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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

End Conscription Campaign (ECC)

The End Conscription Campaign was established in 1983, after the Black Sash decided in July of that year to establish an organisation for conscientious objectors. The main aim of the ECC is the broadening of the rights of conscientious objectors, and the creation of a system of alternative military service without the element of punishment.

According to South African law, all white men over 18 must complete their military service either in the Defence Force or in the police. The initial period of 24 months was reduced to 12 months in 1990. Following their military service national servicemen become part of the Citizen Force and are obliged to do a further 720 days' service over a period of 12 years. After this, they may become part of the commando system. In recent years conscientious objectors (only religious reasons are accepted) have been given the opportunity to do six years' community service as an alternative to military service.

Because of the increasing involvement of the South African Defence Force in operations against South African resistance organisations within and outside the country in the mid-eighties, a growing number of young men began to rebel against national service. Most of them fled from South Africa to evade national service, while a minority were jailed after refusing to undergo military training. The ECC grew so rapidly that by the end of 1985 it had more than 4 000 members in seven branches. The organisation's growth area was English-speaking universities, but a growing influence was also visible at English-medium high schools. Attempts to organise on Afrikaans campuses were met with strong opposition from the authorities. At Stellenbosch University, for example, the organisation was forbidden the campus.

Although the End Conscription Campaign is an independent organisation, it has close ties with like-minded groups. Overlapping ECC and Nusas membership is common. There were no direct ties between the UDF and ECC, but numerous organisations such as the Johannes-burg Democratic Action Committee were affiliated to both. There is also close cooperation between the ECC and the Black Sash, the South African Council of Churches and individual church organisations. The ECC has limited ties with political parties, although it liaises closely with the youth wing of the DP (formerly the youth wing of the PFP).

Since its inception the ECC has aimed a large number of awareness projects at its target group. These have included a "cadets out" (protest against the cadet system at most white schools), and a "working for a just peace" protest campaign against the increasing militarization of society and the presence of troops in black town-ships. The organisation tackled community projects such as decorating hospital wards and old-age homes, and cleaning up parks. The aim of these projects is to illustrate the viability of community service as an alternative to military service.

The South African state saw the ECC as a threat in the mid-eighties. Campaigns were launched against it by the security services and their proxy institutions. In a court case in the Cape division of the Supreme Court, the Defence Force admitted that it had launched a covert campaign against the ECC in order to discredit it. The Defence Force held that these actions were "necessary military measures". The campaign included talks by servicemen at schools, and the dissemination of disinformation stressing the anti-South African nature of the ECC. Many of the ECC's office bearers were arrested. The Minister of Defence, General Magnus Malan, devoted his personal attention to the activities of the ECC, and in many speeches and statements accused it of subversive actions.

In 1989 the Defence Force appointed a committee to investigate alternative forms of military service. After a number of representations by the ECC to the committee, Malan, apparently finding the ECC suggestions unacceptable, broke off all communication. He also accused it of "threatening the security of the state". On 24 August 1989 the ECC was prohibited from pursuing its activities. But on 2 February 1990 it was one of the 33 organisations whose restrictions were lifted. Since then national service has been scaled down to 12 months; following further political developments there has been a more relaxed relationship between the state and the ECC. Some of the estimated 23 000 draft dodgers who left South Africa after 198o returned to the country in 1990. The ECC, however, alleges that the government's pursuance of its "whites only" military service system "makes its willingness to negotiate suspect".

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.