The largest act of terrorism in Johannesburg’s history – a lesson learned?

The bomb that went off in downtown Johannesburg on 24th April 1994 was (and still is) regarded as the largest act of bombing terrorism in Johannesburg’s history’.  It was part of a bombing spree focussed mainly around Johannesburg which left 21 people dead and over 100 people with injuries between April 24 and April 27, 1994. The worst and most deadly campaign of terrorist bombings in the history of the city. But few would recognise it as such – why?

40145570_2234076593487993_1794000100008132608_o

Bree Street bomb aftermath Johannesburg – 1994

Earlier in the ‘Struggle’ for democracy in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC)’ bombed a SAAF office target located in the Nedbank Plaza on 20th May 1983 in Pretoria, which was prematurely triggered on Church Street killing 19 and injuring 217 – mostly civilians. This bomb is regarded as ‘the largest act of bombing terrorism in Pretoria’s history’, it’s annually remembered in stoic disgrace by the SADF veterans and victims and celebrated unabashed in public by the ANC and their MK veterans organisation.

So why does this bomb in Bree Street and its related bombing spree in Johannesburg not receive the same nation-wide annual recognition, social reaction and all the indignation that comes with it?  By all accounts the bombs in Johannesburg were placed with as much animosity and intent as the Pretoria bomb, the Bree Street bomb in downtown Johannesburg alone caused massive devastation and carried with it the same conviction and hatred to kill both the targets and innocent civilians alike on an epic and indiscriminate scale.  This act of terrorism remains the single biggest event of its kind that Johannesburg has ever experienced, before or since  – yet there is a general public conviction to just forget about it – and generally speaking that’s exactly what has happened over time.  Why?

Simply put, because it was not the ANC who did it, it’s not really part of the ‘Black’ freedom struggle and the attacks had nothing to do with the ‘Apartheid’ state trying to remain in power – in fact it had more to with the Apartheid State trying to vote itself out of power.  It also did not involve MK and the ‘struggle heroes’ fighting against these acts of terrorism and insurgents to secure the path to democracy in any way whatsoever, instead it involved the statutory forces of the SAP and the SADF fighting against this insurgency. This particular ‘terrorist’ organisation was on its own ‘struggle’ mission for recognition and liberty of its people – it was the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), part of the ‘Boere’ (white farmer) community – and who really cares for them in today’s South Africa?  Well, … we should.

This insurgent bombing campaign, the in’s and out’s of it is not even fully understood today, and it can safely be said that most of South Africa’s new generation (Born Free) are generally oblivious of this armed insurgency campaign and just how close the country came to all out war on this particular front.  The inconvenient truth in this campaign is that this particular percipient to ‘all out war’ in South Africa did not come from the ‘Black’ liberation movements, it came from a ‘White’ supremacy movement. In the lead up to the elections, the period from 1990 to 1994, this particular organisation, the AWB – was more of a threat to the old ‘white’ government and its statutory forces (SADF and SAP) than any of the black ‘Liberation Movements’ could ever aspire to, and that’s a fact.

bombing

Downtown Johannesburg after the AWB Bree Street blast

So, with the ‘neo-Nazi’ AWB show-boating and its old leader Eugène Terre’Blanche now all but gone from the public eye and with the illusion of a ‘rainbow nation’ now starting to unbundle in South Africa with the ‘land debate’ we can now remove the rose-tinted glasses – and let’s have a proper look at this AWB led pre-1994 election campaign and really understand it.  When reviewing it let’s really understand just how violent it was, and let’s also especially look at the ‘resolve’ of this movement’s ability to resort to deadly armed resistance for their ‘freedom,’ protection of their culture and their sense of ‘volk’.

Prelude 

In the lead up to the 1994 elections and over the period of the CODESA and other peace negotiations starting in 1990, the far right-wing was involved in various forms of political protest, much of it violent. In 1990, following FW de Klerk’s speech unbanning the ANC and other political organisations, members of the Conservative Party (CP) threatened mass demonstrations and strike action led mainly by Afrikaner whites.

Starting from February 1990, some 2,000 odd AWB and Boerestaat Party members marched to protest the unbanning of the ANC, 5,000 AWB supporters marched in Klerksdorp. The largest demonstration was held on 26 May 1990 when approximately 50,000 protesters gathered at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria and were urged to fight to restore what the government had ‘unjustly given away’. In 1991 farmers blockaded the city of Pretoria.

1978902_10152242649431480_1182899123_n

Realising these peaceful actions were side-lined in the greater scheme of the advance to a negotiated South African settlement, and that the demand for a ‘Boere-staat’ – a free state or ‘homeland’ of Afrikaner autonomy for the ‘Boere’ (white farmers) within South Africa was not going to materialise in any meaningful way – the protest actions became far more sinister and deadly as factions within the right-wing took on a much more organised and orchestrated form of armed and very violent struggle.  ‘Land’ and the securing of the future of white owned farm land became the central concern and rally point for armed resistance.

The AWB formalised para-military units and weapons training bases and programs, they even began stockpiling weapons and explosives.

The turning point

awb-medal_slag-van-ventersdorp_9augustus1991On the 9th August 1991 things came to a head in what would become known as ‘The Battle of Ventersdorp’. The National Party’s meeting in Ventersdorp was violently disrupted by the AWB, and this event brought the South African Police and AWB into head-long conflict. South Africa’s Defence and Police structures and personnel now had to deal with this added, rather violent, dynamic to an already feuding and violent ethnic and political landscape.

Of concern to the ANC and the National Party was where ‘loyalty’ lay in the SAP and SADF and whether white members of the statuary forces would side with the far right-wing and enact a coup d’etat (armed overthrow of the government) and derail the peace negotiations.

This ‘loyalty’ issue was quickly cleared up as is shown in this iconic image by Ian Berry, as white South African Policemen clashed with white AWB members.  It proved a deadly clash, in all thee AWB members and one passer-by were killed. In addition 6 policemen, 13 AWB members and 29 by-standing civilians were injured.

383405_168212136681860_907175053_n
It was also clear to many in the AWB that this was now going to become an armed struggle against the country’s statutory forces, the AWB now had its first ‘martyrs’ to their struggle and even issued ‘Battle of Ventersdorp’ pins as a sort of medal to be worn with pride by members who participated in the ‘battle’.

Attacks leading up to the AWB Election Bombings

In the lead up to the Battle of Ventersdorp and the pre-election Johannesburg bombings the Human Rights Commission reported that various far right-wing clashes and attacks around the country had resulted in the deaths of twenty-six people and the injury of 138. More than 33% of these attacks took place in the PWV (Gauteng) area, although the largest number of fatalities occurred in the Orange Free State and Natal.

The Human Rights Commission also noted a number attacks in the 1990’s carried out by the right-wing in ‘Western Transvaal’ area (which began as an epicentre of their armed operations). These started as random assaults motivated primarily by racism but gradually became more coordinated attacks – especially around issues of land ownership.

One such coordinated attack in the Western Transvaal was a prelude to using planted bombs as method of attack, when a non-racial private school in Klerksdorp was bombed with no fatalities and only building damage.  The AWB member responsible – Johan de Wet Strydom later applied and received amnesty for it from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Later, the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park where the CODESA negotiations were taking place was violently occupied by armed members of the right-wing Afrikaner Freedom Front (AVF) and AWB on the 23rd June 1993, fortunately with no fatalities and injuries.  The invasion started  with a AVF peaceful protest outside – even festive, with families in attendance and braai’s set up. However, the mood changed for the worse when members of Eugene Terre’Blanche’s personal bodyguard wing, the Ystergarde (Iron Guard) began rocking cars; and many were carrying firearms and other weapons.

