Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Lynn Berat

First Page



By the end of 1975, Mozambique and Angola' had gained independence; in 1980, Rhodesia became black majority ruled Zimbabwe.' Although it is currently occupied illegally by South Africa in contravention of both a United Nations Security Council Resolution and an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice,' even Namibia (also known as South West Africa) will soon become an independent state.' No longer surrounded by a buffer zone of white minority ruled states separating it from black ruled Africa, South Africa stands alone, the last outpost of white supremacy on the continent.

Amidst all of these developments, the South African regime, whose apartheid policy has been declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations," has come under increasing pressure from without and within. In response, the South African Government appears to have dug itself in. Prepared to defend white power and privilege at all costs by transforming South Africa into a militarized state, the Government has brought military capacity to an unprecedented level and progressively enlarged both the size of its armed forces and the amount of time required for military service. South Africa uses its military might not only to maintain its apartheid system but also to destabilize the governments of neighboring black states in an effort to ensure its dominance in the region.

Much to South Africa's chagrin, however, a growing number of young white males who feel that they cannot defend the Government and its brutal policies have sought to avoid conscription by fleeing the country, hiding within the country, or becoming conscientious objectors." The Government, in turn, has implemented ever more stringent restraints upon such objectors in an effort to crush dissent. Indeed, there is a definite link between the exigency of South African conscription legislation and the amount of pressure under which the regime perceives itself to be. This Article examines the nature of that relationship and its deleterious effects upon the prospects for peaceful change in South Africa. Part II discusses the origins of South African defense legislation. Part III examines the Defense Act of 1957, the central piece of South African defense legislation, and subsequent enactments affecting conscientious objectors. Parts IV and V consider legislative trends in the 1970s and 1980s respectively. These sections specifically address the role of internal anti-apartheid activities and external developments in fostering a vast military buildup, increased conscription, and an almost total intolerance of conscientious objection. Part VI suggests ways in which current South African law should be liberalized and, barring such an occurrence, assesses the obligations of the members of the international community to aid conscientious objectors.