Empowering alternatives : a history of the conscientious objector support group's challenge to military service in South Africa.
Conscription of white males to the South African Defence Force between 1969 and 1994 was one of the measures used by the South African government to uphold apartheid and white supremacy. While it appeared that the majority of white males and their families supported the National Party propagated ideologies of the country at the time and felt it was their duty to render military service, there were some for whom this duty provided a conflict of conscience. Giving expression to this conflict and finding constructive ways of dealing with it was almost impossible within the highly restrictive, repressive political, legal and social climate of that time. Limited options seemed available to the young men who had objections to serving in the military, namely exile, evasion or deferment: personal choices that drove people into physical and emotional isolation, and which did not engage the state in the resolution of this conflict. Some young men, however, chose to confront the state and object openly. This began a protracted series of negotiations with ruling authorities, debates within state structures, legislative changes and prosecutions that attempted to prevent and quash the presence of objectors. In the face of this oppression, family and friends formed themselves into solidarity groups around individual objectors to support them in handling the consequences of their objection and in making their stance known and heeded by the government. And so began a movement for change, which over the years learned the skills of nonviolent direct action and constructively challenged the state on issues of conscription and the militarisation of society. This initiative, known as the Conscientious Objector Support Group, although small in scale, ranks as one of the anti-apartheid movements that contributed to South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy. As such it has invaluable lessons to share with movements for change throughout the world that are presently grappling with situations of human rights’ violations.