Compliance, compulsion and contest : aspects of military conscription in South Africa, 1952-1992

Callister, Graeme (2007-12)

Thesis (MA (History))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


From 1952 until the ending of apartheid in 1994, South Africa possessed a system of compulsory military service for white males. Until 1967, conscription was not universal and men were selected by ballot to attend military training. From 1967 onwards, all medically fit white South African males were obliged to perform national service, a service which from the mid 1970s often included tours of duty on the border of Angola and South African-occupied Namibia, and later tours of duty in Angola or within the townships of South Africa herself. This thesis looks at aspects of the public reactions to compulsory military service in white South Africa. It traces the evolution of anti-conscription sentiment amongst the white community, juxtaposed with the continued support for compulsory military service that was found in many quarters up until the end of apartheid. It makes a brief examination of the anti-conscription organisations that existed, most notably the End Conscription Campaign, analysing their impact on white society as well as discussing their limitations. The impacts of conscription are also considered, looking at some implications of compulsory military service for the men involved, for society as a whole, and for the Defence Force in which the conscripts served. A thorough examination is also made of the motivations that existed for young men to either acquiesce to or reject military service, taking into account the unique set of circumstances that prevailed in South Africa during the military service era. While South Africa during these years has no direct parallel anywhere else in the world, this thesis briefly discusses South African conscription in an international context, demonstrating, where relevant, the similarities and differences between the South African experience and those of other Western nations, such as Britain, France, Israel and the United States of America. While a reasonable amount of literature and other media exist pertaining to South African conscription, this thesis demonstrates how many of these works are unsatisfactory, and how the topic is in some respects becoming largely misunderstood in both academia and in wider society. The current existence of a number of false beliefs, or myths, about South African conscription is discussed, along with an assessment of how and why these myths were created.

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