TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
SPECIAL SUBMISSION ON CONSCRIPTION
DATE: 23 JULY 1997
HELD AT: CAPE TOWN
CHAIRPERSON: There is just one person we are waiting for who is participating at the start of our programme. While we are waiting we will ask the two gentlemen who are engaged in conversation to please not do so because the proceedings are starting and we will also ask Dr Wendy Orr to do the housekeeping announcements.
DR ORR: I believe housekeeping is explaining how the translation equipment works. We have simultaneous translation available in three languages, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.
DR ORR EXPLAINS THE EQUIPMENT
CHAIRPERSON: I would like to make a few announcements about one or two people who are present with us today. When we were preparing for this meeting we invited people from the Defence Ministry and the Minister is held up in some engagements. Mr Ian Steyn was sent instead to represent the Ministry. Mr Ian Steyn is the advisor to the Minister and he is present today and we wish to welcome you.
Another person who is here today is Lt Colonel Botha who is also from the South African Defence Force. Welcome to you Sir, and he will be participating later on this afternoon.
I wish to welcome everybody and in particular those people who will be participating. I do not need to mention them because you will see them as they come up to the stage.
A few other people who are assisting us, Solly Terblanche, who has been helping us throughout our hearings with the sound. We wish to thank you Solly for your support and for your ready availability.
Also to our Interpreters who are here today. We are very pleased that we have been sent a very powerful team. Welcome to you Pakamai Ntchongwane who is going to be doing the English/Xhosa interpretation and the other way, and we are really glad to have you back. You have been doing impeccable interpretation in the past and we really missed you the past few weeks in some of our hearings.
Welcome to Larina Venter who will also be doing the interpretation and Brenda Burrough. Thank you also to you both for your excellent interpretation in the past. They will be joined later on by Nonkoli Seko Ntobela who is not yet here.
I'd like to say that this was an effort, a collective effort by a number of people within and without the Truth Commission. Machela Naidoo, who is heading the Logistics team has been very generous with her time in assisting in all the hearings but particularly in this one. She has almost singlehandedly handled and managed the logistics around this submission. Thank you also to people who are assisting her, particularly Elizabeth Cloete.
We would like to also thank the Research Department people, especially Chief Malizela, Nikki Rousseau and Wilhelm Verwoerd. Thank you very much for your unending commitment to making this a success, for all the documentation and for your advice in times of crisis. Thank you very much, we appreciate it.
There are other people who are not Commission people who assisted with this process at the very beginning. Among them I mention Mike Evens, Ivan Toms, Paula Gopen and Piet Gopen and Nick Boraine. I wish to mention those people as well as they helped when we started with this process.
We have here on the panel two lovely women and a very nice gentleman who is also a Predikant. Thank you very much to you first for coming here Piet and for always obliging when we request you to come. We are very honoured to have you here.
Dr Wendy Orr who many of you know, is the convenor of this region and she is also the Deputy Chair of the Reparations Committee. Thank you Wendy, and she is going to be on the panel. She is on my extreme right.
On my immediate right Mr Glenda Wildschut, who has been very supportive at all times and very willing to participate and assist whenever she is asked to. Thank you very much Glenda. Glenda is also a Commissioner and is a member of the Reparations Committee.
This meeting today is a product of sensitive and careful planning that involved consultation with various groups, both in government and outside of government as part of the Truth and Reconciliation mandate to understand the environment within which conflicts of the past occurred. These special submissions are an inquiry into the practice of conscription during the period under review. We hope to determine the range of experience among those affected by conscription and to develop recommendations to form part of the final reports.
The programme starts with critical submissions and we will allow limited input from the audience, followed by individual submissions. Some of these individual submissions will be summaries read by those on the panel. A few of these are submitted with a promise of anonymity. This category of people made their submissions voluntarily to the Commission but requested that their identity not be made public.
The programme will end with a discussion of the way forward and how best we can take this process forward constructively.
We were concerned that these special submissions should reflect diverse views, or both sides of the story of conscription, that is, those who were hurt by the experience of conscription and those who experienced their conscription experience as being rewarding.
It is possible to label the submissions today as evidence of bias on the part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One could even argue that this is a pattern in the Commission, with public events such as this one simply giving one perspective. While such claims are partially true they overlook other aspects. The kinds of statements that are submitted to the Commission come from people who are deeply hurt by the past. These are people who are looking for someone, somewhere to unburden themselves and to validate their experience of pain and hurt. People who reflect more favourably on the past have tended to steer away from the Commission setting in motion a vicious circle of self-exclusion and attack on the credibility of the Truth Commission.
The testimony of our past is at the heart of our work in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This includes a focus on what went wrong. What were the problem areas? To pull a cloak of oblivion over all that is painful and unpleasant we will be doing our history an injustice.
It is perhaps instructive like General Viljoen's comments on today's proceedings,
"The ANC during its submissions on abuses in the camps objected to what it called the Commission's focus on the bad aspects of the camps. Perhaps this symbolises the tension between truth and the need to forget, between secrecy and disclosure, but perhaps it is also testimony of just how difficult our navigation of our past is. Some people wish to forget, but they cannot. Others need to forget, maybe with different motives, and often succeed in doing so".
Today we are going to hear stories and critical submissions from people who are going to give us an overview of what it was like to be in conscription.
We are going to call upon Mr Jannie Gagiano to come forward please. And we just have seen Annette Seegers arriving. So very good timing Annette. Could you please come up on stage. Thank you.
DR ORR: Before we continue the Chairperson has very democratically or undemocratically failed to introduce herself so I will do that. Pumla has worked tirelessly and incredibly energetically and enthusiastically to allow today to happen and we are very grateful that she took this on as an issue. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela is a member of the Human Rights Violations Committee, and a psychologist by training and will be chairing the panel today.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Wendy. Welcome to you Annette, you are very welcome. Over to you Mr Gagiano.
POLITICAL & SOCIAL CONTEXT OF CONSCRIPTION
MR GAGIANO: You are giving me carte blanche to say what I please.
CHAIRPERSON: Not really. The limited ...(intervention)
MR GAGIANO: Oh for as long as I please.
CHAIRPERSON: Yes, yes, this particular session, presentation, is going to go on for about 25, your submissions will go on for about 25 minutes, and then we will allow a degree of interaction and that process will be managed by Chief Magizela. Thank you very much. Over to you Sir.
MR GAGIANO: Okay. I am not absolutely sure, that's why I asked a rather facetious question now, exactly what I can offer the Commission, but I can tell you what I've got.
I made a number of studies of the opinions of White students in the eighties on a number of issues which are interesting, I believe, to the Truth Commission, and what I can offer is simply, or what I can offer with any form of authority is based on the observations I made of the attitudes, the states of minds, the orientations, the views of White students in the eighties.
The last survey I made was with the support of ADDUCE, and that included all the so-called historically White universities in South Africa. We had a very good sample. I don't think anyone would want to undercut the validity of my observations on the basis of technical aspects, like the statistical representativeness of the sample and so, I think that is quite okay and you can accept that as okay, I think. It has been accepted in the more scientific community as okay. So it's based on that.
The story I want to tell you has to do with the mindset of the typical White conscriptee as that mindset was a reflection of the general view of the world that held in White communities at that time. It perhaps even holds in some White communities now.
The interest of the study that I undertook was to, at that stage, to look into the political culture of what was termed the "ruling group" in South Africa. That was why it was only extended to White students.
I want to make a further observation, and that is that students are a little bit more "verligt", a little bit more liberated, liberalised, if you want to, not liberated, liberalised, than the general peer group of people that would also be inducted into the army through the recruitment process. So the views that I am going to reflect to you here are the sort-of verligte, more enlightened sort of side of the spectrum. It gets even darker as you go down through the socio-economic strata. The Germans have a saying "Abitur macht liberal", which means basically "education makes you more liberal", and it can generally be accepted that that holds in this case as well.
I am going to tell you a little story that has to do with explaining the environment, the institutional and the societional environment in which a typical White recruitee would be "socialised" is the technical word we use for that, a sort-of getting a general political and other education which sets the mind to orientate itself towards the world in which it encounters others, and sets down the basic values of orientation and beliefs about the world in which politics is conducted.
So I want to kick off with telling you about the socialisation environment of students. Why I am doing this is because I want to explain to you that people are very much made by their environment and that if you want to get a fair picture of what drove people to commit themselves to being recruited into the military, fighting a sharp war on the border or being prepared and willing and available to act against fellow South Africans in the townships, for instance sitting on a casspir and throwing missiles or whatever else at their fellow South Africans, then one must at least try and understand it in terms of the socialisation experience in the community environment which gave shape to their attitudes and states of mind.
So let me start, I haven't got so much time, so let me start with giving you an idea of the type of socialisation environment in which White students found themselves and hence one can extend that to the typical recruit that would enter through conscription the military formations in the country.
I think I will start off my story with a little joke if you will allow that. You must stop me if my jokes get a little bit too risque. It's a story about two large insurance giants who wanted of course to set up an advertising campaign to sell their products and the first one started with the slogan, "We insure you from the cradle to the grave". The second one thought they have to top this one so they suggested the slogan, "We insure you from the womb to the tomb". And the third one had to get the upper hand again so they suggested the slogan, "We insure you from the erection to the resurrection".
Now I am telling that story to give you an idea of the way in which the type of socialisation environment in which White conscriptees found themselves at that time was a sort-of a totalising system. There was very little by way of which they could escape the influence, the effects, the socialisation, the mind-shaping effects of community of association like, of the type of institutions that penetrated the White community of the time.
I will give you some details of that by showing you a couple of what one can call the empirical features of that state of affairs. Very briefly you know this. I don't want to give you figures about that, but you know that to a large extent the Afrikaner, as a group, were largely committed in terms of their political loyalty to the National Party and Conservative Party. The English-speaking people largely to the Democratic Party and the National Party. The UDF and the ANC had less than 5% of support in student ranks at that time, and I am talking about a survey that was conducted in 1989.
So the picture I want to draw for you is one in which the mindset, the attitudes, the views, the ideologies that held in the ranks of the National Party, in the Democratic Party, in the Conservative Party were the type of values, views of the world that came through to the typical student, recruitee, that we are talking about.
Now the examples I want to give you very quickly is to show you the extent to which students, let's call them conscriptees in this case, because you are more interested in that than students, the way they adopted the political identification and views of their parents. If you were a National Party, member of the National Party as a student, as a recruitee, the chances that your father would also be a member of the National Party was about 80%. And similar percentages for Conservative Party and Democratic Party people. In other words what I want to show you is the extent to which the family environment shaped the party loyalty and identification of children. There's a continuity, right.
The same holds for mothers, even more so. The boy apparently takes more from his mother than his father in terms of loyalty, marginally more, but there is a little bit of support for that idea.
One can look at closest friends. On the question, who do you discuss politics the most with? About 70% of National Party members would say they speak about politics to National Party friends. In the case of the DP almost 80%. DP's speak to DP's. Nats speak to Nats. CP's speak to CP's more than to anyone else. The point I am trying to make is that people stay within a sort-of cocoon. They stay within a closed universe of intellectual and moral discourse which tends to - because I want to make this point as well, because of the critical mass, the numbers of people available, to find quite a fulfilling and complete political experience and political socialisation within a political mass where there are so many other people thinking and talking like that is quite fulfilling. You don't have a need to go very much beyond your group to find out more about politics. That is the type of environment I want to depict to you.
If you ask people, like I did, let's talk about this, whether they speak to any of their Black South African fellow students at the University, the numbers are negligible. In other words there was very little intercourse between White students and Black students about politics, about political relevant sort-of issues of the day. It was again an encapsulated environment even at the campuses where Black students were present there was very little intercourse between White and Black students. They would report less than 8% and that's the highest frequency of any form of discussion, contact, of a political nature with Black students. The point again is the level of encapsulation.
If one looks at another factor which shapes and influences political views of the world one can look at the media, both the electronic media and the printed media. Again if you look at the figures it's the same picture again. Afrikaners read Afrikaans newspapers. Almost, I can give you the figures, in the case of Afrikaans students, less than 13% or one is 13% read any English newspapers whatsoever. That's an example. You must look at your watch and tell me if I am giving you stuff you are not interested in. In the case of the English speaker less than 10% read anything that was printed in Afrikaans. If one looks at the newspapers that were associated with some aspects of what you might call the liberation movement ethos view of the world, that sort of ideological picture of the world, less than 3% of Afrikaners read for instance New Nation. Less than 15% read Vrye Weekblad. Less than 5% read the Weekly Mail and Guardian. Just to give you an idea. In other words again a closed universe.
You can say the information was available, you could have read about this, you could have known more about the world in which you lived, you could have understood the world better than you actually in the end did and which you perhaps, now that you see the world in a different light, might want to admit to, but the actual state of affairs was one of a fairly closed universe, of intercourse with the environment as it was interpreted through the media. And experiences and pictures of life was very much dependent on the way it was depicted by important authority sources. On the basis of, let me just make that observation, on the basis of the authority of the media.
Again and more so the Afrikaans speaking than English speaking students had a great reliance and trust in the type of information that came out of newspapers. You ask them do you trust the information coming out of newspapers, trust information coming out of television and more than 50% of Afrikaans-speaking students showed a very high trust and confidence in the printed and in the electronic media. In other words the way the SABC told the story reflected the nature of things. That's the truth, it's not just a story it is the way world works, you see. They didn't have the advantage of all sorts of philosophical training showing the hermeneutic sort-of mediation of all sorts of influences and depicting reality. So that was reality. That was the way the world works for them. I make this point to show you the closed universe.