AWB WTC

Eugene Terre’Blanche and his personal bodyguard at the World Trade Centre CODESA protest

A ‘Viper’ armoured vehicle was then used to crash through the glass windows of the World Trade Centre allowing supporters, carrying firearms and chanting “AWB”, to invade the premises. The AWB and other Right Wing political groupings occupied the building listing demands and courting media interviews and then peacefully left it.  However this action was foreboding of more violent things to come.

On the 12th December 1993, 9 AWB members murdered 6 black people and assaulted more when they set up a ‘false’ road block – allegedly to search vehicles at Radora Crossing on the Krugersdorp – Ventersdorp Road. The people murdered admitted they were ANC members when questioned under duress and then they were shot and left in a ditch.

Then, on the 11th March 1994 the Bophuthatswana crisis erupted and the AWB saw an opportunity for a coalition with Lucas Mangope in his quest to keep the region independent of South Africa and to boycott the 1994 elections.  Violent protests immediately broke out following President Mangope’s announcement on March 7 that Bophuthatswana would boycott the South African general elections. These escalated into a civil service strike and a mutiny in the local armed forces – the Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF) which was led and reinforced by 4,500 Volksfront members, a mutiny which was further complicated by the arrival of armed columns of 600 AWB members, arriving in Bophuthatswana ostensibly seeking to preserve the Mangope government and support the Volksfront Commando members in leading the Bophuthatswana Defence Force’s coup d’etat.

The Bophuthatswana Defence Force mutineers where not happy with arrival of AWB and Eugene Terre’Blanche specifically as it was going to complicate their cause and insisted that the AWB leave. Whilst negotiating their departure several civilians were injured by AWB forces, who fired upon looters taking advantage of the chaos and passerby alike. The predominantly black Bophuthatswana Defence Force, agitated by their superiors’ inability to control the white gunmen, threatened to attack both of the Afrikaner militias.

In a filthy mood, the AWB pulled out of Bophuthatswana, and driving recklessly through Mafikeng and downtown Mmabatho, some AWB fighters continued to shoot black citizens in the street, killing at least two. Crowds of angry Bophuthatswana residents, eventually moved to block the convoy’s way. An AWB member with an automatic weapon fired several rounds over their heads to disperse the human roadblock.

The single most memorable and publicised event of the conflict was the killing of three wounded AWB members who were shot dead at point-blank range in front of journalists by a Bophuthatswana Police Constable named Ontlametse Menyatsoe.

awb bop2

Three wounded AWB members surrender before they were executed in front of the world’s media by Ontlametse Menyatsoe

AWB Colonel Alwyn Wolfaardt, AWB General Nicolaas Fourie and AWB Veldkornet Jacobus Stephanus Uys were driving a blue Mercedes at the end of convoy of AWB vehicles that had been firing into roadside houses. Members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force returned fire injuring all the occupants. They surrended and pleaded for their lives in front of the world’s media and cameramen, when suddenly Menyatsoe, in a bitter rage, shot the three wounded men dead at point blank range with a R4 assault rifle.

The chaos lasted for about four days and the South African Defence Force (SADF) responded by deposing of President Mangope and restoring order in Mafikeng on the 12th March 1994.  In all the Volksfront lost one man killed, the AWB suffered 4 killed and 3 wounded and the BDF lost 50 killed and 285 wounded (reference TRC hearings).

14232044_10154300917766480_7673657759369558407_o

SADF members round up looters in Mafikeng during the attempted BDF uprising in 1994 and bring peace to the streets

The killing of the three AWB men execution style in front of the media and the violent attempted mutiny was significant.  In the AWB case it drove home to members just what a hard road resisting the 1994 elections was going to be, and in the case of Bophuthatswana, which now makes up most of the ‘North West Province’ this mutiny and power struggle in 1994 is very much still the underpinning reason behind all the current violence South Africa is experiencing in this province in 2018.

The AWB 1994 Election Bombing Campaign

The 1994 elections were scheduled to start on the 27th April 1994 and would last till the 29th April 1994. The AWB 1994 election bombing campaign began in earnest on the 14th April 1994 explosions at Sannieshof in the Western Transvaal involving ‘brother’ members of the Boere Weerstandsbeweging (BWB), this was followed by an explosion at the offices of the International Electoral Commission’s (IEC) at Bloemfontein, a fire bombing at the Nylstroom telephone exchange on 22nd April 1994 and a further explosion at the Natref oil pipeline between Denysville and Viljoensdrif in the Northern Free State.

Then, as the election campaigning was ending, on Sunday the 24 April 1994 a AWB insurgent cell placed a very large car bomb which was planted in the Johannesburg city centre.  The Bree Street bomb was built into an Audi driven into place with the intention of targeting ‘Shell House’, the building which then housed the ANC’s head office. The car had been borrowed from a friend, an innocent Ventersdorp resident (who had in fact attempted to get his car back from the bombers on the day it was used for the bombing).

The thunderous blast of a 150 pounds of explosives set off at 09:50 am left a waist-deep crater in the street about midway between the national and regional headquarters of the African National Congress, shattered glass and building structures for blocks and lacerated scores of passers-by on the quiet Sunday streets and residents in the surrounding high-rise buildings.  It was the deadliest blast of its kind in South Africa since 1983.

40189912_2234076516821334_8751137281693188096_o

SADF Lance Corporal stands guard at the site of the Bree Street bombing as workers clean up

A total of 7 people were dead in Bree Street, mostly by-standers and civilians from all racial and ethnic groups, including Susan Keane, an ANC candidate for the provincial legislature in the Johannesburg region, who bled to death after the bomb concussion hit her car, which was stopped nearby.  In addition to Susan Keane, the dead included the following; Jostine Makho Buthelezi; Makomene Alfred Matsepane, Goodman Dumisani Ludidi, Gloria Thoko Fani, Peter Lester Malcolm Ryland and one unidentified man.

92 people in total were injured.  The only reason behind the low death toll is that the bomb went off (and was planned) for a Sunday when the streets were relatively empty. Even though it was a Sunday, members of the Army, SAP and especially SADF Medics quickly moved in to secure the bomb blast area and treat the wounded.

Note: the witness account in this CNN news insert of the car being searched by the Police before the blast was later found to be inaccurate by the TRC – another car had been searched.

The AWB bombing campaign continued at pace, the very next day on April 25 a bomb was placed in a trailer allegedly belonging to Eugene Terre’Blanche (the AWB later claimed it had lost the trailer during its disastrous Bophuthatswana campaign).  The Trailer was towed to Germiston where it was left and then detonated in Odendaal Street near the taxi rank at about 8.45am. Again civilian by-standers took the toll, 10 people were killed and over 100 injured.

The dead were identified as Piet Mashinini, Phillip Nelaphi Nkosi, Mbulawa Jonathan Skosana, Lucas Shemane Bokaba, Gloria Khoza, Fickson Mlala, Mbereyeni Maracus Siminza, Paul Etere Ontory, Thulani Buthelezi and Thoko Rose Sithole.

