Assuming unfair moral superiority

2009-11-26 00:00

SEVERAL respondents to my article accused me of neglecting research regarding the End Conscription Campaign (ECC). I can only expect space to rebut some of their criticism. Perhaps I need to reiterate what should have been implicit, namely that I spent 1985 to 1989 as a full-time University of Cape Town student. I studied history courses to honours level during this period, besides languages and biblical studies. I had considerable opportunity to discuss contemporary political affairs with numerous fellow students, including those involved in the ECC. I wonder if Steve de Gruchy remembers the names of all the students he conversed with more than 20 years ago? Still on sources, just as important as my university career, unlike all the correspondents who attacked my article I also served in the SADF as a conscript — an important extra reference, which of course none of them can lay claim to. Regarding UCT experiences, my recollections of the attitudes and opinions of those who embraced the ECC’s ideals are entirely legitimate sources for a newspaper article. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard a very small grouping of South African Defence Force members’ stories, while leaning, as virtually all its commissioners did, so strongly towards the African National Congress. The TRC unfortunately had no interest in any historical interpretation which might have demonstrated that the SADF often acted appropriately during the civil conflict.

The revolting young woman I described existed, along with the incident when she voiced support for necklace murders. And my recollections of the student radicals in general, suggested she was not alone in holding such horrific opinions. I concede that many members of the ECC were appalled at such violence, but there were never loud (if any) condemnations by the organisation for the ANC and black criminal elements associated with this savagery. And here, the ECC was weak and at fault.

Further, regarding research, might I point Gavin Evans to verifiable sources where he will read that during the 1994 election, citizen force soldiers (ex- conscripts) formed the backbone of the SADF presence. His article included a surprisingly large historical ­error considering he is a doctoral graduate and experienced journalist.

I cannot see how any ex-ECC members can deny that they attributed the violence sweeping the country to the state ­security agencies alone and never publically implicated the ANC or criminal “comrades”.

Let me cite one example. Once, outside Crossroads, I viewed a police van in which a black policeman had died after a grenade had been thrown into it. Dried globules of the unfortunate man’s brains were still stuck to the front seat. No, I know the ECC never threw it, but whoever did was part of an organisation or cause about which the ECC was publically silent in any effective critique or condemnation. Some old ECC chaps have still not shaken off this delusion that good and evil were easily identified then and now, within trite “pro” and “anti-apartheid” groupings.

I recall virtually no friction between the army and township communities, in contrast to the police where a clearly observable poor relationship existed with the riot components. My article stressed that the presence of soldiers often restrained the police and for obvious reasons.

Richard Steele states how he was placed in detention barracks for refusing to do his military service and I have the deepest respect for his courage. But, as explained above, Steele certainly does not have the right to assume moral superiority above white men who complied with the law. For within the limited space available, my article pointed towards how complex the violence was during the eighties and how once this period is placed in historical context, it can show the necessity for the SADF’s presence in the townships. My critics were silent on this point.

The vast majority of men who served in the SADF pre- 1994 have nothing to be ashamed of or to apologise for. White, black and coloured men and women formed up the old SADF and like soldiers through history, they were pushed along by macro-forces beyond individual human agency. How simplistic and unreasonable De Gruchy, Steele and Evans are to place such judgmental demands upon their fellow citizens.


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