Every coward's choice? Political objection to military service in apartheid South Africa as sexual citizenship

Conway, Daniel (2004). Every coward's choice? Political objection to military service in apartheid South Africa as sexual citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 8(1) pp. 25–45.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1362102042000178418

URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1362102...


Sexuality was articulated by the apartheid state as a means of disciplining the white population and marginalizing white opponents of apartheid. As such, homophobia was a recurrent feature of political and legal discourse. The End Conscription Campaign (ECC) opposed compulsory conscription for all white men in the apartheid era South African Defence Force (SADF). Its challenge was a potentially radical and profoundly destabilizing one and it articulated a competing definition of citizenship to that offered by the state. The pro‐ and anti‐conscription discourse was inherently gendered and overtly sexualized. The South African government regularly associated men who objected to military service with effeminacy, cowardice and sexual ‘deviance’. The case of Dr Ivan Toms' objection, a gay objector who wished to cite his sexuality as a primary motivation for his objection, reveals the unwillingness of the ECC to engage in sexual politics. Using Shane Phelan's and Zygmunt Bauman's concept of friends, enemies and strangers, this paper investigates the construction of both white gay men and white people who opposed apartheid as ‘strangers’ and suggests that the deployment of homophobia by the state was a stigmatizing discourse aimed at purging the ECC's political message from the public realm. In this context the ECC adopted an assimilatory discursive strategy, whereby they attempted to be ‘respectable whites’, negotiating over shared republican territory. This populist strategy, arguably safer in the short term, avoided issues of sexuality and the fundamental conflation of sexuality and citizenship in apartheid South Africa. The ECC thus circumscribed its radical and deconstructive political potential and did not offer a ‘radical democratic’ message in opposition to apartheid.

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