Again, members of the SADF, SAP and Medical Services quickly moved in to secure the bomb blast area and treat the wounded.

Later in the day on April 25 at 11.45am, a pipe bomb detonated at a taxi rank on the Westonaria-Carletonville road, injuring 5 people. Earlier, at about 7.45am, a pipe bomb went off at a taxi rank on the corner of Third and Park streets in Randfontein, injuring 6 people.

At 8.30pm on the same day, a pipe bomb attack at a restaurant on the corner of Bloed Street and 7th Avenue in Pretoria killed 3 and injured 4.  The dead were identified as Joyce Baloyi, Samuel Masemola and one man remains unidentified.

One bomb attack was foiled when AWB member Johannes Olivier, received his instructions and attempted to discharge a bomb in the district of Benoni and Boksburg. However, he was arrested before the bomb could be discharged after he was stopped and his car searched at a formal SAP/SADF roadblock.

The AWB bombing campaign was so impactful it prompted Nelson Mandela to placate the fears of a ‘white voters ahead of the elections by pleading to whites not to listen to the “prophets of doom” who predict a post-election orgy of black reprisal and property confiscation.  He said “Nothing is going to happen to the property of any family, black or white,” he vowed this before 100,000 of his supporters at an election rally dismissing the far right-wing’s claims that blacks were preparing to invade the homes of the white privileged.

1002208_205501559619584_386269910_n

Armed SADF guards a election booth behind razor wire in downtown Johannesburg, a newly enfranchised South African points the way to the booth

To prevent more bomb-blasts in Johannesburg’s city centre on the election day and the lead up to it, Johannesburg’s city centre was locked down by the SADF using reams of razor wire and armed guards.  The election booths themselves in the high density parts of the city became small fortresses with a heavy armed SADF presence, all done so people in the city centre could vote in the full knowlege they were safe to do so.

Then, just two short days later, on the Election Day itself, 27th April 1994 the final AWB election campaign attack came in the form of a car bomb at the then Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International).  The bomb was placed at this high-profile target so as to create fear on the Election Day itself.  The blast left the concourse outside the airport’s International Departures terminal damaged along with a number of parked vehicles on the concourse. Ten people were injured in this blast.  If the AWB was going to make an international statement on their objection to the 1994 Election Day itself, this was it.

q7n7xardubxlo366ilsg

Aftermath of the car bomb at Jan Smuts Airport – 27 April 1994

The Jan Smuts airport attack also shows that the AWB attacks over the election lead up and on the day itself were not strictly racially motivated as the injured ranged from across just about every race group in South Africa – completely indiscriminate, as bombs generally are, consider the ethnic names of the people injured – Mark Craig Mirion, Jo-Anne Des Fountain, Zacharia Monani, Walter Martin Peter, Frans Mlatlhela; Hendrik Lambert Pieterse, Percy Mosalakae Moshwetsi, Petrus Albertus Venter, Louis Stevens and Mathys Johannes van der Walt.

Oddly, the AWB did not take advantage and build on the public fear factor generated by the lead up bombing campaign or the Jan Smuts Airport bombing on the Election Day itself – they did not leverage the ‘terrorism’ aspect and in so failed to undermine the legitimacy of the election by forcing people to stay away from the polling stations for fear of being blown up. During the entire election bombing campaign AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche denied all involvement in the campaign, for both himself and the AWB.  So the bombings were instead presented to the public by the media as some faceless unknown entity with a mild suspicion that it was the right-wing – just another chapter in the general violence people had become very accustomed to in South Africa.

40158595_2234076533487999_8402817847759208448_o

SADF members treat the injured after the Bree Street bombing in Johannesburg – April 1994

Without monopolising on the fear factor and without mobilising the AWB in full with all its para-military units and cells to create maximum social dissonance, the AWB instead allowed the ‘good news’ to dominate the election campaign and for the most part people were either totally unaware of the extent of danger they faced or it was just simply ignored.

Aftermath 

One key underpinning reason for the failure of the entire AWB anti-democracy campaign  was the failure of the AWB to connect with the majority of white people in South Africa, both English and Afrikaans speakers.  Their Neo-Nazi symbology and pro-Afrikaner Boer Republic rhetoric alienated the vast majority of English-speaking whites and alienated the Jewish community completely.

As to Afrikaners, the Neo-nazism appealed to a very small sect and whilst many may have quietly agreed with some of their antics in recognising Afrikaners in the transition to democracy, they did not fully support them when the cards were down.  No doubt the image of the three AWB men gunned down on live TV with such detached brutality in Bophuthatswana played a key role, as it honed in what dying for your country actually means.

255638_10151584467716480_1112184468_n

Prior to the 94 election, at a Right Wing AWB training camp near Wesselsbrom in the Orange Free State.1994. Copyright Ian Berry

Politically speaking the Afrikaner community fell into the plague of disunity which so dominates their history and did not stand as one.  Instead the road to democracy drove multiple fissions and fractions into the white Afrikaans community, and even the Afrikaner Armed Resistance movement with a singular and shared objective was fractious at best.  The vast majority of white Afrikaners were buoyed by the idea of the end of Apartheid, and followed FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela’s promises of a bright and healed future, one in which Nelson Mandela repeatedly guaranteed that their future, history, property and culture would be safe-guarded.

It followed that after the euphoria of the elections and with all the buoyed enthusiasm for a ‘Rainbow Nation’ the AWB election bombers were quickly fingered by their own and in a police swoop at the end of April, thirty-four right-wingers were arrested in connection with the wave of bomb blasts.

All of them were members of the AWB’s elite Ystergarde (Iron Guard). A ‘turned’ star witness for the state, was also a former Ystergarde (Iron Guard) lieutenant Jacob Koekemoer (a dynamite specialist), who revealed in court that he had manufactured three of the bombs used in the terror campaign—those used in the Jan Smuts, Bree Street and Germiston taxi rank attacks.

Later the Truth and Reconciliation Commission received amnesty applications from several people convicted for the explosions including the bombers themselves and other AWB members supporting their operations.

The AWB election bombers consisted of small cells made up of ten AWB men in all – Jan de Wet, Etienne Le Roux, Johannes Vlok, Johan Du Plessis, Abraham Fourie, Johannes Venter, Johannes Nel,  Petrus Steyn, Gerhartus Fourie and Johannes Olivier. All were given amnesty in December 1999 in the interests of national healing and on the basis that these bombings were part of a politically motivated campaign and part of a defined and structured non-statute para-military force in opposition to the government of the day (essentially putting them on the same footing as the MK applicants).

2774479

10 May 1999 Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) leader Eugene Terre’ Blanche speaking to the judge at a truth and reconciliation commission in Klerksdorp.

With growing evidence to the contrary during the TRC hearings, Eugene Terre’Blanche initially still denied any involvement in the bombing campaign, this prompted one of Terre’Blanche’s former bodyguards and convicted bomber Jan Adriaan Venter to describe his former leader as a coward who knew about the bomb campaign but got cold feet when the explosions started.  Eugene Terre’Blanche eventually responded in a fax letter to the TRC that his speeches at the time could have been interpreted by his followers as a call to war, later he changed tack again and took full responsibly and in another letter to the TRC he stated  “As political head of the AWB, I accept political and moral responsibility for the acts that have been committed.”

