15 May 2010

Concerning the right to refuse to kill

With its international network of pacifist organisations in 45 countries, War Resisters' International created International CO Day on the 15th of May to draw attention to the contemporary struggles of COs, as well as the danger of global trends of rising militarism. Each year, International CO Day focuses on the struggle of a different CO movement, and in 2010, the theme is ‘Gender and Militarism'. Despite being exempt from compulsory military service in South Africa, the role of women in the anti-conscription movement was significant.

Anti-conscription poster, issued by the ECC on International Women's Day

Poster reflecting the role of women in South Africa's anti-conscription movement, AL2446_1961, SAHA Poster Collection

Through the Defence Act of 1957, conscription first became a legal means of recruitment for the South African Defence Force (SADF). By the late 1970s, conscientious objection had become a genuine form of opposition against the apartheid state, as recruits defied call-ups to fight against South Africa's frontline states. COs and their families were supported with the establishment of the Conscientious Objectors Support Groups (COSG) in South Africa and the Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAWR) in both London and Amsterdam. This precipitated the establishment of the End Conscription Campaign in 1984, a platform for South Africans to take political action, on the basis of their right to conscience. In 1989, the global anti-war movement recognised their work by dedicating International CO Day to the South African anti-conscription movement.

Support and solidarity for COs remains important, especially at a time of global economic hardship and rising trends of state-sanctioned militarism. As Defense Minister Lindiwe Sisulu recently lauded the fact that business and the private sector had recently "woken up" to the value of military training, non-governmental organisations such as the Ceasefire Campaign have argued that the state's huge military expenditure is an unnecessary expense, denigrating the cause of poor people who should be benefiting from the absence of any "conceivable conventional military threat against South Africa."

Learn more about the work of the Ceasefire Campaign.

Anti-conscription poster, AL2446_0192, SAHA Poster Collection

Poster highlighting sentiments against South Africa's conscription laws. AL2446_0192, SAHA Poster Collection

Visit SAHA's virtual exhibition on the End Conscription Campaign (ECC).

SAHA collections related to conscientious objection

AL2564 :: The Five Freedoms Forum (FFF) Collection

The Five Freedoms Forum (FFF) was founded in 1986 as a coalition of organisations working towards a society defined by five fundamental freedoms: freedom from want, freedom of speech and association, freedom from fear, freedom from discrimination and, specific to South Africa's anti-conscription movement, freedom of conscience.

AL2612 :: The Ceasefire Campaign Collection

The Ceasefire Campaign was established in August 1993 at the 1993 Peace Festival organised by the End Conscription Campaign. It continues to work towards the demilitarisation of society, as well as the reduction and ultimate elimination of South Africa's arms industry, providing support and partnership to organisations with similar aims.

AL2922 :: The Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) Project Collection

The Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) Project, an initiative of the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR), functioned between 1999 and 2002. It aimed at understanding the creation, development and implementation of Apartheid-era CBW plans, as well as strengthening international efforts to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons.

Defence Amendment Bill (1983): Proposals for Conscientious Objection, AL2446_1896, SAHA Original Poster Collection