17 October 2009

End Conscription Campaign (ECC) Seminar - Johannesburg

On Sunday 25 October 2009, a seminar to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the End Conscription Campaign , entitled 'Remembering the Apartheid war and how it shaped our lives' will be held at WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.


Those of us who were in our youth in the 1980s experienced the period as one of conflict and war. The military was engaged in repression inside the country. The South African Defence Force destablised neighbouring countries that provided refuge to and hosted bases of the African National Congress (ANC). It invaded Angola to combat the South West African People’s Organisation. We lived in as highly miltarised society. Tens of thousands of young white men were drafted into the army to serve in these wars, as many as 15,000 went into exile to avoid conscription and others became invisible inside their own country, eluding the draft. These experiences shaped the destiny of an entire generation in profound ways.

In 1984 young activists founded the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) to campaign for the abolition of compulsory conscription, using innovative strategies and tapping into the youth culture and music of the time, to attract a huge, politically diverse following. In 1988 the government outlawed the ECC. In this period 13 conscientious objectors were jailed for their refusal to serve and more than 700 hundred publicly refused, before the failing National Party government introduced a moratorium on the draft in 1993. The Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAWR) was founded by political exiles in London and Amsterdam in the late 1970s, providing refuge for war resisters seeking political asylum and working with European anti-apartheid movements to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime. COSAWR carried out extensive research on the South African military and debriefed ex-servicemen, providing clandestine structures of the ANC with intelligence that helped it to undermine the police and military from within.

The ECC, COSAWR and the broader conscientious objectors movement provided a face to the professed non-racialism of the liberation struggle and provided an avenue for young white people to engage in opposition to apartheid. Resistance to conscription was seminal in helping to weaken the resolve of the state to pursue its Apartheid war and contributed to the advent of democracy. In this seminar we will reflect on the impact of the movement against conscription on apartheid, its contribution to the non-racialism of the struggles of the time and the role of white democrats in contemporary politics.

Date: Sunday, 25 October 2009 Venue: Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), 6th Floor Richard Ward Building, Main Campus, University of the Witwatersrand (adjoining Senate House)

Parking in the basement of Senate House, Jorissen Street, Braamfontein

14h00: Poetry reading

14h30 – 15h00:

Speakers: Laurie Nathan, executive member of the ECC on the history of the EC,  Gavin Cawthra, executive member of COSAWR on the history of COSAWR

15h00-15h30: Respondents: An ex-conscript Joe Ractcliffe (artist, who has worked with ex para-bats and recces), an ex-ANC combatant

15h30 – 17h00: Discussion from the floor

17h00: Introduction to the South Africa History Archive (SAHA) virtual exhibition on the ECC

17h00 onwards: Nostalgic Cocktail party