Informe sobre el país: South Africa

Ultima revisión: 10 Ago 1998
10 Ago 1998

1 Conscription

conscription does not exist

With the end of the system of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as the first chosen president of South Africa, conscription, which was for whites only, was abolished. From January 1994 onwards South Africa moved on to a fully professional army. This meant the merging of the 'white' South African Defence Force (SADF) and the army of the African National Congress (ANC), Umkhonto we Sizwe, into the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

The 8 May 1996 constitution, amended 11 October 1996, does not contain any provisions on conscription or conscientious objection. [7]

Because no new law on the armed forces has been passed, the SANDF voluntary military service system is still regulated by the amended 1957 Defence Act (Act no. 44). [7]


Enlistment in the SANDF is voluntary, for men and women. [8]

There are three categories of voluntary service - full career, up to 10 years, or up to 6 years. [9]

The minimum legal recruitment age is 17. [10]

Although service in the SANDF is rendered on a voluntary basis, this applies only up to the date of recruitment. After enlistment the service volunteered for becomes compulsory. According to the 1957 Defence Act, members who have rendered initial full-time service for a period of a year are still liable for their further service obligations to be rendered in the so called Part-Time Component. The service obligations after completion of the initial full-time training are compulsory. Although these service obligations are still in place in the present 1957 Defence Act, they are not enforced owing to a moratorium placed on prosecution for not responding to the call-ups, in effect since August 1994. [7]

2 Conscientious objection

The amended 1957 Defence Act contains a provision for conscientious objection in Section 72, A-I. [7]

But apparently this provision does not apply to those who have joined the SANDF on a voluntary basis. [7]

A proposal to include the right to conscientious objection to military service in the new 1996 constitution has been rejected. [6]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Desertion is punishable under the Military Discipline Code (MDC) which forms part of the 1957 Defence Act. [7]


Although the present 1957 Defence Act requires military service obligations after completion of the initial military training, these obligations are not enforced owing to an August 1994 moratorium placed on prosecution for not responding to the call-ups. [7]

But this moratorium does not apply to cases of absence without leave or desertion. [8]

5 History

The end of conscription coincided with the end of apartheid. During the apartheid era conscription existed for all white male citizens and various categories of non-citizens. From 1967 on, when all whites were conscripted, the number of resisters rose steadily. Most of them fled the country. Others, mainly Jehovah's Witnesses, faced long and repeated prison sentences. Up till 1978 non-combatant service was only possible for objectors of recognised religions by the tenets whereof its members may not participate in war. [1]

In 1978 3,123 refused to perform military service - 1,250 were ruled to have acceptable reasons and 284 were prosecuted. The other 1,589 had fled abroad or were in hiding. Of the 284 prosecuted, 110 were COs, half of them being Jehovah's Witnesses. This led to an amendment of the Defence Act and to a harsher punishment for draft evaders and COs. [1]

In the same year of 1978 the Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAWR) was formed by South African refugees in London. Its magazine 'Resister' became the leading magazine on South Africa's militarisation. In 1990, when the sentencing of COs in South Africa changed considerably, the majority of COSAWR decided to return to South Africa. [5]

The Conscientious Objector Support Group (COSG), an umbrella organisation, was formed in 1978. In 1982 263 COs were serving sentences in military detention barracks. In 1983 the Defence Act was amended providing for the first time a six-year substitute service outside the armed forces for COs. [2]

Members of various CO groups launched the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) in 1983. to oppose conscription in the service of apartheid. In 1985, after white troops were deployed in black townships, the amount of conscripts not responding to the call-ups increased by 500 percent. Thereafter the Government stopped publishing figures and clamped down on ECC. The ECC became a key force in the white anti-apartheid movement and had the support of a broad range of white organisations. Not only did they suggest participation in community development projects as a constructive alternative to military service, the ECC simply opposed any military conscription in their 'Declaration to end conscription'. [2] [1]