Now what is my time. I have used about ten minutes haven't I, a little bit more. Now I want to show you the effects of that towards the State and its central institutions, the way the State and its central institutions were viewed, were accepted, were legitimised, were trusted by White recruitees at the time of this observation in 1989. I say this because of course the State was the institution that absorbed the recruitees and set them into fight informations in the situation today that you are interested. You are interested in probably the border war, you are interested in what happened in townships and so on and the type of experiences that recruitees had in those environments. So what was the mindset that brought them to be quite, and I would suggest quite happy, to do the job they were enjoined by the State to do, the type of deeds they were enjoined by the State to perform?
I will do this by briefly showing you their attitudes of acceptance, legitimisation, trust, sympathy towards State institutions on the one hand, and on the other hand what the major State ideologists at the time depicted as the enemy, largely the liberation movements and the centrepiece of the liberation movements, the ANC.
So by showing you what they thought of the State and by showing you what they thought of the ANC at the time, right, one can get a picture of how their minds worked, and from there to what extent they could legitimise to themselves the type of actions that requires quite a remarkable degree of sort-of fortitude and even exposure to personal brutality. To shoot another person, or shoot at another person is quite a sort-of heavy demand, it's not something you do just between breakfast and lunch in a normal life. So to bring yourself to that level requires a certain type of motivation which I just want to give you a brief outline of. I didn't particularly ask what motivates you to shoot people, but I can give you a rough idea of the attitude towards the central State institutions.
Now do you want me to tell you about the technical aspects about how I did the measurement? Not really. You just want the story. Some people would be interested in that.
The long and the short of it is that sympathy towards the State and what it stood for and what it wanted to preserve and protect and stabilise in South Africa was rather high amongst White students, especially of course high amongst Afrikaans speaking White students and much more obvious and to a greater extent the case than amongst English-speaking White students. Just on an index which shows sympathy towards what I call the "core State", that again on a technical basis could be identified as the central security apparatus, ideological apparatus and administrative apparatus of the State, just the attitudes towards those parts of the apparatus of the State was at the level of about 60% positive feeling towards what it represented, what it entailed, what it wanted to do, what it wanted to preserve at the time. Amongst Afrikaans-speaking students that went up to about 75%, English-speaking students the level was around 52%, just to give you an idea.
In other words a very positive attitude towards the main players that were institutionally part of the landscape, (...indistinct) the State, its authority, its legitimacy, one would say its moral authority to command and bring people to participate in acts of war, repression and so on towards what was then seen as the formations within the liberation movements.
Again by party you can break it down and again it will show that the extent to which that endorsement of the State occurred was of course one which corresponded roughly with the left-right spectrum in politics. The more you worked through the Conservative Party the more you supported what the State was doing and as you moved across towards in the direction of course the UDF the less of that was the case. It fitted perfectly in terms of a sort-of a conflict model and a polarised model of conflict in South Africa.
I can tell you, if this is interesting to you, that at the time of course the core State was supported by what I call the sort-of coopted structures which supplemented and acted as sort of auxiliary formations of the State - I am talking about the Homeland system, I am talking about the Tricameral Parliament and so on, those institutions also subscribed by the State and of course institutions that were fought tooth and nail by the liberation movements, and there were great attempts to de-legitimise those institutions had extensive support across the board especially in the more English-speaking sector. So you can say the English-speaking sector didn't support the core State because it was rather a sort-of Afrikaner state and that's why they weren't so enthusiastic about it. But they were much more enthusiastic about the auxiliary formations, about the Tricameral system, about the Homeland leaders, about the Homeland system, that the sort-of second tier type of fortifications that the core State in South Africa built around itself, to protect itself, to insulate itself from the ANC and the liberation movements.
A further important aspect which comes closer to the issues here is of course support for the security establishment. By that I mean support for the police, security police and the defence force. Now the remarkable thing about this is that they were the flavour of the month in terms of legitimacy, in terms of sympathy, in terms of support and in terms of public authority. The security establishment, the elements in the security establishment drew a much higher sympathy rating than for instance, say Parliament, or the State President or the SABC or any of the other elements in the State system at the time. They were really the people that had sympathy. In the case of Afrikaans speakers almost 80%, English speakers something like 45, 40% support.
So at the time the mindset was, I can imagine freely interpreting this, that the security establishment was doing a pretty good job fighting the war on the border and using the apparatus of the State to keep the townships and other points of conflict and volatility in check and subject to coercive social control.
I see Wilhelm is sort-of winking at me saying that my time is getting short, so I will show you another aspect of this quickly. I was also interested to see to what extent there was any type of support in student ranks at the time for the type of civil disobedience, popular mobilisation, strike action style of protest behaviour in the society. Students are sort-of, not notorious, if you like them, they are famous for being at the cutting edge of leading the people against all the injustices that emerge in society and the universities were places of conspicuous display of that type of action, especially the English-speaking campuses, so I was interested to see to what extent.
When the liberation movements started using that technique, libero-technique of mobilisation is one of the four pillars of struggle in the eighties, to what extent one could gauge support emerging or growing in the ranks of White students to support those type of initiatives, to cross over the great divide, so-to-speak, the great polarised antagonism in the society and fight for justice on the other side, so-to-speak if we want to. Now very low again.
I took a measurement of what you can call the protest potential of students on things like, will you join a boycott? Will you march? Will you stage some sort of sit-in? Will you join this, will you join that, which was part of the repertoire of action underwritten and promoted by the UDF at the time. Again very low. Right. In other words we don't do that sort of thing, that sort of thing is done by the enemy. We don't participate in that and we don't want to advance the fortunes of the enemy by giving them some sort of support along that line.
Protest potential, protest action has got a countervailing force, a counter-point. The State usually acts against it, it says we don't want that sort of thing and we know how sharp the State acted against that sort of activity all along the line. So you could also measure the extent to which people would endorse the State but it acted against those type of actions.
We build a little scale called a coercive potential scale, that was to what extent would you support the State, go only with the State, justify State action to repress a protest march, act in a coercive way towards a sit-in and all the different strikes and things like that which was part of the protest repertoire of the time?
Now this is rather remarkable as far as I am concerned. The high degree of support for coercive action by the State in the case of we've got a measurement that I've called repression potential, in other words the extent to which you would be prepared to support the State if it acted in that way towards - and really we are talking about the high eighties amongst the Afrikaans-speaking students in supporting that type of action. We are talking about the 60% level, 65% level when we talk about the English-speaking White students. So to put it bluntly and brutally and perhaps not very sensitively, give them hell! Right, that was the idea.
There's a threat here, there's some sort of disruptive type of force mounted against the stability of the State, the community as we know it, against the sort of political cosmology that we prefer and we know that God is on our side in any case, so let's use the State to stabilise the situation.
Perhaps lastly, attitudes towards liberation movements. What did you think of the liberation movements? Legitimacy, liberation movements coming to power. The type of question we asked was, how would you feel about and what would your reaction be if the ANC, PAC and other liberation movements came to power? Again not a very - or a picture that displays the extent of antagonism, the extent of polarisation and the intolerance, if you want to, towards the political advancement of the programmes of the liberation movements.
I've got figures here which sort-of, the question that is asked is, what is your response to say an ANC government coming to power in South Africa? The answer categories:
I would welcome it;
would accept it;
would be uncertain about what it would entail; protest against it peacefully;
emigrate for political reasons, and
Now perhaps the "resist physically" is the interesting one. In the case of Afrikaans-speakers about 45% said that they would resist physically; 31% said that they would emigrate and 12% that they would protest against it peacefully. Now if you mount it up there isn't very much left for the other categories. 1,1% would welcome it.
The English-speaking side is a little bit more favourable. 57% would go for the what you might call, the negative options, go away, especially the English-speaking, they are the immigrators, you know the old "Pack for Perth" phenomenon that was discussed in the eighties quite a bit, when it gets a bit tough between the main players in politics well, what the hell let's go out of here, it's not worth staying, and that is reflected also in the greater endorsement of that option on the part of the English-speaking.
So the picture I want to put to you is one of a community of people, very well organised within the associational and institutional forms in the White community and especially in the core of the White community in terms of the conflict, namely the Afrikaner community. An almost totalised, insulated world of socialisation which made it very hard for people to shape an independent view of the world, and to really reconsider the moral premises of their commitment to participate in the type of activities that the State required of them and of course compelled them to perform, because as we know conscription was a compulsory system. You had to go one way or the other, whatever misgivings you might have had.
My suggestion is that the misgivings that people might have had can be exaggerated if one only looks at those people who now say that they felt sorry for what they did. There were a lot of people there who felt sorry - that's my view, sorry for what they did at all, they thought they were doing the King and Country, defending against the evil empire and their surrogates type of job in South Africa. I've got a little item here which measures attitudes towards communism and the threat of communism, and it's tremendously high, communism was a big threat. I can show you the figures on that.
So that is the picture. A fairly closed universe of socialisation, shaping influences type of mentalities, views, motives, reality pictures and so on which must be, I think, considered if you want to get a fair picture of what drove and motivated people to do rather nasty things to other people, and especially because they were also a fellow South African. Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Mr Gagiano, you've raised very important and critical issues and issues that I think should be debated continuously if we want to shape a new ethos of morality in our country.
We will not open the debates to the audience at this stage until perhaps at a later stage, maybe after Mr Koen has spoken. We would like to try and preserve time.
So at this point we will ask Professor Seegers to respond please. Thank you.
PROF SEEGERS: Good morning, thank you very much.
I think we have about 10 or so minutes left on my calculation so I will confine myself to that time period. Like Jannie I mean I am interested in the empirical side first and like him I am quite concerned that if I draw any conclusions, particularly about what people thought I am perhaps even more cautious than he is in trying to find out what people think now or what people thought at that time. But I do believe that the starting place for researchers into, among other things, conscription now, should start with the empirical side, so solid figures.
In that regard the TRC has requested the SANDF nodal point to provide us with figures and we've not, I believe, received a response yet, so the figures that I am going to mention today I speak under correction. But until the nodal point gets back to us these, in my mind at least, stand.
I'd like to make about three or four points that I believe my research supports. I have not used other surveys and the like that Jannie makes. I think that in the first instance I think, not to belabour it, I think there's an analytical point that one has to make about conscription and that is that when you do research about it you are compelled to make a least a threefold distinction, in other words what happens to people at the point of entry into national service. What has happened to them already? And that would be suggested by the low rate of, it's very difficult to find evasion to national service, and that's not only for us. People don't reveal the reasons often why they do them, they are not given the opportunity to do that. But that's the first point. What has happened to people at the point of entry? What has already happened to them.
I think three elements here are important. I think in the first instance, and I think supported by Jannie's evidence is this attitude of parents are very, very critical, but not only parents but where the rest of your family is. What have your brothers done? What do your sisters think, and what does the rest of the family? And what has happened to them. And is somebody already doing something like this.
The second element that's important there is of course the high school, what has happened in the high school. Are you already doing national service by imitation, and I am referring to the cadet corp that was in operation, has been part of the South African Defence Act since 1912. And I think thirdly your employers, because I want to get back to that.
So I think the first analytical point to make is that one has to ask that question, what has already happened to you.
I think the second analytical point is what happens to you during national service, in other words from the day that you first arrived and from the day that you leave, that is important. I draw your attention to only one aspect and that is what happens to you literally on the first day, because on the first day the conscript would enter into legal or pseudo-legal contracts and agreements. You become expressly liable to a set of laws. ...(tape ends) I have tried to count them, but again I mean we wait for the nodal point to get back to us exactly on it. One point my calculation, personal calculation, was about between 23 and 30 legal contracts that you enter into. And that has weight, that would have weight for any person because any law is not something, particularly a law that is as old as 1912 is not something that, is just simply the making of the National Party, it's something that cuts much deeper than that.
Just one final comment about what happens to you during, and that is when does it end? An interesting thing, in my view, is that it doesn't end because National Service is something that is succeeded by a system of periodic camps, people get called up. Now you therefore remain liable to the same set of agreements that you entered into on the day that you started. So it is not really accurate I think empirically to say of national service in the sense that you often get it in other countries where it's one year, nine months, six months whatever, and it ends, it is something that is essentially your first experience of a lifelong, and as the conflict here progressed, particularly in the 1980's we know now how progressively older people got drawn into the system. So there was never an end really mentally, that one could see an end to national service. But that belongs in the second category. What happens to you during, during the category.
I think the third category is analytically for me, what happens when you leave, inasmuch as you do leave? I mean I am not sure that you do leave. And I think that the attitudes, and it's very difficult as I say to, and I do not know of a study that's been done about this, I know of some studies that the SADF did but they are classified, but I mention just three things.
I think that there are three attitudes. The one is there's an enormous amount of cynicism that was developed during national service. Not necessarily hostility for or against just enormous cynicism about the capacity of public institutions, people in authority to lie, deceive, be less worthy of what previously had been expected of people in positions of authority. So this is not an experience of good authority. And again this is not perhpas peculiar to South Africa, but is something that is a universal phenomenon. The worst thing that you can do in society if you are a pro-militarist, is to introduce national service because that is going to ruin your entire scheme.
