and didactic works largely designed and illustrated by unknown ECC members and supporters, students and community members. It is hoped that this virtual exhibition will do justice to the flurry of creativity inspired by their cause, and that it will stimulate a growing knowledge about the role of the ECC in opposing the apartheid regime, and more generally, about the dangers of state militarism.
Ending conscription remains central to global struggles for justice. From 1 to 12 October 2009, three Israeli conscientious objectors, members of the Shministim, travelled South Africa as guests of the ECC and Open Shuhada Street (OSS). Their presence has demonstrated that the spirit of the ECC extends beyond the restrictions of the society within which it was created, and, mostly, that there is always a hope for peaceful change and human rights for all, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles may seem.
If you know of materials or collections that would complement this exhibition or if you would like more information about this project, please contact SAHA.