An inconvenient truth

The 1994 Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) election campaign bombing spree was basically swept aside in the bigger democratic and social events and news stories gripping South Africa, but this ‘white’ armed insurgency – although decades ago now – remains a foreboding warning to the path South Africa is currently on.

In April 1994, the vast majority of South Africans and all the media were generally swept into the euphoria of creating a ‘rainbow nation’ and the drive to the first fully democratic election evolving into a ‘miracle’ to give the odd bomb blast too much attention, It was ‘faceless’ bad news in a barrage of good news scoops so it did not make the mark it intended to do, the country in the vast majority was steaming to a new epoch, with or without the ‘far-right’ and their related ideological parties and movements.

Different story entirely for the SADF members tasked with defending this ‘miracle’ surge towards democracy in April 1994 and who were deployed to protect the election booths, strategic installations and even the election process itself.  For the mainly ‘white’ SADF conscripts who, with conscription all but ended, had now volunteered in their tens of thousands to usher in South Africa’s new democracy safely – and for them this AWB campaign, targeting the exact installations they were protecting – this particular armed insurgency was very big threat and a very big deal.

Featured Image -- 10316

SADF member escorts a 1994 general election ballot box under armed guard

These SADF ‘conscripts’ now turned volunteers stood at the sharp end of ushering the ‘New South Africa’ in extreme danger of their lives (not MK or any other Black liberation movement), and they did so willingly, proudly standing on the edge of creating significant historical change and were strong in the belief and convictions of securing an end to Apartheid and a lasting peace (at least that was what they felt then).

You would think in the country’s New Democratic epoch and majority of Black South Africans would be proud of the men and women of the SADF who put their lives on the line for their liberty and freedom, and honour them for the dangers they faced safely delivering the very instrument of democracy to them – the vote itself.  Sadly that is not the case, they care less – these are now the ‘Apartheid’ forces, to be vanquished and shamed.

Yet it still stands as an inconvenient truth that it was not the MK or the ‘Struggle heroes’ who in the end stood against the AWB campaign of armed violence and delivered the 1994 elections safely to the people,  there was not a ‘cadre’ in sight – instead the undisputed fact is that it was the SADF and SAP who delivered the country safely into its new epoch.

Therein lies one of the key reasons this pre-election AWB/far-right bombing campaign is seldom (if ever) referenced by the current government when honouring people who brought democracy to South Africa – because it would mean honouring the likes of ‘white’ SADF conscripts, and that just doesn’t hold well in their misconstrued historical rhetoric of ‘the struggle’ for an open democracy and the path taken to achieve it.

Thanks for Nothing!

So how do the SADF (and SAP) veterans feel about it now?  Broadly there are two groups of  SADF veterans who were conscripted under the ‘whites only’ National Service program.  The first group is the group who fought in the South West African/Angolan Border War and did ‘township duty’ under the State of Emergency declarations – they completed their military obligations whilst legally obliged to do so and no more.

Then there is a second group, these are the SADF veterans who continued with obligatory military service or as volunteers after 1990.  The year 1990 is pivotal because in that year the National Party officially scrapped the legal pillars of Apartheid, thus ending ‘Grand Apartheid,’ unbanned the ANC and released Nelson Mandela.  With ‘Grand Apartheid’ gone, this group of SADF conscripts continued their military service whilst ‘white’ conscription was constitutionally unbundling and they volunteered to continue with military commitments to steer the country to the 1994 elections.  This group also literally put their lives on the line in a period which is singularly regarded as the most violent period in South Africa’s history.

1012019_188775031292237_1060298211_n

SADF member guards the bomb site at Jan Smuts Airport – 27 April 1994

The group of post 1990 SADF conscripts and volunteers were so important that the CODESA negotiators – including Nelson Mandela and Cyril Rampaposa – engaged them to accompany the SADF Permanent Force members in quelling the right-wing up-rising and BDF mutiny in the future North West Province.  They were again called in to replace the failed ‘Peace Force’ to stop the spiralling violence between IFP and ANC members – a rampage of Black on Black killing and a type of ‘terrorism’ on such a level it even makes the AWB bombing campaign pale into insignificance in terms of the numbers left dead.  They were again engaged by IEC and the CODESA steering group to actually guard the 1994 election process itself against all those bent on violently disrupting it – which turned out to be the AWB.

Do they want to be thanked for it? The answer is NO. They saw it as their duty to their country. Do they want recognition for it? The answer – not necessarily, they are soldiers first and foremost – but it would be NICE if someone did.  Nelson Mandela was extremely thankful to these ‘white’ SADF volunteers, he knew what their voluntary contribution to defend the country from the likes of the AWB meant.  He made it a point to stop and thank these men personally whenever he could on the Election Day.

1424299_233794253456981_124886967_n

Nelson Mandela taking time out to thank SADF members on his Election Day campaign – 27 April 1994

Does the modern-day ANC follow the example of Mandela in the treatment of these veterans now? The answer is – NO. In fact they are marginalised, vanquished, shamed and disgraced by the ANC and media, repeateldy and unrepentently. The current President Cyril Ramaposa is very aware of this contribution to democracy by these SADF veterans (in fact he called on them in their most urgent time of need) and he conveniently overlooks them now for the sake of his own political expediency.

Instead Cyril Ramaposa has capitulated to calls for the expropriation of white owned farmland and capital without compensation – a notion that has been put forward by black Far Left radicals touting a revolutionist history trying to re-write the truth, and it’s a notion that may bring the ANC and Cyril Ramaposa into full confrontation with the majority of South Africa’s white population.  It’s also a notion that has released spiralling and complete social dissonance amongst millions of landless and poverty ridden Black South Africans.  Poverty brought on by the ANC themselves as they took the country’s unemployment from 10 million in 1994 to 30 million in 2018, and failed to address the land issue as it was outlined in the constitution, instead they illegally enriched their own political class in the process and left the poor behind, allowing poverty levels to rise.

From 1990 to 1994, these SADF veterans were convinced by the country’s leadership, the CODESA team and by Nelson Mandela that the future was bright for white South Africans – it drove them to put their lives on the line for it.

During the CODESA negotiations the ANC undertook to preserve white Afrikaans and English culture, they vowed that statues and historical landmarks would not be changed unnecessarily, and when it was to be done it would be ‘neutral’ – a case in point was the AWB bombed Jan Smuts airport which was initially changed to ‘Johannesburg International’ – everybody happy.  They vowed that white owned Capital and Land would be protected and where historical redress was sought the land-owners would be properly and fairly compensated.  They enshrined the ‘willing seller willing buyer’ clause into the constitution and they enshrined the basic Human Right of all South Africans to own private property anywhere in the Republic.  This part on land, is literally the ‘Price of Peace’ – if it is removed the very basis on which peace was struck in South Africa will be moot.

10301066_285523358284070_1581298985586601884_n

SADF member stands guard at an election booth 27 April 1994, a group of newly enfranchised South Africans wait to vote.

The sad truth is these veterans have seen all these promises gradually been broken over time and their very culture, history and land come under violent threat.  So will they lend their considerable military experience to the state again if it finds itself in trouble when the likes of the AWB armed uprising experienced in 1994 occurs once again? The sad answer is properly not. In fact a large number would proberbly side with the right-wingers this time around and lend their military experience to them instead.