But just since time is tight one final thing. I think my research shows that probably the most significant social consequence or political consequence of national service was a solidarity among Afrikaans and English-speaking people. It was the first experience that young White men had of actually having social contact on a systematic basis with people who didn't speak your - didn't share your first language, and one must remember that we lived in socially segregated schools, so I think the solidarity among the White, or the relative disappearance or lessening of White, intra-White differences, can be chiefly, in my view, attributed to national service which had a massive impact, I think, on the politics of the 1980's, particularly the late 1980's where Afrikaner nationalism as it was traditionally understood just doesn't happen.
Now the interesting thing is who adopts whose attributes? And my sense is that the English-speaking community started to adopt increasingly attributes that were increasingly thought to be Afrikaans attributes.
So that is the first point that I would like to make, that analytically I think one needs to think empirically in the first instance, be very careful about one's conclusions, and one has to make a distinction between entry, process and exit, what happens during them.
Secondly, just a couple of figures. When I first saw them they rattled the two brain cells that can function simultaneously in my mind. One is, and these are taken from Hansard and as I say we wait the Nodal Point's correction of them, was that you are dealing with a cohort, and that's the technical term for people who are called up annually. You are dealing with a group of between 20,000 and 40,000 people. So you've got to add up the number of years to get the global point, and then one can calculate their effect.
I think it would be safe to say that no person, in the White community certainly, is socially left untouched by this. It is pervasive, a socially pervasive influence. Of course the people who are not liable to call-up they also feel what national service, but of course in quite a different sense.
Just two final figures, and as I say I would be interested to see what the Nodal Point says about these. 50% of all national servicemen are unemployed, 50% are unemployed, so they don't have a job, so - and that is quite important in terms of this of social attitude, that it is not seen to be a burden because 50% are unemployed. Now there is a great proportion of them who actually enter into employment but they are immediately given relief and they are actually paid while they are on national service and they have to work the period back. So, and I mean the Chamber of Commerce might actually and Afrikaanse Handels Instituut might actually give us interesting figures on that.
Another figure that, the last one that I will burden you with, is 50% of national servicemen, in terms of education accomplishment, have standard 8 or less. 50% of national servicemen have standard 8 or less. Okay. So this is not to diminish what Jannie has said, this is not an Afrikaans White student at a university, no less. You know you are dealing with the bulk, the weight of the conscripts have standard 8 or less.
Now the interesting thing is I mean what do they share and what do they not share with people who are more highly educated, and I think that it's - I would be very, very cautious to adopt the simple spectrum thing that the university students are the more enlightened and the other ones are the less enlightened and now you know Jannie quote in German so let's just trade German insults here, "Die Zimmer ober sind aber klein gebaut", which means the upstairs rooms are often very small. (General laughter). So let's not think that the Afrikaner elite is necessary more enlightened. Jammer hoor!
MR GAGIANO: No I take the point, I take the point, I mentioned it to Wilhelm before, I am not sure about it.
PROF SEEGERS: Okay. I think I'll stop here. But that is as much as I would like to say. My keen concern about this is to get more accurate figures, not necessarily figures that we are now constructing but figures that the SADF and the institutions worked with at that time. In other words what were their perceptions at that time.
Let me say one final empirical caution is that not all national servicemen went into the SADF. A number of them went into the SAP and my figures was less than a thousand but I am not quite sure whether that holds, we'll have to see, and a number of them were placed on secondment to State institutions. So the SADF is not the only public institution that can tell us about what happened with national service. National service of course fell under the authority of the Department of Manpower and not under the SADF itself which is an interesting feature. And in fact if you applied for alternative service or conscientious objection or deferment your address was not in the first instance the SADF. Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Annette. My intuition tells me that people want to ask questions and so we will allow for six minutes question time and then we will have to call the next speaker. Are there any people who are interested in probing or clarifying questions? I was quite struck by the point you made about the cadet system, we have - or at least I have always suspected that there was a link but I didn't realise that this was built into the Defence Act. Can you just talk a bit about this?
PROF SEEGERS: Yes, it's quite an interesting point and I think it's a very important point, is that South Africa's defence legislation remained or stayed remarkably stable during periods between 1912 and 1990. There were important additions to it but not that, and the framework of it was set in 1912 with the first Defence Act, and the designer of that, the chief designer was Lord Kitchenware the famous or infamous hero of the second Boer War. And the idea at that point was that South Africa's military needs should serve imperial military needs, defence needs, and the imperial military needs was the fear of a fight, a land war with Germany, which meant that Britain wanted as much manpower from its colonies as it possibly could get. It didn't want large standing armies in the colonies but it wanted a core structure that was very flexible, that could expand very quickly and contract very quickly. The country, very interesting, that was very suspicious about that was in the first instance Canada, which knew what Britain might do with colonial manpower which was to use them as they used them eventually in the First World War.
But the cadet system was to part of that core structure in the South African Colony or South African Dominion at the time to teach people rudimentary military skills that in a time of war could be upgraded within a six week period and then would be for overseas service. So that remained remarkably similar in fact in South Africa right until the mid-'60's in fact. And it's quite interesting that that old imperial framework has not been completely abandoned yet.
CHAIRPERSON: The question at the back, Mary Burton, at the back. Mary Burton is one of the Commissioners in the Western Cape region and is a member of the Human Rights Violations Committee. Welcome Mary, yes go ahead Mary.
MS BURTON: ....it's another way in which young people were drawn into the system. Those who were still at school, young men who were still at school at the age of 16 their names were registered at the school for handing in for eligibility for conscription, so it was at that stage already that young men and their parents had to face the fact that their names were going into the pool from which the conscripts would be drawn.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Mary. Pamela Reynolds and the gentleman, if you could please say who you are, the proceedings are being recorded, if you don't mind, you don't have to but we would appreciate it if you can. I would like the interpreters to Xhosa/English, English/Xhosa interpreters to please assist and people who would like to get the Xhosa interpretation can use the headphones. Pamela Reynolds please.
MS REYNOLDS: My name has been said, Pamela Reynolds. May I ask Annette please what influence those people in the small upstairs rooms gathered over the eighties for example, wonderful, very interesting facts about the larger groupings of people, but one presumes there are those powerful influences and how did they gather and towards what end was that gathering of resistance I suppose amongst conscripts happening?
CHAIRPERSON: Professor Seegers.
PROF SEEGERS: The upstairs rooms, as I say they sometimes look very well. Pamela I have not - well can I register a couple of impressions. In the first instance I think there was in the White community, certainly as far as military service and defence of apartheid was concerned, there was a shift that I could see and it was a generational shift and it was a generational shift in my view that had much to do with the 1974 coup in Portugal.
And what is the nature of the shift? I think, particularly the Afrikaans elite, and as I say I don't see that because I mean Jannie, it's not an elite survey, it's another kind of survey, but my conversations with people who taught at Afrikaans universities in the 1980's and the 1970's bear this out, and the writing that was done in it bears this out, is that the generation that was produced by the Portuguese coup they were still prepared to defend apartheid but they could imagine it coming to an end. They could imagine it coming to an end, so one's career path, the political choices that you made were going to be slightly different than the generation before.
The generation before 1984, the people who, Afrikaners, White people who prepared themselves politically had a fixed universe, but the 1974 generation would produce people like Leon Wessels, Roelf Meyer, the most prominent ones, people whose career paths are not quite the same as the ones - So I think in the first instance certainly about military service, is that one should ask what is the elite thinking, not what is the White community as a whole thinking, or the male community thinking, but specifically about apartheid, defending apartheid by military means, what is it that they are thinking. And I think that the Portuguese coup, now that lies more than 20 years in the past but that one has to consider.
The second point that I would make about the upstairs rooms was the progress of particularly the war in Angola and in the Northern parts of Namibia. And that, this is national service and what the elite thinks cannot simply be deduced from social statistics, there is a struggle going on and peoples' opinions are being shaped by what happens in the struggle. And here there definite turning points in the elite's attitude. The first one was, I think, produced by the loss of air power in southern Angola where the likelihood of casualties and particularly conscript casualties was becoming very, very high and one can see this in the rate of casualties between Operation Askari and the ones that came earlier. It was just a quantum leap and the SADF was hypersensitive to White conscription. I don't think anti-White resistance to conscription, I don't think White resistance to conscription was a mass movement, I think some people are very generous when they claim that. The point is slightly different and that is that the SADF was hypersensitive to any, any meddling with that.
I think the Operation Askari, the impact of that on the White community was lessened because of international events and particular the Reagan administration, Reagan doctrine, taking over patronage of UNITA, which meant that the SADF would not be that much in the forefront, that somebody else would become the patron, patron of UNITA.
So one can see quite clearly from 1983 onwards how in tactical operations and strategic operations how the SADF protects, at all costs, its White national service manpower. And I think that sensitivity eventually leads to the recognition in he late 1980's, certainly after the - you know this debate is going to go on for ever at Quito, that you have reached the end of utility of military instruments, that something else has to be tried. Now it's a different elite that is considering that option, and that explains.... I have not found a very good account of the Afrikaans elite, unfortunately back in the 1980's and perhaps we need a good study of the Broederbond or something like that.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Annette. We will take just two more questions, the gentleman behind you Chief, and then Piet Meiring next to me.
MR EDWARDS: Thank you. My name is George Edwards, I am an Associate Professor of Law at Indiana University in the United States and the Director of our programme in International Human Rights Law. My question relates to the comment made by Mr Gagiano regarding the media and the influence of the media over the conscripts and I was curious as to who controlled the media during the apartheid era and whether there were governmental censorship controls, controls of other sorts? Whether there were individuals in the Afrikaans-speaking community and in the English-speaking community who wanted to publish certain things in the White press but were not allowed to because of governmental regulations etc? And whether there was something equivalent to a Minister of Propaganda that had some role in the media and what the media was able to promulgate?
CHAIRPERSON: Mr Gagiano please.
MR GAGIANO: Sorry, sorry. The answer is sort-of yes on every count. If you ask who owned the newspapers of course you are asking if it was a sort-of corporate ownership, these were I can almost say bifocated into an English class of ownership and an Afrikaner class of ownership, Nationale Pers Group, Press Group owned most of the Afrikaans newspapers. Perskor was the other one but they subsequently were less successful and some of their voices were taken over by Nationale Pers, so that was one group which was very firmly located ideologically in the camp of the National Party which was of course the incumbent to government and there was a blending of party and State at the time. So that's the one.
The second question was whether there was censorship, there was certainly tremendous censorship, extensive censorship and all sorts of - I think Annette would be much better equipped to tell you exactly what it took which pertained to security matters and to the actions of the military and aspects of police behaviour and so on, and even the type of thing that was associated with, what is these days called Correctional Services. No you couldn't tell what was going on in the jails, you couldn't tell what was going on in many parts of the operations of the police and certainly of the military. Just as an example, I mean everyone "knew" that we were in the southern part of Angola and it was still the official story that int wasn't, never even subscribed to that and you couldn't even say it without becoming subject to the penalties that were in place to do that and so on.
But the third question was again whether you - ja, you're getting the picture here. It was very much that sort of thing. In other words again a State imposed closure on the possibility of bringing to the public attention the type of information that would have rendered perhaps a more rational choice in the situation, or that now, with the advantage of hindsight appears to have been a morally more enlightened type of choice on the part of the people who were subjected to that style of information control.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Mr Gagiano. We unfortunately have to proceed to our next speaker. Thank you so much, we really appreciate your input, and it was wonderful to get that insight.
Could we call upon Reverend Neels du Plooy. Now we see where Louis takes his good looks from! Louis is one of our staff members in the Commission. Before you start Neels I would like to read a letter that the Archbishop has sent to us. It was faxed through on the 22nd of July and this is a message for the conscripts, Special Submission on Conscription.
"Greetings to all of you from a sweltering New York. I value the prayers of all for my recovery. My treatment is going quite well. The TRC is required by law to investigate all aspects of the conflicts of the past which gave rise to gross violations of human rights and to consider the perspectives and motives of the various participants within that conflict. We know that there have been different points of view about the sensitive issue of conscription. Indeed there have been strong views expressed for and against the old SADF. Some held very firmly to the view that South Africa was facing a total onslaught from the Communist empire and its surrogates and who believed that they were constrained to defend South Africa against what they perceived as an atheistic, unchristian foe. Others equally vehemently believed that the enemy was not out there, that the border was here in our midst, that certain things happened in waging wars that were thought to be totally unnecessary, things which must make us all hang our heads in shame. Many believed whether a war was justifiable or not. No-one should be compelled to fight against the dictates of their conscience.
This issue, like so many in our apartheid past, divided our nation. We want to know as much as possible about the truth involved from all perspectives so that we, as the TRC, may be able to suggest ways in which a divided and traumatised nation could be healed and make recommendations about how to ensure that the mistakes of the past on all sides should never be repeated.
Thank you. Much love and God's blessing.
That was the letter from the Archbishop that was sent from his office in New York.
Dr Orr has an announcement to make. Could you do so Wendy.
DR ORR: I have been asked by the two researchers who are assisting us with these hearings, Chief and Wilhelm who are sitting in the front row on my right-hand side, that if people wish to ask questions but constraints of time don't allow them to do so, could they put them in writing and give them to Chief or Wilhelm and we'll try and address them in our closing session, or otherwise take the issues forward in the follow-up work that happens after this hearing. Thank you.
RELIGIOUS CONTEXT OF CONSCRIPTION
CHAIRPERSON: Now who are these people, Chief and Wilhelm? There they are, thank you. Welcome Neels, and this is Reverend Neels du Plooy. I will just hand over to you and to Glenda Wildschut who is going to lead you.
