The willing and the not so willing: conscription and resistance to compulsory military service in South Africa, 1968-1989

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    South Africa participated in two world wars without implementing compulsory military service. Following the Second World War, the Union Defence Force relied on the Active Citizen Force to supplement its manpower needs. Leaders of the ruling National Party, influenced by the Cold War psychosis, myopically believed that global conflict was defined by two ideologies in a deadly struggle for dominance, nationalism and communism. Apartheid advocates made a distinction between the white “us” and the black “them”; Christianity against barbarism; Marxism-Leninism against Christian- Nationalism. Maintaining Nationalist rule increasingly demanded manpower. Conscription for white men was a reality for twenty years, supplying conscripts for border duty and later for suppressing internal unrest. More than 500 000 served in the military, many of them in northern Namibia, Angola and South African townships. War resisters were monitored, ostracised, ridiculed, forced to emigrate or jailed. This contribution shares some thoughts on the issue, including moral objections to apartheid violence and the militarisation of South African society.