A lesson from history

There is a lesson in this to the growing social dissonance in South Africa in 2018 as unemployed and landless people target ‘white’ capital and ‘white’ farms for expropriation without compensation.  The new and up surging need for current Black radical South Africans to re-start the ‘Struggle’ and ‘finish what Mandela could not’ should take a lesson from history, and this particular AWB ‘white liberation’ movement is it, and it has not ‘gone away,’ it lurks dangerously below the surface – even to this day.

There is an uneasy truth, due to cuts and skills drainage the SANDF is a mere shadow of its former self, both in terms of operating strength and military intelligence.  It will never be in the same position the SADF was in to quell a committed militant terrorist campaign, such was the type of insurgent campaign engaged by the AWB from 1990 to 1994.

The inconvenient truth is that the AWB were a threat in 1994 that was quickly quelled because of good Military and Police Intelligence, a strong and highly disciplined battle order by SADF troops and the SAP and the lack of public resolve of the majority of white Afrikaners (and English) to support the AWB.

Finally, there is an another uneasy truth lurking, either the AWB and/or a more palatable group comprising a more modern manifestation of the ‘struggle’ for Afrikaner recognition, can easily become a threat again. Only this time, because ‘white owned’ Land and Capital is now under open threat in terms of ‘appropriation without compensation’ and due to the growing sense of desperation ahead of mounting animosity towards the country’s white farmers and Afrikaners as a racial minority in general – things can (and will) become even more dangerous and far more deadly than they were in 1994.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Observation Post links

SADF and the 1994 election: Conveniently ignored ‘Heroes of the struggle for Democracy’ … the ‘old’ SADF

Conscription in the SADF: Conscription in the SADF and the ‘End Conscription Campaign’

Bomb blast image at Jan Smuts Airport copyright Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times.  Videos obtained from YouTube in the public domain. Battle of Ventersdorp and training camp image copyright Ian Berry. Mafikeng photo of SADF troops rounding looters up copyright to Greg Marinovich  Image photograph of SADF member escorting ballot copyright Paul Weinberg

References include Truth and Reconciliation Commission transcripts and published public notices. the Mail and Guardian and BBC articles.

1994 The fight for Freedom … continued.

On the 27th April 1994 we saw the first fully democratic election in South Africa’s history and this picture taken in 1994 says everything. Here a group of former “old” SADF servicemen are seen in a Buffel armoured personnel carrier (APC) in front of Nelson Mandela’s 1994 electoral promises to newly enfranchised South Africans – “more Jobs, Peace and Freedom”.

During this period ex-conscript SADF soldiers, in collaboration with “permanent force” soldiers, all put themselves at risk securing the country and paving the way for the South African ‘miracle’. conscription by 1994 had been abandoned so they did this for the love of peace and freedom – and they volunteered freely in their thousands to do it.

Bear in mind the far right wing AWB was still bombing installations right up to the day before the election itself and extreme violence between IFP and ANC supporters was still rife, so much so that SADF servicemen had to provide armed escort of election ballots to the independent electoral commission counting stations and provide armed security at the booths themselves.  

From 1990 to 1994 South Africa saw more violence than the entire preceding period of actual “Apartheid”. There was extensive violence and thousands of deaths in the run-up to the first non-racial elections in South Africa in April 1994 – and to be fair it was not just the ANC , the violence was driven by a number of political parties left and right of the political spectrum as they jostled for political power in the power vacuum created by CODESA negotiations.

To deal with this escalation of all out political violence, the SADF called out for an urgent boost in resources, however conscription was unravelling and numbers dropping off rapidly from the “national service” pool.  Luckily however, tens of thousands of “white” ex National servicemen were now serving out “camp commitments” in various Citizen Force units, SADF Regiments and in the Regional Commando structures who heeded the call and volunteered to stay on – fully dedicated to serving the country above all else, and fully committed to keep the country on the peace process track and stop the country sliding into civil war.

This service to their country is now conveniently forgotten by the ANC government – as it is now an inconvenient truth to think ‘white’ South African conscripts also secured the country its ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’.  It simply does not fit with the current “struggle” rhetoric.

In the back-ground of this telling featured photograph is an old ANC poster with Nelson Mandela promising jobs and freedom to people who vote for ANC, however anyone with an understanding of economics knows it was an absurd thing for a political party to promise jobs to the masses in South Africa.   The economic sector makes jobs, not the political sector.  The political sector needs to enfranchise the economic sector as much as possible to allow it to generate wealth.

In 1994, the vast majority of South Africans remained upbeat about its new democracy – that the coalition government and ten year sunset clause would safely steer the country into representative politics, economic wealth generation and stability.

So, just over two decades years later with South Africa under ANC rule – spiralling unemployment, reverse racism, junk status and corruption on a epic level – the ruling elite is still promising the same absurd promise – More Jobs.  The idea now is to plunder state pensions and plunder ‘free’ enterprise ‘white’ capital (there is no such thing as ‘white capital’ really, but lets not dwell on facts), all done in the hopes it will somehow finance jobs for the masses and keep their voters happy.

To many of those optimistic soldiers in 1994, actively participating in making a world changing event a reality, the current state of affairs in South Africa is now as far removed from the lofty ideals of democracy and freedom that they fought for and put their lives on the line for.

Fortunately there are still many South Africans (and many of these veterans) who protect our highly prized constitution with its guaranteed freedoms and hold it in high regard, and we have a tenacity in-bred in ourselves as South Africans to make things happen – like paradigm shifts in our country’s future – its happened before and it can happen again.

Conscription in the SADF and the ‘End Conscription Campaign’

Overview of SADF’s role in military conscription in South Africa

The South African government, owing to a threat of United Nations actions in respect of South West Africa, initiated a citizen call up in 1964, to do this the SADF was tasked with the mobilisation of Citizen Force units called Ontvang/Reception depots (OVD/RCD) units around the country.  These Reception Depots, which fell under the Regional Command Structures had not been used since the Second World War, and they were re-activated, especially were they served areas of high population density.

Primary units, such as 15 RCD were activated on 29 April 1964, and its mandate was the highest population density region – the Witwatersrand (now Gauteng). When the United Nations intervention threat subsided, the Reception Depots were retained and from 1967 onwards they began to process the national service intake of recruits drawn from their receptive areas of responsibility.

Conscription in the SADF was tasked to the Personnel Services Corps, and operated by Reception Depots located  in the regional command structures. The role of Reception Depots included the issue of call up papers, checking the ‘called up’ recruit had indeed arrived, and then playing a public relations role at the mustering points around the country – once ‘called up’ the reception depots coordinated the movement of recruits to their various units of call up (usually by train convoy and later buses) and acted as security to see these convoys safely to their destinations.

The government policy of compulsory conscription preceding 1994 was exclusively for young ‘white’ South African men. Men of ‘black’ African heritage at the time were recruited on a voluntary basis and joined usually ethnically differentiated Battalions, an example been 21 Battalion which was primarily Zulu in its ethnic makeup. This led to a unique defence force which consisted of conscripted ‘whites’ and ‘black’ volunteers.

15 RCD

Members of 15 RCD undertaking a security inspection on new SADF ‘whites only’ conscripts, mustered at NASREC in Johannesburg cira 1988/89

White South African men prior to 1994 were expected to perform military service at regular intervals, starting with an extended conscript period which was extended to two years at its height. Conscripts were expected to join the SADF after leaving Secondary School, however many were granted deferment, for example to attend University and complete an undergraduate degree first, but very few ‘white’ young men were exempted from conscription for any reason other than being medically unfit. Valid reasons for exclusion of service included conscientious objection based on religious beliefs.