MS WILDSCHUT: I guess I don't have very much to do Reverend du Plooy but except to invite you to give us your statement. There will be one or two questions from me certainly after the presentation. We just want to reassure you that we won't be having a question time from the audience, it's probably quite a daunting thing for that to happen but there will be one or two questions from the panel after you have finished. Please go ahead. Thank you.
REV DU PLOOY: Thank you very much for the opportunity. A submission is a very personal sort of thing because of the fact that when you talk about your religion and your personal beliefs it becomes personal and therefore it's also my personal experience I had in the Defence Force.
I was appointed as a Chaplain in the Randburg Commando in 1977, in 1976 I received a commissioned rank as an officer, as a Chaplain in the Defence Force and then in 1977 I joined the permanent force as a Chaplain at Vortrekker Hoogte and as Chaplain, Duminy of the congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church Voortrekker Hoogte Oos. I was allocated to the Technical Service Corp and eventually after two years I was appointed as senior staff officer Publications at
Chaplain General HQ and as his personal staff officer. In this post I served until April 1990. I was then retrenched and left the SADF.
This submission is about my personal experience of 14 years as Chaplain in the SADF, a witness about the role the Church played in the SADF during those years and I am talking from the perspective of the mainstream Afrikaans churches but my position as senior staff officer Publications and as personnel officer, publications relations officer to the Chaplain General also brought me in direct contact with all the other churches in the Defence Force at that stage. So much of what is said today is also true of the other churches.
In retrospect what sparked off this witness a few questions.
Why did the overwhelming majority of healthy, young and motivated South African White males of good standing, Afrikaans and English-speaking unconditionally do national service, more even, look forward to it? Why did parents accept national service as a necessity and a general way of life?
Why did young people having difficulties at school suddenly see national service as a very good cause and a very good reason to quit school the moment they became 18? The average educational standard of national servicemen at the end of the seventies was Standard 7. That included the students.
Why did parents feel obliged to inspire young men with problems at home or at school, to join national service in the hope that they will come good after disciplined training etc?
What was the role of the Church, and that is my submission, and the Chaplaincy as such in bringing about this positive attitude?
The appointment of Chaplains as officers and their ordination as Ministers in the SADF, were in the case of the Dutch Reformed Church, done in full knowledge of, and cooperation with, the General Synod of the DRC. Governing bodies of the other churches fulfilled the same role. Chaplains were not required to report on their work in the SADF to regional synods. The Chaplain General being himself an ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church served on the Commission of the General Synod where he did the necessary as far as the work we did in the Defence Force.
In matters of disciplinary action against Chaplains the Church and the SADF would liaise and accept each others decision.
I just want to paint a small picture about the way that the chaplains and churches, therefore, were fully integrated in the military sphere at that stage. Although by that time, 1976, the chaplains did not wear military rank insignia but only the distinguishing chaplain's rank insignia, a chaplain was treated as a colonel. That included being saluted by all officers, NCO's and servicemen carrying a rank less than colonel. Chaplains had to salute all the officers in the Defence Force at the higher ranks, Brigadiers, Major Generals or Generals. Chaplains enjoyed the same privileges as all the other officers. Chaplains serving in senior posts at the Chaplain General's HQ and in the HQ of the four arms of the service were promoted to where military ranks of Colonel, Brigadier or Major General as the case may be.
On joining the Defence Force Chaplains had to undergo basic military training and Chaplains assigned to the operational units usually did all conventional or unconventional training with his unit. The idea was to become acquainted with the circumstances under which the soldiers had to operate and to become one of the men. I can recall a 42 year-old Minister of the Methodist Church, out of his free will, qualifying as a parabat with a squadron of 19 year-old youngsters.
Chaplains were required to carry weapons except if they did have conscientious objection in this matter, and the Chaplain was expected to be as far as possible to the front during operations.
To be promoted to the rank of Colonel, Brigadier or Major General Chaplains were required to do the ordinary military staff courses.
The second point, just to illustrate how the Chaplains were integrated into the military sphere, it included that all the service benefits, such as housing, uniforms, salary and pension was footed by the government or the Defence Force at that stage. Churches made no contribution towards any of these services. The Dutch Reformed Church went as far as to constitute congregations of whom all the members consisted of military personnel. Voortrekker Hoogte staged five Dutch Reformed congregations at one stage.
The other thing is that Chaplains were also seconded by the Chaplain General to Military Intelligence, Special Operations and Communication Operations. The Chaplain General even formed a special citizen force unit consisting of church professors and leaders to do research on Church and Military matters. They also advised him on issues such as the justification of the war, military and national service of church members and the deployment of qualified theological candidates as national servicemen and Chaplains.
National servicemen Chaplains were military ranked insignia and were appointed with the rank of Lieutenant. They functioned under the supervision of the local permanent force Chaplain and the officer commanding of the unit to which they were attached. They were not allowed to be ordained as Ministers during their national service and had first to complete their national service before they were allowed to be considered as called to the Ministry outside the SADF.
National servicemen that did not want to serve as Chaplains on conscientious grounds were utilised as administrative personnel. I would like to go on.
This system of appointing Chaplains and the involvement of the Church in the Military were implemented by way of an official agreement between the State and the Church. This agreement was approved of on National Synod level as well as on Parliamentary level. This was in force until now. All efforts over the years to change aspects of this agreement were dismissed by Chaplain General since, and I quote,
"The Church stood to lose too much if any changes would be made to this agreement".
They would have to foot the bill of more than a 100 Chaplains serving in the Defence Force at R140 000 apiece.
To really understand the role of the Military Chaplain ...(intervention)
MS WILDSCHUT: Sorry, can I just ask you to move your paper slightly away from the microphone because it's affecting the mike.
REV DU PLOOY: To really understand the role of the Military Chaplain and the national servicemen Chaplains in the SADF one needs to keep in mind that, especially as far as the mainstream Afrikaans churches are concerned, that the Church fully cooperated with the SADF on national Synod level as far as military service and national service are concerned. The Church accepted that the advice of the leadership of the Nationalist Party government and Defence Council as far as defence matters were concerned.
This total involvement, and this is the heartsore, was strengthened by the infamous concept of the total onslaught. Through the idea of the total onslaught the Church immediately became an ally in the war. The total onslaught concept assumed that only 20% of the onslaught was of military nature, the 80% was directed against the economical and spiritual welfare of the people, therefore the Chaplaincy and by name the Church had to be involved in winning the hearts and the minds of the people.
The Church's main task was to strengthen the spiritual defensibility of its members. The Church was now totally convinced that the fact that we were fighting the war, we were fighting a just war. Almost every Synod of the DRC during this time supported the military effort in their prayers and by way of resolutions of thanks acknowledging the fact that the SADF did help to constitute a safer living environment of the peoples of South Africa and serving Church members in the SADF.
Even when national servicemen were required to do service in the townships, and some of the graduates especially doing national service at that time, were specially opposed to that, the Church as such never uttered a word of opposition. A few voices that did raise some doubts were set off as disloyal to the Church and country and playing into the hands of the enemy. Objections usually were countered immediately by saying, we are worried about the spiritual welfare of the enemy as well and we pray for them. Exactly what the prayers involved no one knows. Some even held the idea that people objecting against the system are non-believers. I was once, personally, during a morning parade reprimanded by an assistant Chaplain General in the presence of all that attended, about what I said during the scripture and the prayer on this matter.
The cross-border operations and reprisal attacks were seldom questioned, yet in spite of all lots of young men could not cope with the pressure during the training and operational duty and took to all sorts of ways to get out of the army. Most common was to develop problems at home. A young man once during an intake filled out his form stating that he was married and the father of two children. After a few days, the first few days of basic training he came heartbroken into my office, someone just phoned from home with the news that my baby died. Eventually it was discovered that he never was married and the address he gave during intake did not even exist. This was his ploy which he invented before coming to do national service.
Attempted suicide, it was well known at one stage fast became a problem and special measures had to be laid down with the Chief of the Defence Force and Chaplain General to respond to this problem. Early in 1979 a young recruit came into my office during basic training, clearly disillusioned and at the end of his reserves, Padre he said, I can't take it anymore, I am going to take my own life. The reason, "since I was gay". He was gay. I held a simplistic view at that stage. That should cause no problem because you are among men all day long and you are busy with many things. His reply to me was this, Padre imagine the army sending you to do your basic training at the Women's College at George. You are placed in a group with ten other girls, girl rookies, and you must dress and undress in front of them, taken communal showers with them, even use the communal toilet, how would you feel? Well he said, that is what I feel like since basic training started. This young gay changed my whole life and attitude as far as this situation is concerned.
I just want to say this unholy marriage between the Church and the State, in this case the Military, had a calming effect on parents whose sons became liable to do national service. Chaplains, citizen force, commando and permanent force Chaplains had a special task to keep civilian congregations informed on matters. They delivered sermons and addresses to these congregations to console parents as to the special care of their sons during national service. Special effort was made to call on the girlfriends of national servicemen to be positive about the war because it is for their safety and future that the boyfriend is doing military service. Chaplains even gave guidelines to girlfriends on how they should write their letters to the men on the border or in the townships. For example, never write or talk about problems at home.
The truth is, on the other hand, Chaplains did have the freedom to come and go in the military situation as they preferred and they were allowed to see the members at any time. Chaplains did have the freedom to preach the gospel according to their conviction. And it was surely good for the soldiers and the loved ones to know that the Chaplain was always at hand.
Chaplains also played a vital role as the contact between the SADF and the families at home especially in conveying death messages to servicemen as well as parents. The SADF stipulated that a Chaplain must accompany an officer when parents were informed of a child that died in action. In most cases full particulars were withheld about the circumstances under which a soldier died because of the covert character of the operations.
I know of a family very personally who frankly accepted the death of their son on the border, the father never, however, never had the freeness to talk about his son's death. It's only now after more than 12 or 15 years that the father for the first time can speak freely of his child's death. That he did about two weeks ago although he is still in the dark about the circumstances under which it occurred.
Standing at the door of the parent home together with an officer in uniform the most common words I was greeted with was this, Padre, when did my son die and how? Parents usually accepted the worst but at the same time were comforted by the presence of the Chaplain. Chaplains could more than once tell the parents of their child who came to believe in Christ when confronted by death on the border. In that sense some even said the war did serve some good in the lives of young men for it sometimes led to reconciliation with God.
The Church being present in the war in this manner gave the war under those circumstances, from my personal feeling, a holy and justified character. Very few Chaplains were really prepared to speak of the fact that God as such does not want people to kill people. I know of no publication by the former DRC structure saying anything about the fact of waging war, no, it was war and we the Church had to be there to serve our members and no questions were to be asked apart from that. Accept that the Church must be present under all circumstances for the sake of its members, but in the Church's guidance of its members the Church also needed to be prophetically earnest about the fact of war. Attributing by its presence to giving the war a holy character the Church eventually left the injured during battle or the friend of someone who has fallen in battle disillusioned.
It raises the questions such as, how can God allow me to be injured or my friend to be killed in battle if we are busy fighting for a just cause? I preferred the task of the Chaplain to be the other way round. Knowingly, we are busy with war, a fact, but the fact God can never approve of under any circumstances because he does not want people to die, but also knowingly that there is forgiveness for our wrongdoings. Injured and death at war do not ask for acceptance but for forgiveness.
It is true the Chaplains, the Churches, the Chaplaincy, the cookie-tannies did a lot to make life easier for the troops. Coffee rooms were established in all camps and the Church and other organisations supplied spiritual reading matter. All solders were issued with a special edition of the New Testament and the Psalms, but this Bible had a bound in message from Mr P W Botha, first as Minister of Defence and later as State President. The message said, and I just quote one sentence,
"This Bible is the most important part of your military equipment".
It was generally accepted, a soldier that believed in Christ is a better soldier. The Chaplaincy also accepted the Inocsigna sign as the logo. "In this sign, the sign of the cross we shall conquer". It's adapted from Alexander the Great.
I just want to conclude, so-called political security was assured by the National Government and that is how it was said, they gave us every possible opportunity in life, the least we can do is to help defend that heritage. The Church was involved and satisfied that the war was for a just cause. The Church was also prepared to render service to its members under most difficult circumstances but the State had to foot the bill. How could the Church then not be involved? It is our obligation to defend this freedom, the least it can do is to help assure the spiritual freedom.
I think the Dutch Reformed Church as such, of which I am a member, that the Church as a whole I think should give itself account of its unconditional acceptance and identification with the war effort. It is now in retrospect that regular churchgoers ask, but how is it possible that everything felt so right during those years? The Church gave us that assurance, and yet now the Church is only prepared to say it's sorry, we were wrong to support and justify apartheid. More will have to be done.
We will have to explain how we thought about the war that was a result of that. How can we not admit it was wrong in unconditionally supporting the war effort? Did we not rely too much on the guidance and leaders of the Church? Should we not have relied more on the God of the Church, we may then have ended up with much less disillusionment. The Church will have to speak up to ensure continued reliance by its members.
In the end I want to borrow a verse from Walt Whitman - if you will just permit me one personal remark, one of my very best friends in my years in the Defence Force, Mervyn van der Spuy is also present this morning of the Anglican Church and he just told me this morning that everything has changed since I was retrenched in 1990. In the end let us borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass,
"After the seas are all crossed as they seem already crossed,
After the great captains and the engineers have accomplished their work,
After the noble eventers, after the scientists, the chemists, the geologist, ethnologist,
finally shall come the poet worthy of that name,
The true Son of God shall come singing his songs".
