n South African Journal on Human Rights - All these long-haired fairies should be forced to do their military training. Maybe they will become men'. The end conscription campaign, sexuality, citizenship and military conscription in apartheid South Africa : focus on sex and secrecy

Volume 20, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



Sexuality was articulated by the apartheid state as a means of disciplining the white population and marginalising white opponents of apartheid. As such, homophobia was a recurrent feature of political and legal discourse. The End Conscription Campaign (ECC) opposed compulsory conscription for all white men in the apartheid era South African Defence Force (SADF). Its challenge was a potentially radical and profoundly destabilising one and it articulated a competing definition of citizenship to that offered by the state. The pro- and anti-conscription discourse was inherently gendered and overtly sexualised and whilst the ECC offered alternative conceptions of bravery, honour, duty and male maturity to that of the state, the ECC found engaging with the state's homophobic attacks far more problematic. The South African government regularly associated men who objected to military service with effeminacy, cowardice and sexual 'deviance'. The case of Dr Ivan Toms, a gay objector who wished to cite his sexuality as a primary motivation for his objection, reveals the unwillingness of the ECC to engage in sexual politics. Using Shane Phelan's and Zygmunt Bauman's concept of friends, enemies and strangers, this paper investigates the construction of both white gay men and white people who opposed apartheid as 'strangers' and suggests that the deployment of homophobia by the state was a stigmatising discourse aimed at purging the ECC's political message from the public realm. In this context the ECC adopted an assimilatory discursive strategy, whereby they attempted to be 'respectable whites', negotiating over shared republican territory. However, the avoidance of issues of sexuality demonstrated by the Toms case also avoided engaging the homophobic discourse and the fundamental conflation of sexuality and citizenship in apartheid South Africa. The ECC thus circumscribed its radical and deconstructive political potential.

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