In response, as South Africa only recognised conscientious objectors belonging to peace churches, the United Nations in 1978 adopted a resolution that urged South Africa to recognise the right of all persons to refuse service in military forces used to enforce apartheid, and at the same time urged other governments to grant asylum to those refusing conscription.

1983 The End Conscription Campaign formed

The Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAWR) was founded by political exiles in London and Amsterdam in the late 1970s, this organisation preceded the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) and it provided refuge for conscientious objectors seeking political asylum and working with European anti-apartheid movements to impose sanctions.

COSAWR carried out extensive research on the South African military and debriefed ex-soldiers, providing clandestine structures of the ANC with intelligence that helped it to undermine the police and military from within.

In 1982, Cape Town lawyer Mike Evans, who co-founded the ECC as a UCT student, was helping another objector, Brett Myrdal, with his campaign as he toured the country, speaking at university campuses on conscientious objection.

In 1983, at the national conference the Black Sash ‘Conscientious Objectors Support Group (COSG) conference’, the women’s activist organisation passed a resolution calling for the end to conscription – thus providing the impetus for the ECC.

In terms of South African statue at the time it was illegal to persuade someone not to do military service but it was not illegal to call for an end to conscription. Military objectors used this loophole in the Defence Act saying that they wanted a choice as opposed to saying, ‘Don’t go to the army.’

From the 1983 Black Sash conference the ECC embarked on a year of branch-building and it was publicly launched at the Claremont Civic Centre in October 1984. The expressed statement of the ECC was that it was in protest against compulsory military service. As part of its expressed mission the ECC mobilised support for its campaigns, proposed service alternatives, supported conscientious objectors and provided a forum for the public with information on conscription and the alternatives.

Initially, it was an umbrella structure backed by 50 affiliate organisations but it quickly developed its own character. It rapidly grew by campaigning against conscription laws, the war in Angola, the troops in the townships and for voluntary forms of alternative service, setting up 13 branches around the country.

The ECC joined a growing group of known organisations like COSAWR but also religious organisations and student organisations such as the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) which were also engaged in anti-conscription activities. During the mid 80’s, ECC groupings were participating in a broad front of organisations including The United Democratic Front (UDF) which had become a ANC mouthpiece in light of its banning in South Africa.

Brett Myrdal’s Trial

In 1983, a high-profile ECC co-founder- Brett Myrdal, publicly refused his call-up and elected to stand trial, reasoning that 2 years sentence would have constituted the conscription period in any event.

However, in September 1983, three days before Myrdal’s trial started, the state increased prison sentences for objectors from two years to a mandatory six years. The ANC in exile felt that Brett Mydral was too useful to be ‘out of circulation’ sitting in jail and urged him to go into exile. He then joined Umkhonto weSizwe and went into exile to continue ECC activities abroad.

Objections against the Border War and Internal Peacekeeping Operations

Broadly, ECC members objected to military service and the war in Angola, their view was generally based on the role of the military and security forces in enforcing the policy of apartheid , the logic been that a ‘whites only call-up’ – which was ethnically differentiated, was at its essence naturally upholding an Apartheid philosophy.

From 1966 to 1990, Southern Africa and some of the frontline states i.e. countries bordering the republic including South West Africa (now Namibia), Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where all in some sort of civil turmoil against some sort of communist backed guerrilla war.

The SADF, at the request of the South African backed South West African government, maintained a presence in South West Africa, essentially to protect South West Africa (now Namibia) from armed insurrection and to stem the ‘communist tide’.  This resulted in the SADF engaged in a protracted conventional war against the MPLA, SWAPO (PLAN), Soviet ‘advisors’ and Cuban forces in Angola as well as PLAN insurgents in Namibia.

At this time a policy of ‘destabilisation’ of neighbouring states was initiated by the South African government to keep the conflict and insurgency away from South West African and South African borders. This also resulted in the South African government and military collaborating with Angolan UNITA forces and other anti communist movements in Southern Africa.

Aside from the SADF’s involvement in the ‘Border War’ or ‘Bush War’ as it also became to be known – which was a conventional war fighting a guerrilla insurgency for the most part, the SADF was called to ‘internal peacekeeping’ duties following a steady rise in internal conflict. This role increased somewhat after PW Botha, the then State President’s ‘Rubicon Speech’ in 1985, and the military became increasingly active in suppressing civil dissonance, unrest, armed insurgency and violence in South Africa’s ‘black’ townships – mainly in support of Police operations.

Now the ECC had a clear propaganda message – that the SADF was involved in the suppression of a popular uprising and not only in a conventional war suppressing communism.  No longer involved in a far way war, conscripts were now asked to “police” fellow South Africans – in essence it legitimized their standpoint in the eyes of the global media and the liberal South African media.

Those who refused conscript military service were subject to exclusion from their communities, primarily as the ‘white’ communities in South Africa recognized the very real threat of Communist ideologies – especially African socialism on the Capitalist economy and society they and their forefathers had worked hard to build in Africa. They only had to look north to Zimbabwe and other African states to see the consequences of land grab and capital grab reforms to give importance to sending their young men into the army.

Therefore, socialization of white South Africans during the 70’s and 80’s led to very real social barriers and chastisement and alienation by both immediate family and friends should military service be avoided. However, the internal conflict and ‘township duty’ did not sit well with many SADF leftist or liberal conscripts. Faced with little real choice some just simply failed to arrive at their citizen force units, embarked on perpetual ‘work’ or ‘study’ commitments and exclusions or got ‘lost in the system’ when it came to conscription based Commando or Citizen Force commitments.

Many other conscripts however saw this duty in a different light and where happy to get on with it – these men viewed it as protecting innocent civilians and loved ones from an increasing violent internal armed insurrection operating on a terrorist methodology.

1985 Troops out of the townships campaign

In 1985, the ECC held the “Troops out of the Townships” rally – mainly across ‘English’ speaking ‘university campuses with strong ‘white demographics’ and were successful in demonstrating the growing dissatisfaction with the government of the day.

The rally was preceded by a three-week fast by objectors Ivan Toms, Harold Winkler and Richard Steele. This high point for the ECC attracted thousands to its student rallies, and its propaganda material, including posters with slogans like “Wat soek jy in die townships troepie?” (translated – what business do you have in the townships troop?) aimed at conscripts now been tasked to police their fellow South Africans at home and no longer in a “war” in a foreign land.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-12-59

Conscription data

In 1985, It was announced in parliament that 7 589 conscripts failed to report for National Service in January 1985, as opposed to only 1 596 in the whole of 1984. As there were two intakes annually, in January and July, this would suggest a tenfold increase in non-reportees over the previous year. An estimated 7 000 “draft-dodgers” were also said to be living in Europe in 1985. Conscription levels were not reported in Parliament post 1985 so it is difficult to statistically prove one way or another.

This data may be slightly skewed in that in January 1985 and July 1985 were the first so-called “immigrant intakes” after the involuntary nationalisation of white immigrant men of a predetermined age group in November 1984. Although many of these men reported as part of their commitment to South African citizenship and serve their new country of adoption, it can be assumed that some of these men opted to return to their countries of origin rather than do military service. Since this opportunity was easily available to them because of their dual citizenship.