And that is my prayer for the work of the Commission and my prayer for the Church, that eventually we will, the poet will come afore and the Son of God will sing His songs, we are reconciled and a New South Africa.
MS WILDSCHUT: Thank you very much Reverend du Plooy. I have the impression that your submission has been a very introspective process, and putting the submission together and we value that.
The question I had in the beginning was if there was ever conversations amongst yourselves about the war and the role that Chaplains were playing in sending people, blessing people and sending people into a particular war, supporting that action? In part my question is answered in that you said that there was no official writing, so there was no sort-of official discourse amongst yourselves about that issue, but was there any personal discourse? I mean was there a struggle amongst yourselves about that very question and the morality of the war at the time? And what was the nature of that discussion, discourse?
REV DU PLOOY: Yes there was quite a lot of discussion as far as I am personally involved with that. Hendrik has got a few clippings from newspapers, Church newspapers where I was at loggerheads with the Church and the Chaplain General about this whole fact. But more than that I was in the fortunate position to be at the HQ of Chaplain General where I met all the national service Chaplains, and we had discussions on discussions on discussions, almost every week, especially from the young English Chaplains which would have more problems thank some of the Afrikaans-speaking, but also some of the Afrikaans-speaking Chaplains.
It was strange enough that if during - they usually went about just before the academic year the Chaplain General would go out to the universities and speak to all the Chaplains that are going to become liable for national service and if they would pick up some sort of thing that they didn't really - also from Afrikaans-speaking young chaps that they were not prepared really to get involved in the war they would have immediately been appointed to the Chaplain General's HQ. They were not allowed to get into the field and that's where we had our discussions, and I played personally a very satisfactory role for myself in liaising and consulting with young Chaplains especially that had problems with the war.
MS WILDSCHUT: So it seemed though that there was a hyper-sensitivity almost to resistance to conscription and that those people needed special attention and special care by the Chaplains? Am I interpreting that correctly?
REV DU PLOOY: Yes.
MS WILDSCHUT: The relationship between the General Synod and the Synod I find that very interesting in that there was a joint responsibility for the Chaplains but that the Chaplains did not need to report to the Synod on issues in relation to the work, the actual day-to-day working, did that seem like a problem? Did it seem strange? Can you give some explanation for that?
REV DU PLOOY: Piet Meiring will recall one or more Synods in Pretoria, regional Synods where I personally put on a fight just to report to my own church on what I was doing as a Chaplain in the defence force. It was done by way of a general report usually by the Chaplain General to the General Synod and we were not really - we were not asked of to give any report of our work to our regional Synods. We did have our diocese but that was only - we only discussed the administrative matters and so on.
MS WILDSCHUT: And there wasn't a general sense of concern around that, I mean you raised that as an issue for yourself, but there wasn't a general concern about that?
REV DU PLOOY: Ja, that's difficult to say because Dominies that were called to the Defence Force there names were also previously submitted to this Commission of the General Synod by the Chaplain General and they would eventually decide if you were allowed to be called to a Defence Force unit. Why I was called I will never know.
MS WILDSCHUT: I am interested about the link between the Bible being one of the armaments, one of the equipment for war, and that there was this special message in the Bible as strengthening the fact that this was a very important aspect of the equipment of war. I know you've made mention of it but can you just elaborate a little bit on that?
REV DU PLOOY: Mervyn van der Spuy will be able to testify that we eventually in about 1989 succeeded in having the message of P W Botha inserted as a loose leaflet and not bound in anymore. Yes, it's also out of my own experience, as I said I started my service at the Technical Corp, the Defence Force. I had a very nice OC, Colonel - English-speaking chap which made me feel at home immediately but he retired after a year and then one of my own elders in the Church where I was serving became the officer commanding of that unit. He was in church every morning, every evening but he made my work as a Chaplain impossible in the unit, because he decided on what I must do, what I was allowed to do. Without my knowing he forced troops during their inspections to also have their Bibles on their beds, even the Jewish and whatever had to have this Bible that was issued on the bed. It was part of their equipment. That is why the Chaplain General felt good to remove me from the unit after two years, because he made it impossible because of that attitude he had, as a church member, as an elder in the Church. It was considered very important for the young people to be well aware of what the Church is offering them, and we had special chaplains' period during the week where we would meet with them, church periods where you can talk with them on matters that you would prefer, do confirmation classes with them.
MS WILDSCHUT: To your knowledge is the message still in the Bible in the Defence Force?
REV DU PLOOY: No, no it's not there. In 1988, 1989 it was removed and it's still available today but I don't think - somebody told me it's not being used anymore.
MS WILDSCHUT: You also, in the beginning of your submission there are about five questions related to why it is that people would enter into military service by conscription, are those rhetorical questions, have they been answered, have you come to some understanding of why it is so?
REV DU PLOOY: They did start off as rhetorical questions, that is often what in retrospect what I thought I would just put forward to get started off with the witness. The fact is only that the Church made it so much easier for countrymen, young servicemen to join the Defence Force, because they knew the Church was involved, they were taught about national service during their confirmation classes, they would touch on civil obedience and things like that.
MS WILDSCHUT: I don't have anymore questions, in fact I do have lots more but I think for now I wouldn't ask anymore, I think I have asked the more important ones that worry me at the moment and hand over to Pumla for the rest of the panel.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Glenda, and thanks to you for such an enlightening exposition of how the Church was infused with the whole conscription message. We are very lucky in that we will have in our archives a copy of the Bible that you spoke about. Isn't it amazing the things that happened that in the past? Thank you very much.
We will ask now Dot Cleminshaw to come forward please. Dot is going to read a statement from Dr Peter Moll which sent to us from the US, the United States. Dot will read a summary of Peter Moll's submission which is available to us. All these submissions read today are available including a sneak into the Bible that Reverend du Plooy spoke about. So without much further ado I will hand you over to Professor Piet Meiring who is going to facilitate your submission.
STATEMENT BY A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
PROF MEIRING: Mrs Cleminshaw welcome from my side also. I don't know what is in the submission, is there some autobiography things about - so you needn't tell us about Peter Moll, it will be in the submission. Maybe you can start by, one or two sentences, why were you chosen to read his statement and then please proceed with the statement.
MS CLEMINSHAW: I am Dot Cleminshaw and I am about to
read a copy of a summary made by Dr Peter Moll who is living and working in Washington DC at the moment. As to why he asked me to read this submission, as he himself said, "after you were involved in this issue long before I was and you stood by me", which was a privilege.
I am what is called a Human Rights Activist and I commenced on this path from the time the National Party government came to power in 1948. I joined an organisation which was formed right then in that same year called the Civil Rights League. By the time that apartheid was being defended by the military and conscription was extended to all White males, which was in 1967, I was already campaigning against conscription. The very first victims were the Jehovah Witnesses who were being sentenced to repeated 90 days in detention barracks, and suffering greatly because they were not allowed to wear their own clothing or a blue uniform. Some of them sat in the winter at Voortrekker Hoogte just in their underpants.
I did a great deal of writing of articles, letters to the Press, of speaking at meetings. I became a committee member of the Civil Rights League in the year that Dr Verwoerd was assassinated which was 1969, and I was then able to bring this particular issue on board at those meetings, with the result that in 1970 the Civil Rights League organised a conference specifically on conscientious objection. And the papers were presented by Dr Francis Wilson, a Quaker; Mrs Anna Pearce; myself and a then 16 year-old schoolboy, Frank Molteno, who was about to face this.
Our resolution was circulated to all the churches, the South African Council of Churches and the Christian Institute. It called for alternative forms of national service quite divorced from the military. It called for respect for the human rights of conscientious objectors based on human rights as outlined in the United Nations Charter.
I became a member of the Black Sash and I worked at the Christian Institute, although I am not a Christian, I worked in the Sprokas(?) Programme. I joined the Conscientious Objectors Support Group. I joined the End Conscription Campaign. I was on trial with Beyers Naude and others for refusing to answer the questions of the Shlebusch Commission. I wrote papers and had them published about the torture allegations of security prisons. I wrote papers about conscientious objection and what was happening. Some of these papers were published in Pro Veritate, the Christian Journal.
So of course I got to know Peter Moll when his time came and I attended his court martial at Wynberg. I got to know his parents and I attended his court martial, that is to say, outside of the court at the Castle. I corresponded with him over the years. This is Peter Moll's summary.
After completing school I obeyed my army call-up instruction in 1974 and spent 12 months in service at the 84 TSD base in Grahamstown. I became a conscientious objector in July 1976. While at a conference held by the Students Christian Association on the University of Natal Pietermaritzburg Campus it was pointed out by Michael Cassidy of Africa Enterprise that the guerillas of the ANC and SWAPO were young men like myself who wanted justice and an end to apartheid so that the SADF was not fighting a foreign aggressor but was engaged in a civil war. The message struck home. I decided that it was impossible for me any longer to go to military camps or to prepare for action in Namibia.
My motive was based upon general moral reasoning and Christian theological ethics. I was not a pacifist, although I had and still have great respect for pacifists. My objection was to the unjust nature of the war being conducted by the SADF inasmuch as it was in defence of White supremacy under the guise of protecting Christianity from Communism.
I was called up for a three month camp headed for Namibia in Decmeber 1977. I refused to go and wrote a letter to the Commandant of my unit, Cape Flats Commando, indicating why. I argued essentially that the White government had imposed apartheid on Black people in South Africa and was now engaged in a war against representatives of the Black majority, hence the army was engaged in defending apartheid. As a Christian I could not be part of the army under these circumstances. I was tried at the Wynberg Magistrate's Court on the 27th of December 1977 and sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for five years. I was called up again for a four day shoot in June 1979. I refused again. I was tried by a Military Court Martial at the Youngsfield Military Base in Wynberg on the 21st of September 1979 and was sentenced to a R50,00 fine. I was called up for the last time for a 15 day camp to start on 19th November 1979. I refused once more. I was arrested on the 22nd of November 1979 and taken to the detention barracks in Wynberg.
On 4th December 1979 I was tried by a military court martial at the Castle in Cape Town. In South African Military Law courts martial are open to observers but attendance at this one was wrongfully limited to two relatives. The sentence, 18 months detention barracks was obviously rigged. It was reduced to 12 months upon review.
I was transferred to the detention barracks in Pretoria. There I refused to perform military exercises such as saluting and rifle training and to wear the military uniform, arguing that I was a conscientious objector. I was tried by a summary court martial on 11 occasions and sentenced to periods of solitary confinement varying from 7 to 14 days, the legal maximum. Altogether I spent 139 days in solitary.
In August 1980 the Army gave in to public pressure and permitted me to wear non-military garb. I was released on the 2nd of December 1980. Jail and solitary confinement was a distressing experience. Daily insults and yelling by corporals, boredom and loneliness, inadequate food, freezing cold showers in winter, no newspapers or any other kind of news media, no sports facilities, indescribable filth in the vicinity of the ablution blocks, regular four-day cycles of constipation and diarrhoea etc.
The minute and arbitrary controls over my actions combined with the deliberate efforts to deprive the inmates of possessions and mental stimulation made me extremely tense and aggressive. However I was not tortured and did not suffer any permanent damage.
I was supported by my friends and family. I was adopted by an amnesty international group and received many letters from Mennonites in the United States and elsewhere. I am very thankful to all of these people for their support. I learned much about myself and became stronger. My knowledge of the rightness of the cause and my faith in God strengthened me.
After my release life returned to normal. I travelled on an exchange programme in Latin America during 1981 and then pursued studies in theology until 1984 and in economics until 1987. During this period I was involved in a conscientious objector support group and the activities of the End Conscription Campaign. I frequently gave speeches about conscientious objection and conscription. I taught at the University of Cape Town from 1988 to 1989 before leaving for the United States.
Although the Army would have been entitled to call me up again, it did not. I speculate that it feared adverse publicity for upon leaving the detention barracks, I had it made it clear that I would refuse again if I were called up. My action and that of a small group in the 1970's spawned further military resistance in the 1980's. Many churches were conscientised into adopting positions on the subject. The government was forced to respond, which it did by amending the law in 1983 to permit religious pacifists to do non-military service, while raising the maximum sentence for other objectors from a repeatable two to a single period of six years.
These elements of resistance to conscription in turn led to the formation of the End Conscription Campaign. I believe that the War Resistance Movement played an important part in accelerating the collapse of apartheid. -- By Peter Graham Moll.
PROF MEIRING: Ms Clemenshaw, Dot if I may call you so, thank you so much. You have brought us a very important story, a submission we needed to hear because Peter speaks for a number of people, as you said at the end. Thank you so much for your testimony. We won't ask of you to answer for Peter, questions. It was important that his testimony was on the table before us. Thank you for bringing it to us, we will of course communicate with him but if you write to him, if you speak to him please send our best wishes too, as we will do ourselves. Thank you for being with us and it was an honour to have you here with us today.
MS CLEMENSHAW: Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Dot and thank you Piet. Yes I'm thinking now about Pete Moll. Peter is very well connected to the world-wide web so he is going to communicate with us through that but thank you, it was very wonderful that you could come. We appreciate it that even in your not so great health you could come. Thank you very much.
