/ 5 April 1990

David Bruce says COs must ‘reassess’

Three very different political prisoners were released this week: a conscientious objector, the first white ANC guerrilla and a firebrand leader of the 1976 Soweto revolt.

  • David Bruce; 27, who has served 19 months for refusing to do military service, was released after a successful appeal against his six-year sentence
  • Eric Pelser, 25, who served four years of a seven- year sentence for undergoing ANC military training, was unconditionally released.  
  • Khotso Seathlolo, a former president of the Soweto Student’s Representative Council and the exiled South African Revolutionary Council, emerged after eight years of a 10-year sentence. 

Conscientious objector David Bruce, released on his own recognisance early this week pending the outcome of an appeal against his six-year sentence, says COs must reassess their role in a ”new South Africa”. And in a show of flexibility the End Conscription Campaign issued a statement this week recognising the need for South African Defence Force troops in Natal. While still seeing the deployment of the military in black townships as undesirable, the ECC sees the military as possibly the ”lesser of two evils” to control the violence in ”the grotesquely distorted political circumstances which exist in some areas of South Africa”. The organisation says an independent board should monitor the actions of the SADF, which should remain neutral and use minimum force. 

ECC member Chris de Villiers said this wee that if the SADF changed dramatically and were used in a ”respectable role”, the whole problem of conscientious objection would fall away. He said that in a post-apartheid South Africa alternative non-military service was a likely option. Bruce said that while he did not regret going to jail, he felt a responsibility to re evaluate his past stance in the light of ”significant developments which have taken place”. He was sentenced to prison on July 25 1988 and was the first conscientious objector to face -and be sentenced to – a six-year jail term. After serving 19 months of his sentence, Bruce, 27, is free. Yet he faces the possibility of prison again when he is re-sentenced on April 27. 

De Villiers said this week he would be surprised if Bruce went back to prison, as this would be a retrogres¬sive move on the part of the state, in the light of the recent decision taken the A al Court. De Villiers said this week he would be surprised if Bruce went back to p son, as this would be a retrogressive move on the part of the state in the light of the recent decision taken by the Appeal Court. 

Bruce, who seems healthy but thinner than he was before going into jail, says his release took him by surprise and he is still trying to orientate himself. He feels that by going to jail he, and other COs, challenged many assumptions about what it means to serve one’s country: ”It showed there were people who ere prepared to back up their objections to conscription by making sacrifices. I think it also gave many black people hope that there were some white South Africans who did not identify their own interests as those I secured through a racist political system.” 

The appeal of Ivan Toms, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for refusing to do a camp, was heard concurrently with Bruce’s. His sentence was reduced to nine months. Toms, who served two days short of nine months before being released on bail, was re-sentenced to nine months. His lawyers are seeking remission for the remaining two days.

Leader of 1976, ANC man free

Kotso Seathlolo, a former president of the Soweto Student’s Representative Council, and a key leader in the 1976 student uprising was released from Robben Island this week.
In a statement he condemned negotiations, calling them a trap devised by the De Klerk regime to quell the forces committed to overthrowing the state”.
Seathlolo is also the President of the South African Youth Revolutionary Council, an exiled black consciousness group committed to armed struggle.
He was captured in Soweto in December 1981 – at the home of former beauty queen Masabata Loate – and was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for recruitment and incitement to revolt. 

Seathlolo was greeted by black consciousness supporters when he arrived at Jan Smuts Airport yesterday.
Also released this week was Eric
Pelser, the first white ANC member convicted of treason and sentenced to seven years imprisonment in February 1986.
He was detained in 1985 after police found an AK-47, ammunition, banned books and LSD in his flat.
Pelser said this week that his only regret was ”being unable to fulfil what I was sent here to do”. He added that he felt political prisoners were being used as ”hostages in the negotiating process.”

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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