ECC Group registrations in opposition to call-ups

In 1987, a group of 23 conscientious objectors from the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, including Cameron Dugmore, then University of Cape Town Students Representative Council Chairperson and Jonathan Handler, South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) Chairperson, refused to do military service in the South African Defence Force. Handlers’ objection was based upon the notion of an “Unjust War” as opposed to the Pacifist position held by many Christian students.

In 1988, the ECC expanded its activities considerably and convinced 143 objectors to sign up and in 1989 the number had risen to 771, several of them SADF members. The register of objectors soon passed the 1 000 mark – which proved far too many for the state to charge (although three objectors were jailed during this period) and led the state to take a decision to ban the ECC.

1988 ECC banned

An effort had been made on the 15 June, 1988 for a negotiated settlement – when a meeting between the End Conscription Campaign and the SADF took place, with a main objective to discuss alternative national service. In August Minister of Defence, Magnus Malan broke off relations with the ECC.

The ECC was banned under the emergency regulations in 1988 and some of its members served with restriction orders, with the then Law and Order Minister, Adriaan Vlok, declaring that the ECC was part of the “revolutionary onslaught against South Africa”.

In a press statement Adriaan Vlok said: “The changes posed by the activities of the End Conscription Campaign to the safety of the public, the maintenance of public order and the termination of the State of Emergency, leave no other choice than to act against the ECC and to prohibit the organisation from continuing any activities or acts.”

Magnus Malan declared the country’s top three enemies to be the South African Communist party, the ANC and, in third place, the ECC. Magnus Malan, also went on to say “The End Conscription Campaign is a direct enemy of the SADF (South African Defence Force). It’s disgraceful that the SADF, but especially the country’s young people, the pride of the nation, should be subjected to the ECC’s propaganda, suspicion-sowing and misinformation.” To which the Army’s Major General, Jan van Loggerenberg, added: “The ECC has only one aim in mind and that is to break our moral and to eventually leave South Africa defenceless.”

Magnus Malan even went as far as to declare the ECC, “Just as much an enemy of the Defence Force as the African National Congress”. Adriaan Vlok described the ECC as, “The vanguard of those forces that are intent on wrecking the present dispensation and its renewal.”

The same month, an issue of an alternative newspaper, the Weekly Mail, was confiscated by security police, “on the grounds that it had covered, and therefore promoted, opposition to conscription.” News coverage included a cartoon, an advertisement from War Resisters International, and “a report on 143 men who stated they would never serve in the South African Defence Force.”

As a result of the banning of the ECC and confiscation of the Weekly Mail, protests at the University of Cape Town (UCT), WITS University, Rhodes University and other campuses were held. A crowd of 3000 UCT students marched on campus after a meeting condemning the banning.

1989 Conscription shortened

In 1989, conscription was reduced from two years to one year, and during the negotiations to end apartheid from 1990 to 1994, it was less rigorously enforced. A Kairos campaign against conscription was the defacto ‘1989 End Conscription Campaign’.

The banning of the ECC did not stop its campaigning momentum. During September 1989, thirty Stellenbosch conscientious objectors joined a group, now 771 strong of listed Conscientious Objectors nation-wide – publicly refusing to do military service. The National Registry of Conscientious Objectors was also launched at this time.

SADF Public Relations in Opposition to anti-SADF Propaganda

A consistent campaign was implemented by the South African Defence Force in opposition to anti-SADF propaganda for example, SADF magazines such as Paratus worked strongly to raise awareness of terrorism tactics as well as supporting a wholesome image of the SADF. Aside from a well oiled SADF Media Relations team, the Reception Depots involved with recruitment also interfaced with the public and around the country during the annual intakes in a positive manner. In the case of the Witwatersrand, the reception unit there embarked on a Public Relations role to show off the wholesome side of the SADF and this cumulated with pretty spectacular SADF shows at the annual call-ups at Nasrec in the late 80’s early 90’s.

Due to the high media interests in the Call Up – the Personnel Services function, The SADF media liaison officers and officer commanding reception depots also acted as media liaison and acted to counter-act media speculation or slander from groups such as the End Conscription Campaign. Reception depots and Commands also handed out SADF propaganda leaflets to families saying goodbye to conscripts at mustering points – painting a positive image of the SADF and conscription.

1990 – 1994 The end of conscription, outbreak of major hostilities and mobilisation of ex-conscripts as volunteers

During this period there was extensive violence and thousands of civilian deaths in the run-up to the first non-racial elections in South Africa in April 1994 – violence was driven by political parties left and right of the political spectrum as they jostled for political power in the power vacuum created by the removal of all Apartheid laws in 1990, the subsequent CODESA negotiations and the unbanning of the ANC.

The SADF called out for an urgent boost in resources, however conscription was unravelling and numbers dropping off rapidly from the “national service” pool – however, it was thousands of “white” ex National servicemen who were now serving “camp commitments” in various Citizen Force units, SADF Regiments and in the Regional Commando structures who heeded the call and volunteered to stay on – fully dedicated to serving the country above all else, and fully committed to keep the country on the peace process track and stop the country sliding into civil war.

In an odd sense, if you really think about it, these “white conscripts” are the real “heroes” that paved the way for peace. For four full years of political vacuum they literally risked their lives by getting into harms way between the various warring protagonists, left/right white/black – ANC, IFP, PAC and even the AWB – and it cannot be underestimated the degree to which they prevented an all out war from 1990 to 1994 whilst keeping the peace negotiations on track to a fully democratic settlement for South Africa.

In the lead-up to the elections in April 1994, On 24 August 1993 Minister of Defence Kobie Coetsee announced the end of conscription. In 1994 there would be no more call-ups for the one-year initial training. Although conscription was suspended it was not entirely abandoned, as the Citizen Force and Commando ‘camps’ system for fully trained conscripts remained place. Due to priorities facing the country, especially in stabilising the country ahead of the 1994 General Elections and the Peace Progress negotiations, the SADF still needed more troop strength to guard election booths, secure ballot box transit and secure key installations around the country during the election itself.

Again, the SADF called on its conscription and recruitment structure, and its reception depots – which – instead of mustering conscripts became involved in the mustering of the country’s reservists for the country’s first free election campaign in 1994. This was to boost experienced troop levels to maintain national security over this rather tumultuous period in South Africa’s history.

“Camp” call-ups and the call-up of ex-conscript SADF members on the National Reserve reached record proportions over the period of the April 1994 elections, and for the first time in history, in a strange twist of fate, the ECC called these conscripts to consider these “election” call-ups to be different from previous call-ups and attend to their military duties.   Even the ECC could see the necessity of security to deliver South Africa to democracy in this period – it was not going to come from the “liberation” movements or any “cadres” as they were part of the problem perpetuating the violent cycle in the power vacuum – it had to come from these SADF conscripts and  statutory force members committed to their primary role of serving the country (and not a political ideology or party).

This is an inconvenient truth – something kept away from the contemporary narrative of South Africa’s “Liberation” and “Struggle” – as it does not play to the current ANC political narrative. These men are now branded in sweeping statements now as “Apartheid Forces” – demonized and vanquished – whereas, in reality nothing can be further from the truth, South Africans today – whether they realise it or not, owe these “white” conscripts a deep debt of gratitude for their current democracy, civil rights and freedoms.