We would like to call now Dr Ivan Toms and Mr Richard Steele. For some reason the programmes are different but anyway that is what is on the programme. Could Ivan and Richard please come up. They will share a session, they will not speak simultaneously but they they are going to share a session. Dr Wendy Orr.
EXPERIENCES OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS
DR ORR: Thank you Pumla. I'd like you to give me a few moments, indulgence just to explain to people that what I'm wearing on my lapel is not the insignia of some strange sect or cult but is in fact a gift from my niece who is four years old, who said to me that I always look so sad on TV so she wanted to give me something to brighten up my life, so CoCo this is for you.
Enough about myself. Richard, Ivan, welcome, thank you very much for being here today. You have stories to tell us of your own experiences as conscientious objectors and the consequences that those had for your lives and probably still have for your lives. Richard I'd like to ask you to start and then we'll hand over to Ivan to tell us his story.
MR STEELE: Good morning Commissioners, members of the media and members of the public.
On the 25th of February 1980 I was sentenced by a military court in Pretoria to 12 months in military prison for refusing to be conscripted into the SADF. Although that day was scary because I knew that by nightfall I would be in prison, it was also one of the most powerful days in my life. On that day I publicly and practically said no to the whole system of apartheid and military conscription, both of which were anathema to my principles.
I can say that today the 23rd of July 1997 is one of the most powerful days of my life as well when I have the opportunity to publicly celebrate my survival through that year in prison, and to say yes to a society based on truth and reconciliation.
I have made a written submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding the details of my experience as a conscientious objector to the SADF and as an End Conscription Campaign activist. That submission and the related appendices containing newspaper articles, etc is now part of the record. In my oral submission today I would like to reflect more personally on the significance of my stand as a conscientious objector and on the experience of preparing this submission.
My stand as a conscientious objector was not restricted to that one year in prison in 1980. I'd been building up to it since 1976 when, during my first year as a student at the University of Cape Town, I realised that the apartheid state was using conscripts to put down internal civil protest and would expect me to do the same once I had been conscripted. My stand carried on through the 1980's and early 1990's when it took the form of being a peace worker and non-violence trainer employed by the National Fellowship of Reconciliation in South Africa and as an End Conscription Campaign activist.
In 1993 I made a change and went back to fulltime study. I'm currently in my fifth year of study of homeopathic medicine at Technikontal Durban. But for 17 years, from 1976 until 1993, I was directly engaged in the socio-political sphere resisting apartheid and militarism and promoting peace and justice.
Preparing this submission has provided me with an opportunity to look at those 17 years as a whole, make sense of them and integrate them and the energy they represent into my present lifecycle. I'm happy too that in making this submission, I've been able to contribute to the documentation of the history of our country and in particular the history of the liberation struggle.
Thus being here today and making this oral submission is very symbolic for me personally because it represents the culmination of a particular chapter of my life.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began it's work I considered making a submission for the sake of the record but was daunted by the prospect of sifting through all my papers from those years and being faced with painful memories. However, when I heard that there would be a special hearing on conscription, I decided to make the effort. True, I felt pain as I re-read some to the letters I had written, and as I read diary entries from the diary I kept while in prison, but I have also been re-energised, I can see that what I did and many hundreds and thousands of other South Africans were doing then and continued to do was very powerful. We refused to be defined by the socialisations and expectations of apartheid South Africa, but decided to think for ourselves and to start living according to human right's principles.
We also sought to obstruct and weaken the apartheid government in every way we could in order to bring about a society based on human rights principles and we have been successful.
Our work now is to deepen and broaden the awareness and practice of those principles in every day life amongst all South Africans so that future generations do not have to go through what we did and do not have to make the sacrifices we had to.
Going through my papers and looking back on my year in prison, I was struck by several experiences which I'd like to share with you today.
My court martial was held in Voortrekker Hoogte in Pretoria on the 25th of February 1980. I was charged with failing to report without good reason. Needless to say I pleaded not guilty because I believed I had very good reasons for not reporting. I'd like to read just two of the main points from the statement I made in my defence on that day.
"My refusal to do military service arises out of a more deep-rooted refusal to consciously participate in any form of violence, be it physical, psychological or structural. I believe that the way of violence and destruction is antithetical to the Christ-like way of love and healing. I believe that central to my being a peacemaker is the pursuit of justice. I view the SADF as being a major pillar of a fundamentally unjust political, social and economic system. By cooperating with the military I would be representing and perpetuating those injustices and I am unwilling to do so."
Indeed I was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in military prison, six months of which was suspended for three years. Despite all my intellectual and spiritual preparation, it was still a great shock to actually arrive at Voortrekker Hoogte detention barracks and be checked in, hearing the heavy metal door clanging shut behind me. This was now the real thing.
On arrival at the detention barracks I was ordered to wear the military prison uniform. I refused. I was immediately charged with failing to obey a lawful military command. Within days I was tried at a summary court martial and sentenced to 10 days in solitary confinement. When I arrived at my cell in the solitary confinement block, I discovered that there was huge bloodstain on the floor and found out that the previous occupant had tried to commit suicide, just picking up from the previous submission, and in fact while I was that period of solitary confinement two other prisoners were admitted to solitary confinement and one of them tried to commit suicide at the time.
I actually managed to smuggle some paper in on that occasion of being in solitary confinement and I kept a diary of those days and I'd just like to read to you the excerpt from that particular day just as some reality about that experience.
As an illustration, what was the date, March the 4th 1980.
"As an illustration of the effects of this place there has just been a mighty crash in the cell next door accompanied by a string of screamed swear words directed at the authorities in this place. The crash was the breakfast steel pans being hurled against the door of the cell. Botas, the chap in with Kevin, these two chaps had exposed some corruption in the prison context and were being held in solitary confinement supposedly for their own protection, has been threatening to go mad for the last two days. It is a desperate situation, you can yell your head off for a corporal in this place and they can choose to disregard you as is the case right now. And I feel so sick and helpless because I can understand why the guy is going barmy and know that I could help him if given the chance. He and Kevin are being treated so unfairly because they were promised that they would be moved to another detention barracks but instead have been incarcerated in this tiny cell, two of them for three days now. They are now breaking the windowpanes in the window, another crash of the tin plates. When people are treated like sub-humans they can very soon behave like them too. Oh Lord what a situation. All I can do is pray and speak words of peace through the peep-hole in my door. And we haven't even been let out yet to empty our chamber pots, wash and replenish our water supply. Screams, Botas has just cut his wrists, he says it is the only thing that will attract attention and get him out of there. God please."
And I make another entry after supper.
"Botas did not actually cut his wrists, he tried but Kevin stopped him, he has been very calm for the rest of the day."
By the way when I came out of that period of solitary confinement I made a statement of complaint about my whole experience in solitary confinement but also about this incident. I also complained about the unhygienic conditions in the cell including the bloodstain on the floor and I sent a copy to the Chaplain's office, the medical doctor's office and the commanding officer. They painted out the cells within a week and they were much cleaner. So standing up for one's rights, we can do that in any place. I was fortunate perhaps that they heard me in that instance, but at any rate that was some of the reality.
Turning to solitary confinement the maximum sentence was 14 days and there had to be at least 48 hours between periods. I served two other periods of 14 days each before I was transferred to Bloemfontein. In general I refused to obey any military orders or engage in any military activity such as standing at attention, saluting, marching, etc. The only work I was prepared to do was in the gardens. One order I could refuse without being charged was to cut off my beard. Having studied detention barracks rules before going in I knew that you could not grow a beard in detention barracks but if you entered detention barracks with a beard you could keep it. So they cut my long hair short but my beard grew long, much to the authorities' intense annoyance. I eventually shaved it off as an act of good will after I had been granted de facto conscientious objector status in August.
During the three months that I was in prison at Voortrekker Hoogte I greatly valued the support I received from Peter Moll whose submission you heard earlier. He was already in the detention barracks when I arrived, having been sentenced in December of 1979. Pete and I are first cousins, his mother and my mother are sisters and we were at university together the previous four years. I also felt tremendous support from most of the other prisoners and there were about 360 prisoners in the Voortrekker Hoogte detention barracks, many of whom were in fact mini-conscientious objectors in the sense that they were imprisoned for going absent without leave or for insubordination. They thought Pete and I were heroic for resisting pressure from the officers in the detention barracks and standing up against the SADF in general.
On May 2 I was moved from Voortrekker Hoogte to Tempe detention barracks in Bloemfontein. I think the main reason for this was to separate Peter and I, not only because we were supporting one another but our combined presence in the prison was too unsettling to the authorities.
Tempe detention barracks was smaller physically and population wise and generally was not as harsh. Inmates had been warned not to speak to me and ordered to shun me when I arrived but very soon this broke down and once again I felt a great solidarity with them. At Tempe I was sentenced three times for refusing to wear the uniform but punishment was suspended at my seventh summary trial in July pending the outcome of an internal SADF inquiry headed by the Chaplain General Major General van Zyl into the status of Peter Moll and I.
On the 8th of August the Commission of Inquiry ruled that Peter and I would from then be treated as de facto conscientious objectors. This was a great relief to us, our families and supporters and a great victory for the conscientious objector movement.
I was never subjected to physical abuse while in detention barracks although I regard solitary confinement as psychological abuse and a form of torture. In this regard I'd like to read extracts from a statement submitted by me to my seventh summary court martial on the 9th of July where I argue that solitary confinement is a form of torture and enumerate to the court some of the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of my experience in solitary confinement.
Firstly, punishment is usually meted out...(intervention)
CHAIRPERSON: Can I interrupt please, could I ask you to make reference because you have submitted quite an extensive statement which is available for the members of the public, it's in the media room, if you could perhaps just refer. The problem is we've had so many, you know, submissions and the next two speakers are under incredible time constraints. So you know, if you could bear that in mind please.
MR STEELE: I understand. Alright certainly.
CHAIRPERSON: I really am sorry.
MR STEELE: That's fine, I'll extract from the rest of my statement, is that what you're suggesting?
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, thank you.
MR STEELE: Okay sure. I'll just read one paragraph from that statement I made at my seventh summary trial:
" It displays a shallow understanding of my position to think that to do me violence by sentencing me to solitary confinement will make me violent. I will not change from being a peacemaker to being a soldier. I cannot deny myself, nor can I deny Jesus Christ my Lord. Passivism is at the core of my Christain beliefs and essential to my whole lifestyle, it is the way of truth for me and I mean to follow it, no matter what the cost."
I was particularly concerned about the role of church ministers within the military, in their capacity as chaplains and what I'm going to say now will have been elucidated by the previous submission. I was disturbed by the fact that chaplains played a key ideological role in rationalising the fact and activity of war and preparing soldiers psychologically, emotionally and spiritually for war. I witnessed this directly in Tempe detention barracks when chaplains came twice a month to present so-called motivation lectures which were nothing short of political propaganda and rationalisation for war. After attending the first lecture I refused to attend anymore and wrote a letter in this regard.
During my year of imprisonment I came into contact with chaplains from many denominations, even though I was a Christian and attended all the church services offered in the detention barracks. Many of the chaplains were automatically hostile toward me because of my conscientious objections, however, some of them were sympathetic to my circumstances if not my C O convictions and made an effort to exercise pastoral care towards me. In this regard I would like to mention Padre James Gray in Voortrekker Hoogte an Padre Danny Veldhuis, Duminy Willie van Rooyen and Duminy Johan Marais in Tempe.
One of the most moving experiences of my year in prison took place during my first period of solitary confinement at the Tempe Detention Barracks and involved Duminy Johan Marais, a citizen force chaplain who was doing a camp at the Tempe military base at the time.
On May 23rd I was sentenced to two days in solitary confinement on a spare diet. That is bread and water only. Physically going without proper meals was not such a problem for me, I had fasted every Friday anyway as a spiritual discipline and as regular protest action against my imprisonment. And two days in solitary confinement is short compared to the usual 14 days but somehow I felt humiliated by that sentence and found it very hard to deal with psychologically. On the second day I received a visit from Duminy Marais. He was doing his doctorate in theological ethics and I had enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of previous discussions with him. After we had chatted for a while, sitting on my mattress on the floor, he reached for the jug of water and chunk of bread and said that he would like to share a meal with me in the form of a eucharist. As we ate the bread and drank the water together, we both cried. He was in full military uniform, I was in a track suit having refused to wear the uniform, but at that moment we were one in spirit and humanity.
When I look back on the experience of being a conscientious objector and subjected to detention barracks, I believe it was worthwhile in several respects. For me personally in terms of maintaining coherence between my convictions and my actions and in terms of my general maturation, secondly as an act of non-cooperation with injustice and violence in South Africa and in that way, reducing the level of violence in South Africa, at least an iota. Thirdly as a demonstration of non-violent action. Fourthly as a challenge to White South Africans regarding their role in supporting apartheid, especially in respect of the connection between conscription and apartheid; as a challenge to men regarding the negative socialisation, associated with military training which enforces patterns of male dominance and violence; as a demonstration of solidarity with Black South Africans and all other individuals and groups fighting apartheid. And finally that experience was a foundation for anti-apartheid and peace activism of later years.
I'd like to conclude this submission by telling the Commission about visits I have made to the detention barracks since my release.
