CAPE TOWN July 23 1997 - SAPA

CONSCRIPTS TELL TRUTH COMMISSION ABOUT SUFFERING

Conscientious objectors were humiliated, victimised and made the target of dirty tricks when they refused to serve in the SA Defence Force during the apartheid years, the Truth Commission heard on Wednesday.

Some former objectors battled to hold back tears as they recounted their experiences at a special Truth Commission hearing on conscription in Cape Town.

One of them, Dr Ivan Toms, who served nine months in Pollsmoor prison after rejecting a 1987 call-up, said a defence force "dirty tricks brigade" based in Cape Town's Castle had put up mass-produced posters about him in city streets.

Toms, who is gay, said one of them read: "Toms Aids test positive", which was not true, and another: "Ivan Toms dumped by lover Graham Perlman", which was true.

Pollsmoor authorities had refused to recognise him and other objectors as political prisoners, and had put him with a psychotic prisoner who tried to rape him in a bathroom, he said.

Cape Town computer programmer Tim Ledgerwood told the hearing that he went AWOL after beginning his "traumatic" national service in 1980, and tried to cross the border to make contact with the African National Congress in Botswana.

He was arrested in South Africa and tortured by members of the Zeerust branch of the security police.

"I remember very few details, except the screaming. I was 19 years old at the time," he said.

He remembered being marched, handcuffed and wearing only a police blanket, down the main street of Zeerust to the magistrate's office to sign a confession in which his interrogators had insisted he include the statement that he was prepared to kill his own parents in the name of the struggle.

It was only now, at the age of 36 and with the help of a Vietnam veterans counsellor via the internet and the TRC itself, that he had begun addressing the emotional damage of that experience.

"The silence is ending. It is as if we are waking up from a long, bad nightmare," he said.

Laurie Nathan, a former national organiser of the End Conscription Campaign, which was banned in 1988, said it was important to acknowledge the bravery and suffering of objectors who went into exile or were imprisoned for their beliefs.

"Nevertheless, we do not regard ourselves as heroes. We did what we did because we saw no alternative. And we certainly do not regard ourselves as victims - whatever hardships we endured, they were small compared with life experiences of black people and the brutal treatment meted out to black activists."

Nathan, who now heads the University of Cape Town's Centre for Conflict Resolution, said ECC activists were detained, put on a civil Co-operation Bureau hit list, and had their homes petrol-bombed and their cars tampered with.

Another former ECC member, Richard Steele, told the hearing how he was held in detention barracks for a year after refusing to do military service.

This was a way he could take responsibility for his background and the baggage of being white in South Africa and use that to strike directly at the heart of the apartheid government.

Earlier, former defence force chaplain, Dominee Neels du Plooy, said there had been an "unholy marriage" between the church and the military during the apartheid years.

Du Plooy, who spent 14 yeaeformed Church owed it to itself to give an account of its unconditional acceptance of and identification with the war effort during the "total onslaught" era.

Former defence force chief General Constand Viljoen turned down an invitation to attend the hearing, saying his presence would only give legitimacy to a one-sided programme which did not analyse the past honestly.

Organiser Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela said at the start of Wednesday's proceedings that she had wanted the submissions to reflect the views of those who were hurt as well as those who experienced conscription as rewarding.

However, those who had experienced the past in a positive way had tended to steer away from the Truth Commission and had set in motion a vicious cycle of self-exclusion, Gobodo-Madikizela said.


South African Press Association, 1997
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