1994 Conscription moratorium

Until the August 1994 moratorium on prosecutions for not responding to call-ups, several of those who did not respond to “camp” call-ups were simply just fined. After the first multi-racial election in 1994, conscription has no longer applied in South Africa.

The SADF’s conscription based Reception Depots then focused their priority on the intake or drafting of all the former Umkhonto we Sizwe and The Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) members into the SADF.

Voluntary Military System (VMS) replaces the National Service System

In 1994 the newly formed SANDF redefined it’s Personnel Service’s functionality and called on the Reception Depots to manage the Voluntary Military Service (VMS) System which took its place.

Instead of handling the bi-annual serviceman intake of conscripted “white” South African young men, here 15 Reception Depot (15 OVD/RCD) personnel (now part of Gauteng Command) are mustering the first multi-racial military service volunteers.

14633130_649412185228517_8664174218813470843_o

The First ‘all race’ Voluntary Military Service (VMS) intake. A member of 15 RCD points the new recruits to a processing hall at NASREC Johannesburg.

The “VMS” i.e. Voluntary Military Service system was designed to replace the National Service system by screening and then calling up young men and women of all South African communities to do two years short service and then transfer them into the Citizen Force units and Regiments where they would be regularly called up for additional short service, replacing the “camps” system.

It was the forerunner of what is now the SANDF Reserve Force’s recruitment system and designed to equalise the odd racial balances that the Apartheid era “whites only” Conscript National Service had structured the SADF Reserve and Citizen Force into.

The VMS system ended around 2002 and has been replaced by direct recruitment by Reserve Force units, whilst the SANDF has continued with structured permanent force recruitment processes.

The Commands across the country no longer “intake” or “muster” recruits from their catchment zones – effectively putting the “Reception Depot” units in each Command on ice again (as they were after the 2nd World War) to be reactivated in the event South Africa ‘goes to war’ in any significant way again.

Psychiatric Facility – Admissions of Conscientious Objectors

In order to get out of conscription into the SADF, some conscripts allowed themselves to be labelled as mentally ill, sick, or incapable of carrying a weapon (this earned them a G5K5 discharge) A risk also existed that they would be admitted into one of South Africa’s psychiatric facilities. Instances of psychiatric abuse of conscripts who refused national service have also been recorded. The cases of conscripts who ended up in mental hospitals are in the process of being documented by groups such as MindFreedom International.

Convicted Conscientious Objectors

A small number – 14 conscientious objectors, set in the conviction that the SADF did not sit with their moral or political values, actually went to jail. However, although the number was small, the public nature of the trials were very strongly leveraged by anti-apartheid organisations (especially the ECC) – and generated strong media momentum with ‘liberal’ media inside South Africa and mainstream media outside South Africa.

Who they were, their stories and where they are now:

1. Anton Eberhard. In 1970, he did his national service; but when serving on a ‘camp’ seven years later had a life changing incident which changed his convictions and refused further service. Anton Eberhard was sentenced to 12 months, 10 of which were suspended. Now a research professor at the University of Cape Town’s business school.
2. Peter Moll – Sentenced to 18 months in 1979; served a year. Now a senior economist at the World Bank.
3. Richard Steele – was willing to do community service, but objected to military service, after been sentenced to a jail term he continued a disobedience campaign whilst in jail. His status was changed to an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Richard Steele Served a year in jail in 1980; now a homeopath.
4. Charles Yeats – who had been dodging the draft in London, was so inspired by Steele’s campaign that he returned to South Africa and refused to serve. Charles Yeats Served a year in detention barracks in 1981, then sentenced to a year in civilian prison for refusing to wear a uniform. He teaches at Durham University and advises corporations on their social, environmental and moral responsibilities. He wrote a book about his experiences.
5. Mike Viveiros – sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in 1982, served a year in Pretoria Central. Has been living in Taiwan since 2001 where he teaches English.
6. Neil Mitchell – served a year in 1982. A teacher, he works for the Catholics School Office.
7. Billy Paddock – served a year in 1982. Died in a road accident in the early 1990s.
8. Etienne Essery – served four months in 1983. Is writing a feature film script looking at South Africa in the Seventies and Eighties.
9. Pete Hathorn – sentenced to two years in 1983, served a year in Pollsmoor Prison. He is now an advocate.
10. Paul Dodson – sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in 1983. He died in a motorbike accident in the late 1980s.
11. David Bruce – jailed for six years in 1988. His case was made ‘high profile’ and leveraged by the ECC in both propaganda and media relations. Bruce was released in 1990 after an appeal arguing for a review of maximum jail penalties for objectors. His case for release also became a ground breaking legal case against the conscription laws and was carried in all mainstream media in South Africa and globally. He is now a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
12. Saul Batzofin served nine months of a 21-month sentence. Now an IT programme manager at Imperial College, London
13. Ivan Toms served nine months of a 21-month sentence imposed in 1988. In 2002 became Cape Town’s director of health, he was awarded the Order of the Baobab in 2006 in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to the struggle against apartheid and sexual discrimination” by the SANDF. He died from meningitis.
14. Charles Bester was jailed for six years after told a court that his religious beliefs taught him apartheid was evil, thereby blending religious objection with political conviction. The last objector to be jailed, he served 20 months of his sentence. He now runs a guesthouse in Plettenberg Bay.
Janet Cherry, although not a conscientious objector as such, set up and chaired the Port Elizabeth ECC branch, and she was detained in 1985; and again from 1986 to 1987; and again in 1988 before being put under house arrest in 1989.

The Impact of the ECC

Whatever way the ECC is looked at, either as a ‘freedom front against injustice’ or a ‘terrorist organisation’ bent on undermining the fighting capacity of a statute defence force, it did put pressure on the SADF’s conscription system.

Whilst statistically speaking it can be argued that given the ECC activities, and more so the conscientious objectors who were jailed – only 14, compared to the 600 000 plus men who were conscripted into the SADF – this figure seems insignificant. Also, the sharp drop off in called up conscripts in the early 1990’s can be attributed to a multitude of social changes in the context of the ANC’s unbanning, the fall of Soviet communism, the cessation of hostilities in Namibia and Angola and the end of the Border War. During the early 1990’s, the writing was clearly on the wall as to direction the country was taking, and ‘white’ South Africans were acutely aware that conscription based on racial lines would come to an end.

However after a decade of ECC propaganda, local and foreign media activities, high-profile legal cases, overturning of legal precedents and protests the ECC had contributed somewhat to making difficult for the state to enforce a conscription service based on ethnic differentiation. In addition to undermining conscription, its mere existence pressurised the state as it also created divisions in the broader ‘white’ community, especially the English-speaking community whose University’s were so heavily targeted by the ECC.

By far biggest impact of the ECC to the SADF’s war effort in Angola and the internal armed insurrections was the simple drain on resources – the significant funds and resources which were diverted in legal bids and Intelligence activities to counter act ECC activities – the vast amount of time, money and skills set aside to deal with what was in effect a very small but very vocal and belligerent “white” university student’s political lobby group. In this respect they did serve the goal of subversion of the state’s policies of the day and the SADF ahead of peaceful negotiations.

 


Article written and researched by Peter Dickens.

References:

South African History On-line, Wikipedia, 15 Reception Depot – Unit Role and Mandate, South African History Archive Collection, Mail and Guardian On Line, South African History Archive