During the 1980s, when the apartheid government in South Africa deployed troops not only in Angola, but also in townships within its own borders, there was a brave group of people who said: “No, I refuse to be part of this”.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of that defiance, the End Conscription Campaign (ECC). It was celebrated this weekend with seminars, art exhibitions, films and a thanksgiving service at Spier wine estate, outside Stellenbosch.
The ECC was originally launched by a coalition of human rights, religious, women’s and students’ groups, including the Black Sash, the National Union of South African Students and the Young Progressives. According to an article in Die Burger of 31 October 2009, altogether 7589 young men failed to report for military service in 1985. Some were sent to jail for their refusal to comply to compulsory conscription.
Willemien Brummer reports in Die Burger that the ECC was always very creative, for instance tying yellow ribbons to trees – a symbol for calling troops home. The art exhibition at Spier is thus a fitting way to commemorate the campaign’s 25 years. Works of well-known artists such as Jane Alexander, Penny Siopis and William Kentridge are on display.
Gavin Young’s sculpture of a baby’s high chair with a gun in the tray, entitled “Botha’s Baby”, shows how South Africans were born into a society where aggression was institutionalised.
Compulsary conscription ended in South African in 1993, but a campaign for peace such as the ECC is still relevant if one takes into consideration that violence and the use of guns is still pervalent in this country.
Many other countries still have compulsory conscription, many are manufacturing deadly bombs and some have to deal with still live landmines, left behind after wars.
Eight photos of child soldiers confront you in the exhibition. This is still a reality in some countries.
Laurie Nathan, former ECC national organiser told Die Burger the weekend at Spier was a celebration of what they achieved, but also a chance to address contemporary issues.