As manpower was 'the greatest constraint' on defense politics, the government made serious plans to expand conscription to white females and blacks. On a very small scale blacks were recruited into the armed forces from 1975 onwards. In 1978 blacks, Indians and coloureds comprised 2.5 percent of the SADF. It is likely that the only purpose of giving limited political rights to Indians and coloureds in the new 1983 constitution was to be able to subject them to conscription. [1]

As South Africa only recognised COs belonging to peace churches, and the government was internationally condemned for its system of apartheid, the United Nations in 1978 adopted a resolution that urged South Africa to recognise the right of all persons to refuse service in military forces that were used to enforce apartheid, and at the same time urging other governments to grant asylum to those COs. In a 1980 resolution, the UN even called upon South African youth not to enlist in the SADF. [1]

On 24 August 1993 Minister of Defence Kobie Coetsee announced the end of conscription. In 1994 there would be no more call-ups for the one-year initial training. But although conscription was suspended it was not entirely abandoned. Indeed in January 1994 for the first time there was no call-up for initial training, but at the same time conscripts who had already undergone training could be subject to "camp" call-ups. Actually "camp" call-ups reached record proportions over the period of the April 1994 elections, and for the first time in history the ECC called on conscripts to consider these call-ups to be different from previous call-ups. Until the August 1994 moratorium on prosecutions for not responding to call-ups, several of those who did not respond to "camp" call-ups were fined. [3] [4]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 79,440 troops - 0.18 percent of the population. [9]

According to the South African government the SANDF is made up of 75,000 regulars and 51,000 part-time force reserves. [10]


[1] Berat, L. 1989. 'Conscientious Objection in South Africa, Governmental Paranoia and the Law of Conscription', in: Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, vol. 22, nr. 1. [2] Moskos, C.C., J.W. Chambers II 1993. The New Conscientious Objection, from sacred to secular resistance. Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford. [3] South African newspapers (The Citizen, The Natal Mercury, Business Day), 25 August 1993. [4] COSG 1994. The situation regarding C.O. in the "New South Africa" of 1994. (Report to the International Conscientious Objectors Meeting 1994). COSG, Kengray, South Africa. [5] Cawthra, G. et al. (ed.) 1994. War and resistance: Southern African reports, the struggle for Southern africa as documented by Resister magazine. Macmillan, London/Basingstoke, UK. [6] Steele, R. 1995. Presentation to constitutional assembly theme group 6.4 "Security apparatus". Conscientious Objector Support Group (COSG), Kengray, South Africa. [7] South African Embassy in the Netherlands 1996. Reply to a CONCODOC questionnaire, The Hague, 11 November 1996. [8] UN Commission on Human Rights 1997. The question of conscientious objection to military service, report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1995/83. United Nations, Geneva. [9] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [10] Permanent mission of South Africa to the United Nations 1998. Letter to the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva, 15 January 1998.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: South Africa

06 Ene 2021

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Richard Steele, from South Africa, was imprisoned three times in the 1980s for his anti-apartheid activism. During that decade he was caretaker of Phoenix Settlement, Gandhi’s original ashram outside Durban, then worked for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, also based in Durban. He was an activist in the End Conscription Campaign anddescribes this experience and his experience as a white man conscientiously objecting to the regime of apartheid.

On the 25th of February 1980 I was sentenced by a military court in Pretoria to 12 months in military prison for refusing to submit to compulsory military service. I was 23 years old, and had just finished a BA degree in Psychology and English, and a postgraduate teaching diploma at the University of Cape Town.

23 Mayo 2012

El pasado 27 de abril, el Comité de Evaluación de Defensa nombrado por la Ministra de Defensa y Veteranos Militares hizo público el borrador de su Informe de Evaluación de la Defensa. La última vez que Sudáfrica había elaborado un Informe del Estado de la Defensa fue a finales de los años noventa, en el contexto de una nueva administración democrática. Sin embargo, el resultado final de la evaluación llevada a cabo entre los años 1996 y 1998 decepcionó y comprometió a las organizaciones civiles que participaron en ella.

We have had a kind offer from an individual donor, who will match up to £5,000 of donations from others - so by supporting War Resisters' International today your donation is worth double!