In 1983 I went back to Voortrekker Hoogte and Tempe detention barracks and shook hands and chatted with the officers. In fact in terms of victims in this whole scenario I didn't feel victimised in the true sense of the word while I was a prisoner. In fact from my point of view it was the officers of the prison and the soldiers and the military who were the victims in the sense that they were just merely conforming to their socialisation an were being used in fact by politicians to fulfil their ideological ends. Anyway those people I visited back again they were quite polite and in one case actually pleased to see me.
Then last year in 1996 while in Pretoria visiting friends my wife and I took a drive out to Voortrekker Hoogte. The first thing we noticed was that the parade ground outside the hall in which I was court martialled and on which new conscripts were being drilled while I was being court martialled, was overgrown with weeds. The detention barracks itself is no longer used as a prison. The outside door was wide open and the few personnel around were wearing casual civilian clothes. They told me the buildings were being used by the Air Force firefighting unit. I walked around the cell blocks. Most of it was in disrepair. Block 5, which housed the solitary confinement cells was being used for storage. The parade ground was overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. What a different scene to what I remembered from 1980. Time, nature and a new government with different priorities had softened the hard edges.
Going back and facing the ghosts of those places important in helping me to lay them to rest. I am hoping that the next time I visit Voortrekker Hoogte the weeds and wild flowers would have taken over completely.
Preparing my submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and appearing here today has further helped me banish those ghosts and left me empowered by the deep strata of truth and integrity that I have rediscovered in the process. I thank the Commission for providing me with the opportunity to revisit my history and integrate it into my present life.
I would like to express my appreciation in general to the Commission for the role it is playing in liberating us as a nation from the ghosts of the past. Thank you.
DR ORR: Richard thank you very much. It's obvious that for you going back through your diary and those notes that you kept during those times has been painful and we thank you very much for the courage of doing that and for coming forward to share those notes and those memories and those observations with us. I am also tremendously pleased and grateful that you have found this to be a liberating and positive experience, because that really is what we hope Truth Commission hearings will be for witnesses.
With the Chairperson's permission I would like to move straight on to Ivan. Ivan you spent time, not in detention barracks but in Pollsmoor Prison as a result of the stand you took and you now have an opportunity to share with us your experience.
DR TOMS: Thanks very much Wendy. It's nice to have a colleague on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it's appropriate to come after Richard, because Richard and Peter, the other statement that you've heard, represented really the core of the first wave of objectors, very much religious based objectors to the SADF at a time when it was incredibly difficult and they were an incredible inspiration to me always in the process of getting to the point where I got to.
I really form part of the second wave of objectors after the law was changed to allow for religious pacifists to do community service, and many religious pacifists and people who would find very creative ways of claiming to be religious pacifists did that community service and did amazing good work in the country. And it was in a sense then a different group of people linked to the End Conscription Campaign who then took on a political challenge and were very politicised in their challenge of the SADF and what it was doing in the country.
I am going to try and keep very short and just try and share a bit of how I got there, my experiences in prison and I think that is more than enough.
For me I had my call-up to the army in 1978, that's when I had to start in the army for two years. I had left Medical School in 1976, the June the t uprisings add that and been sort of politicised in that process and my year in internship in Kimberley I queried what should I do? And typical, the way I approached things I asked many people's advice and that, and this is before Richard and Peter, so people like Archbishop Dennis Hurled actually said look go into the army, don't leave the country, because that seemed to be the option, and actually the day that I travelled to start my training I cancelled my flight to London. That's how close it was.
And then I spent three months doing basics in Pretoria. At the end of that, when I was sent to the Ciskei as a medical doctor to work in the Homeland, my whole experience started to change as to what I was willing and not willing to do. I tried to go into the army remaining true to my principles and that's very difficult. I asked questions in these propaganda lectures we got from the Dominies and that and of course immediately was targeted as an "opstoker" and wasn't very liked.
When we went to the Ciskei we first had to report in Port Elizabeth and we were requested by Military Intelligence to basically spy on our patients. We were there as doctors in military uniform to be the - to win the hearts of the people, one, and to be the eyes and the ears of the SADF in the Homelands, to pick up problems, to report them back to Military Intelligence, which of course I refused to do. But it immediately showed that your role, even if you tried to be principled within the SADF, was completely compromised. You were a cog in a machine that really just churned out war and destruction. A cog in a machine that defended apartheid.
From there I was sent to Namibia for six months in the operational area. By that stage I had refused to carry a gun, I was a non-combatant. My officer there, when he found out that I refused to carry a gun sent me to the most dangerous area under his command, which is bordering on Ovamboland, and my experiences there was working with the mission hospitals and visiting the army bases. That the nuns and the people of Namibia saw myself in that Lieutenant's uniform in the SADF, even as a doctor, they saw me as an occupying army. They saw me, ja, as oppressors of them and of their country and there was this incredible coldness from the nuns, the Lutheran nuns particularly. They had no other option but to utilise your services because there were no other doctors. But you could see that they disliked having to do that, and they were in no-ways buying into the situation that we were helping them. They realised we were there to oppress them.
And I think that took me further in my sort-of quest to be true to what I believed. So that when I finished my two years in the army I came out and started Empelisweni SACLA Clinic in Crossroads, the old Crossroads, the squatter community just here because I wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem to our country. I had been at the SACLA, the South African Christian Leadership Assembly conference while I was in the army in July 1979 where I had been challenged to become part of the solution. I happened to be gay, it was mentioned previously about some of the trauma that gay people went through in the army, and I really respect that. Add one of the reasons I didn't go to a rural hospital was I felt I needed to be in an urban setting, as a gay person.
I started this clinic in Crossroads from nothing. We built it with builder's rubble and that and some of my friends from the End Conscription Campaign started to help us. There experientially one saw what apartheid was all about. So my resistance to apartheid and to the army was not something from a book or from some intellectual view of life, it was experiential.
Perhaps just to raise one specific experience which led me to publicly refuse to serve in the SADF. In September 1983 we had a situation where many women and children came down to join their husbands in Crossroads. It was not a political thing, it was to be part of a family. And they were making these little structures of branches that they cut from the forests with black plastic over them. As we all know September is the Cape Town winter so it was raining a lot, and for three weeks day in and day out the security forces, the riot police came in their casspirs, they'd bring camouflaged casspirs in their dark green, light green camouflage uniforms and rip down these structures, pull the plastics and branches to a spot and burnt them in front of everybody. And then at four o'clock they would go home to their warm homes and their warm families knowing that they would return the next morning and do the same thing. The women were left trying to get something during the evening to make another shelter for the night knowing the next morning that it would be ripped down and burnt.
The one Friday, after three weeks of this some of the women held on to those branches and to the riot police that constituted a riot and they used teargas, rubber bullets, which I don't know if you they are six inches long and about an inch and a half in diameter of solid rubber, and police dogs to quell the riot, and we were having to treat the results of that. So we had kids with severe respiratory distress from the teargas, people with dog bites. I remember one time having to go out and see a mother who had a 24 hour-old baby that was left in the rain because her structure had been torn down.
And a reporter actually, so you see these reflective things do help, a reporter asked me, he said does this make any difference to you? I said, well, because I had been thinking this whole thing through, I thought in no ways could I from that point on ever put on that SADF uniform again. Because you see to the kids and to the people in Crossroads those riot police in camouflage uniforms were the Amajoni, they were the soldiers and to put on that uniform would be to identify with those Amajoni who had actually been oppressing the very community that I served.
I think that it was the experiences that led me to be able to stand up and be part of a very exciting organisation, the End Conscription Campaign. I think it did amazingly good work. The results was, because I refused in 1983, I got called up in 1984, I was preparing to go to prison the American Ambassador intervened under the Constructive Engagement Policy, we specifically asked him not to intervene but in true American style he ignored that and so that call-up was withdrawn 10 days before I had to report.
I then continued very actively in the End Conscription Campaign. And particularly the SADF dirty tricks department from the Castle started their issues. They seemed to enjoy having a lot of posters that they used to produce. The first one said, "Ivan Toms is a fairy?", which is an interesting one. And then they proceeded to get more vindictive and said "Toms Aids test positive", which is not true and it was on a billboard this size all the way down Adderley Street and Strand Street and the highways, and there was another one saying "Ivan Toms dumped by lover Graham Perlman", which happened to be true. (Laughter).
Add that was about five days before my next call-up when they were intending to put me in prison. That they withdrew again, that those posters went up five days before the call-up. And then ultimately in November 1987 they called me up, I reported and refused to serve in the SADF and that resulted in my trial in 1988 where I was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment in Pollsmoor Prison. On review in the Supreme Court it was reduced to 18 months. I served 9 months of that imprisonment and then came out on appeal and we won our appeal in the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein.
That was a different experience to the detention barracks. I think just to remember people like David Bruce and Charles Bester in that second wave of objectors, and people like David and Charles who, they had done no military training so they were sentenced to six years imprisonment. I mean Charles Bester was an 18 year-old Christian and he stood for his principles and accepted that. With winning the appeal we were released.
In prison we were treated as common criminals. They wouldn't acknowledge that we were political prisoners, so we were with rapists and murderers. I myself got assaulted by a psychotic prisoner in the bathroom as he tried to rape me. The interesting thing was that when we went to the court case around that I was the one, as well as him, but I was the one who was in handcuffs and shackles going to the court.
So, because they of course, like what happened with the objectors in DB the warders told the prisoners that we were all communists and tried to isolate us away from the rest of the prisoners because they were very afraid that we would influence them. We did influence them in the end. The one prisoner tried to hang himself and that was the one time I was allowed to do some medical work and then from then onwards he wanted to join the African National Congress because he believed that at least we were supportive and caring people.
I think overall, just to say, that that second wave of political objection was a very important wave and Richard and Peter and people like that in that first wave and the second wave, and the work of the End Conscription Campaign effectively meant that ultimately we no longer have conscription, and for that we are really thankful.
DR ORR: Ivan thank you. I have so many things which I would like to say but I know there is not time. Perhaps just a few things, to you and Richard, although we think that we are big and brave and have dealt with and got over issues, revisiting past pain is still very painful and I want to say thank you to both of you for doing that for us today, and for doing it in such an honest, open and sincere way.
Ivan I really identify with your turmoil over the dual obligation issue as a doctor. You know that I too faced that and I think if there is anything we can do in terms of development in the health sector is to help doctors deal with those issues, because it is horrendous when you are asked to do things which are against your principles as a professional.
Finally to say that I think being called an "opstoker" is actually a badge of honour rather than something to be ashamed of and I think there are quite a few "opstokers" in this room and may we carry on "stoking op". Thank you very much to both of you.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Wendy for those words, and thanks to you both. We are going to have Gary Koen talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, and I think this is a very important point to bring in that discussion. It's very clear that there is still a lot of pain that is carried by people who came into very close contact with the experience of conscription and tried to resist it. And even those people who resisted conscription seem to have been traumatised by the way they were treated for standing up to their conscience. But thank you very much Ivan and Richard. Gary would you come up please.
This is Gary Koen and Gary is going to open up the discussion for us on the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and conscription. Thank you Gary and welcome.
PTSD AND CONSCRIPTS
MR KOEN: Alright. Must I just proceed. I have prepared something. The way I am going to structure my presentation ...(intervention)
CHAIRPERSON: Sorry Gary, can I just mention that Dr Wendy Orr is going to facilitate your presentation.
MR KOEN: What I thought I would do is just give an overview of what post-traumatic stress disorder is and how it manifests and then possibly provide some clinical material with somebody who I have worked with just to try and illustrate what it means to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post traumatic stress disorder is a generic term describing the effects of extreme stress on the human mind. Whilst the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder are standard according to the DSM 4, the events that precipitate them are numerous. They can arise from a single episode of life threatening harm and violence such as rape and assault, or disasters, both natural and manmade. My focus will be post traumatic stress disorder as it occurred in specifically war-related incidents. In this regard the type of war was also important.
Guerilla warfare, the type of war fought in the South African borders for the past 20 years contains many unique features not seen in conventional warfare. These include hit and run tactics, surprise ambushes, extensive use of landmines and boobie traps as well as the stress experienced by people who are primarily town dwellers fighting a bush war. Unpredictability characterises this type of environment and the uncertainty of either attack or safety leads to a high level of anxiety and hyper-arousal in anticipation of the next attack.
Whilst the majority of the South African troops were not involved in actual fire-fight a significant number were exposed to the conditions exposed above. It is these soldiers who have been most likely to suffer the effects of such stress.
Of particular interest are the personnel from the medical corps, particularly the operations medics for whom no amount of training could prepare them for the type and volume of wounds they encountered, or for the prevalence of death in their environment.
Once national service was over the individual was expected to slip normally into the mainstream of society, their expectation being that their whole lives were lying ahead of them. Little attention was paid to that that was behind them.
A phenomenological understanding of post traumatic stress disorder could be expressed in terms of somebody who has literally been blasted out of time, events in an environment so unlike our normal experience of reality have produced emotions of such intensity and force that they appear impossible to assimilate the daily experience of living. This aftermath is known as a state of psychic numbness and a discontinuity of being. In effect the person has been dislocated from life.
Post traumatic stress disorder is the one syndrome in which death features most prominently in that the anxiety experienced by the person is a radical intrusion of an image feeling of death or an end to life. The anxiety has to do with the grotesqueness in the absurdity of the image, its suddenness, its association with terror or premature death and its extreme and protracted nature.
The death encounter opens up the most primitive fears of human vulnerability and forever destroys the myth of omnipotence. It contains the ultimate in truth about beginnings and endings and forces a confrontation with one's own transiency and the mutability of life.
