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The End Conscription Campaign

"Young men who refuse to serve are faced with the choice of a life of exile or a possible six years in prison."

- ECC booklet, Stop the call up, 1985.

As militarisation intensified many young people, largely from the English-speaking universities and churches became increasingly unhappy with the system of compulsory military service. Between 1978 and 1982 twelve conscientious objectors refused to do their military service because of their political and religious beliefs. They were all imprisoned. Their courage and convictions stimulated the formation of a war resistance movement, which ultimately became the End Conscription Campaign (ECC).

The ECC aimed to build up pressure on the government to end conscription and to raise awareness and strengthen opposition against militarisation within the white community. By campaigning in the white community the ECC hoped to make an important contribution in the struggle against apartheid. It supported the UDF’s spirit of non-racialism but it never directly became a UDF affiliate 

The ECC carried out many campaigns within the white community to raise awareness and protest against the military actions of the South African Defence Force. One of its first campaigns was the ‘No War in Namibia’ Campaign, which was a protest against the SADF’s occupation of Namibia. In 1985, the ECC held a ‘Stop the Call-up Peace Festival’ where hundreds of activists spent three days in workshops, seminars and in a range of cultural events.

The ECC used unusual tactics to draw in support and raise awareness. They held rock concerts, fairs and anti-war poster exhibitions and produced stickers, T-shirts and pamphlets to distribute to a wide range of people. This gave rise to a popular anti-war culture. It also intensified resistance to conscription 

The ‘Troops Out of the Townships’ Campaign in 1985 was a response to the mobilisation of thousands of troops to occupy and police the townships. The campaign was centred around a number of conscientious objectors who went on a fast. Thousands of people from all walks of life visited the objectors and went on a 24-hour solidarity fast. The campaign united people of all races and showed that the ECC was a growing organisation that held a place in South African oppositional politics.

In 1986, the ECC launched the ‘Working for a Just Peace’ campaign, which called on the government to allow for community service to be extended to all conscientious objectors not just religious pacifists. It also called for meaningful community service rather than objectors working in government departments. To this end, ECC activists and supporters carried out community service in black communities around the country. The campaign drew overwhelming support with over 600 volunteers doing community service and over 6,000 people attending its public rallies. 

However, as the ECC grew in support, the government attempted to suppress its activities. It carried out a vicious smear campaign against the ECC in an attempt to show that it was unpatriotic and dangerous. ECC offices were raided and over 75 activists were detained while others were personally harassed or attacked. In 1988, the ECC became the first white organisation to be banned by the government. This in itself was recognition of how much of a threat the ECC posed to the government’s policy of militarisation and conscription.


Exhibitions in the classroom 


SOURCE: “Working for a just peace” Pamphlet, date unknown.

Read the text on the ECC in the booklet and look at the two photographs of an ECC concert on the panel.

  1. What kind of tactics did the ECC use to gain support to its cause?
  2. Do you think these were good ways of getting their message across or not? Explain your answer.


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