Old war objectors celebrate

White men and women who opposed apartheid military conscription are set to reunite for some protest music while sharing their stories with South Africa’s born-free generation.

The Spier Estate in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, might seem a little too posh for some old members of the struggle, but that’s where the former End Conscription Campaign (ECC) protagonists will meet at the end of this month for some retrospection.

The ECC, comprising a range of political and religious movements, was launched in Cape Town in October 1984 in opposition to compulsory military call-up for white South African men.

Back then, at least two years in the army was the least of the privileges of being a first-class citizen. Refusing the call-up meant imprisonment, fleeing into exile or keeping a low profile at home. The ECC was banned by 1988 and compulsory military conscription was scrapped in 1993 as South Africa stood at democracy’s door.

Justin Hardcastle, chairman of the ECC reunion organising committee, which will hold its event this weekend, says the idea bloomed from a thought to “have a get-together of old comrades and activists”.

“People asked whether it’s worthwhile having an event that just looks backward. It was important to see how those values would have relevance in the society we find ourselves in at the moment. It has turned out to be a series of events,” says Hardcastle.

Regional events have been held in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Activities culminate at the Spier event to be opened by ANC top suit Trevor Manuel. Hardcastle says they’ve invited Manuel as he “also spoke on our platforms” back in the 1980s.

The ECC’s three-day public event opens with fine art, protest poster and photographic exhibitions. Films will also be screened throughout the weekend.

Seminars and conversations with ECC lobbyists will engage youngsters invited from across Cape Town. One seminar, “The Right to Say No”, will offer “global perspectives on conscience and war resistance”. Its panel will include army objectors from the United States, Eritrea and Israel.

Young musicians and actors will also perform. The main concert will be headlined by Bright Blue, the band that produced anti-apartheid music and was part of the ECC.

Its original members — Dan Heymann, Ian Cohen, Peter Cohen, Robin Levetan and Tom Fox — will play together again at this event for the first time in 23 years.

Freshlyground and The Rudimentals will join them on stage. A “thanksgiving” will close the song, dance and nostalgia on day three.

The ECC retrospect happens at Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, from October 30 to November 1. For info visit www.ecc25.org

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