The second factor to be considered is what could be termed "survivor guilt" and self-condemnation. This is a psychological guilt precipitate by an experience of extreme helplessness at the time of the trauma. Feeling the guilt is what is known as failed enactment which refers to one's instinct at the time of the trauma to halt or prevent the trauma from happening. One is seldom able to do anything at such times and what one does do is often far from the ideal reaction. Failing to achieve what should have been done can lead to a form of perpetual self-condemnation and a state of helplessness continuing long after the helplessness induced by the trauma.
However, guilt is an ambiguous state. Whilst part of oneself remains stuck in perpetual horror of the suffering another part experiences great joy at having survived. This joy is in itself ambivalent as the vitality of joy appears sacrilegious in the face of the death and the pain and the suffering of others.
Transcending the traumatised self requires one to move beyond the devitalising event with its aspect of personal responsibility and guilt to an awareness of one's common humanity and condition, to forgiveness, relief from guilt and happiness. Whilst this process does not restore innocence it does re-establish integrity with self and others.
A third vital factor is what is known as psychic numbing and this refers to the radical discontinuity that characterises post traumatic stress disorder. The sense of self is literally blasted out of time and an experience of disassociation follows. The self is severed from familiar experiences of compassion, community and value. In effect the person undergoes a reversible form of symbolic death in order to avoid permanent physical or psychical death. This describes the profound isolation most sufferers experience cut off, not only from the world but also from that part of themselves that could reconnect them with the world.
A further manifestation occurs within problems related to intimacy and nurturance. The conflict within the survivor has to do both with the special need for human relationships and an association of weakness with that need. Any help offered is regarded as a reminder of weakness. This stems from an experience of having been dependent on other human relationships only to see them taken away in the most violent and grotesque manner. Human relationships are thus characterised by being fragile and unreliable, consequently one guards against them.
Another part of this resistance has to do with the feeling of being tainted by death, of carrying the psychic stigma of being annihilated. Having been treated so cruelly and annihilated so easily one internalises the feeling of being small and worthless. The survivor emotion to counteract such inner death is often to rage and storm at the world. One can understand this anger as being a more comfortable emotion than extreme anxiety and guilt. This anger may also be, for the veteran, the only psychic lifeline when surrounded by images of death. Unfortunately anger often results in the withdrawal of others from the veteran which exacerbates his feelings of loneliness and isolation.
I am going to talk briefly about a case. I will refer to the person as Shaun. He was an operations medic on the border. I won't be divulging much more than that. Shaun brought to therapy a range of severe and debilitating symptoms that intruded upon him and affected him to such an extent he considered his life to be without meaning.
Shaun was plagued by a terrible feeling of foreboding that his life was constantly being threatened by a portentous force capable of destroying him. He was racked by anxiety and tension that left his nerves raw with a feeling of unhealthy exhaustion. He suffered the most gruesome nightmares and was afraid to go to sleep.
For a while he drank heavily but would experience grotesque flashbacks that frightened him sufficiently to cut down dramatically. He felt desperately alone and isolated, trapped in a world of terrifying experiences from which he could find no relief. He felt bitter and angry at his isolation directing his anger at others for allegedly not caring and also at himself for having such violent emotions.
Shaun eloquently described the impact that the trauma had on him by saying that as a result a part of him had died. His own life force had been extinguished by the brutality and the volume of all the deaths he had witnessed. His presence was weighted and his words clouded by black funereal despair.
The aim of therapy was thus to return Shaun to life, to engage with that force within him that brought him to therapy and to lead him to discover the inner strength that enabled him to survive. Although the initial sessions were typified by certain blankness of expression and absence of emotion the sudden displays of anger and pain were encouraging and that they pointed to the emotional volatility and life that seethed beneath his cut-off and defended facade.
I had a sense of the need that Shaun had for a place to bring that emotion, to safely express it, to be contained within it and to try and understand it. I acknowledged that need and in a sign of therapeutic faith I communicated that therapy could provide that space.
A significant feature of this particular therapy was the faith I maintained in his reparative powers which remained consistently part of the whole process. Although I could not anticipate the levels of pain and despair that ensued, and at times felt quite broken myself, essentially I never doubted that he would pull through.
However, an aspect of faith that I needed to learn upon beginning work with Shaun was patience. In this respect an understanding of the graphic lack of organisation that characterises a war situation is important. Events happen without warning and without sense. The soldiers, unable to conceive of events occurring in a linear or contained fashion, as for instance somebody who was watching a movie on war, there is no sense, there is simply chaos and to urge a soldier back into that chaos without spending time in allowing him to reorganise his emotions and cognitions differentiating past from present is dangerous.
Necessary mention must also be made of my own expectations of the therapy. At this point, having had virtually no exposure to post traumatic stress disorder my only understanding was that the symptoms represented powerful repressed emotions experienced by the individual has either been too painful or too destructive to be expressed. Treatment would then focus on two levels, one thing to normalise the condition by explaining that such reactions are normal in abnormal circumstances. Having established that, this would in turn allow the repressed emotions to be accessed using various techniques which would allow for an emotional catharsis. The dramatic relief that would come following the diminishment of intensity of the repressed emotion would gradually lead to the symptoms fading and the victim's life returning to normal. However from quite early in the therapeutic process, this perspective changed. What alerted me to the deeper implications the trauma had on Shaun was his reluctance to confront the impact, the violent nature the trauma had on him. Instead chastising himself for feeling such emotions for, suffering at all. The incongruency of his guilt and his self-condemnation in the light of his sufferings led me to consider further the destructive relationship towards himself. That which he had internalised. The therapeutic process thus deepened to include not only a means of dealing with the acute savagery of his symptoms that necessarily required a reexamination of his relationships with the world, with others and with his own frightened and vulnerable human self.
The early phases of the treatment consisted almost of a sense of many courses in that explanations are made and links are drawn to show how everyday events will remind him of traumatic events. For instance, dustbin bags would remind him of body bags, the smell of paint would evoke images of a burnt out car wreck. Shaun struggled to accept these explanations and at times it was necessary to intervene very actively to deter him from acting on his impulses as was the case when Shaun wanted to physically assault an irritating friend of his who reminded him of a soldier whose casual attitude allowed somebody to die.
This process continued throughout the therapy but at a more profound and embroidered level becoming much more than a simple technique. At a much later stage in the therapy Shaun was shown how he bound himself to his traumatic past. Now he refused to distinguish between somebody running down his university corridor and somebody charging towards his army bungalow to kick the door open and wake him for an emergency. To acknowledge the difference would have meant to feel the pain of the past and just how much he'd been affected by it. It would have meant to stop getting so angry, not only at the world, but also himself for seemingly being so different from everyone around him and to confront the reality of his hurt. It meant a fundamental shift in attitude towards himself where feeling hurt was not something to be despised but was an acceptable emotion under all the circumstances. It meant understanding himself and not criticising himself.
These techniques essentially allow the veteran to focus on the present dimension of his life without succumbing to the potentially overwhelming anxiety of his combat experience. However in so doing on encounters the myriad of problematic belief systems which still operate in civilian life. The most entrenched belief that Shaun suffered from was that he was a freak because of what he was feeling and although this attitude was also constantly challenged, the revoking of the belief required a fundamental change from Shaun in his attitude towards himself and his suffering, a shift from a punitive and self-condemnatory stance to one of caring and understanding.
These belief systems occurred in virtually every facet of Shaun's life including his perception of the world as being filled with uncaring, indifferent people, that he was entitled to behave the way he did because of what he had been through, basically culminating in a recognition that his perception of his own experiences as being filthy and unacceptable was a large component contributing to his sense of isolation. The absence of any tears, any real feeling in the onslaught of human carnage as Shaun described it, is what is known as the psychic numbing. It was as though Shaun remained symbiotically fused with his experiences. The death of the thousands represented his own death. To grieve for all of them was an impossible task. It was for the loss of himself that he had to grieve, the loss of his innocence and his own psychic death. To do that he had to separate himself from the deaths. Separation is a loss, he needed to be allowed to grieve his losses without any further loss to himself.
Shaun approached therapy with a mixture of resentment as well as reluctant dependency. Often his behaviour outside of therapy seemed to point to the fact that that therapy was useless and not helping. He continued to get angry at, and feel isolated from the world. Other people's behaviour evoked enormous rage in him, relationships continued to disappoint him, his family and friends were either oblivious to his suffering or did not understand it and when he did tell someone like his girlfriend they reacted with horror and then shunned him. What needed to be separated and made quite distinct was the horrific nature of his experiences from the impact such experiences would have on him. His girlfriend played a vital role in making that distinction. She was angry and disappointed in Shaun, not because of the experiences that he had shared with her but because of the way he behaved towards her afterwards. This could be shown how dramatically and literally Shaun saw himself as being disgusting because of what he had experienced, because what he had experienced was disgusting.
The shifting of these attitudes was a vital aspect of the recovery process as it demanded that Shaun acknowledge that there could be a different reality to the distorted and hopeless vision he clung to. The point is that to be literally bound to a traumatic experience is to permit oneself no psychic vitality in relationship to the experience itself and to limit vitality in other areas of life as well.
One could define the traumatic syndrome as the state of being haunted by images that can neither be enacted nor cast aside. Suffering is associated with being stuck, hence the indelible image is always associated with guilt and in its most intense form, it takes the shape of an image of ultimate horror. A single image that condenses the totality of the destruction and the trauma and evokes particularly intense feelings of pity and self condemnation in the survivor.
Shaun would often chastise himself for having let others die or even accused himself of having killed them. His guilt seemed not only irrational but also completely unfair. Certainly the most painful moment in the whole treatment occurred when he lamented the death of the child, the child who died in his arms and perhaps the most brutal moment occurred when he smashed his fist into his own face, blaming himself for having caused the child's death. The contrast between the two experiences was marked. The first experience evoked an entirely human reaction, the pain of all those who died becoming sensed around this experience of a solitary child's death. There is nothing more vulnerable and in need of protection than a child and there is little else that shows up the barbaric nature and violence of war than when a child is killed. Shaun accessed this awareness in the most painful way, his grief was shy to the most profound despair. Simultaneously this experience gave rise to the most abusive and seemingly inexplicable guilt and self-condemnation. In this instance what required recognition, understanding and containment, was that there really was nothing that Shaun could do. His feelings resulted from the tragic consequence of being placed in a situation where he was impotent and helpless. His immense guilt was a reaction against this experience of helplessness. The child in his arms was helpless and the child died. Helplessness is equivalent to death, so rather than acknowledge his helplessness, he would condemn himself for living and blame himself for the child's death. Shaun's fantasy was that if he were a doctor with somehow the skill to save the child it would have been different. This is known as failed enactment whereby the veteran, by simultaneously experiencing the horror of the incident, also has an anticipatory plan of action to remedy the situation and failing to do so suffers the consequences for that failure indefinitely.
This profound experience of guilt is not something essentially resolvable. Guilt is integral to the human experience because it's from the experience of guilt that one draws the necessary insights into the morality of our actions. How they affect ourselves and others. As such guilt is necessarily ambiguous and it is this aspect that facilitates a movement beyond this stuckness that characterises traumatic guilt. It provides the possibility of finding some alternate enactment for the image that haunts one of undergoing personal transformation around that image.
Shaun had to recognise not only how much he had suffered but also how glad he was that he was alive. Perhaps the most uplifting moment in the whole treatment was when Shaun welcomed himself back. He allowed himself the pleasure of living again, bring both relief and joy.
A final note, just that advice to any therapists who intend working with war veterans is that they should begin sharpening their personal instrumentation as they can expect to encounter horrors on a scale not thought possible. Images of revulsion, disgust, grotesque discomfort and immense pain and despair are some of the sensations experienced, that being difficult to prepare oneself for any single horror.
DR ORR: Gary thank you, I have no questions. Just a few comments. Firstly I feel that as you were describing the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, very many people in this room recognise those symptoms either in themselves or their brothers or their friends, their husbands, their boyfriends. Which leads me to realise that there are so many damaged and injured young men amongst others in this country who have been really very severely damaged by the experience of conscription and which leaves us with an immense challenge of what we do to heal that damage. That's one of the challenges that faces not only the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but all or us and thank you for presenting that challenge to us today.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Gary. We are going to break for lunch and we will resume the sessions at 12H55. But perhaps at this point just to mention that we have heard a number of submissions from ex-conscripts and with all of them there is this sense of helplessness and one can almost feel this crying out that someone must listen, I want to talk to someone. Many of these people feel that noone wants to listen, noone understands their experience and there is this very deep sadness that nothing can be done about their experience, and I think Wendy is right to say that this is an immense challenge. Post traumatic stress disorder in particular, is not an easy condition to control and to treat. Perhaps this is why it's been ignored. Perhaps mental health specialists are avoiding dealing with it because they know they are going to be opening up a can of worms. I think you're right to say, Gary that those who hope to help in this regard have got to sharpen their personnel because there is a lot out there judging by the statements that we have received and by the number of people who just wanted to talk, who were not ready to make statements but simply because they heard the Commission was going to attend to this issue. They just wanted someone on the other end of the phone who will hear them and it's a pity that many of those voices will pale into the silence that has characterised the history of conscription.
We will break for lunch and I would like people to return here at 12H55. The submission that follows after that will begin at 1 o'clock. There's another one, a very brief one at 12H55, though I would invite people to come back as soon as they can. Thank you very much.