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Denel (Pty) Ltd

Winning hearts and minds over to the army and defence industry

• Laura Pollecut

Conscription propped up the apartheid government. Without its regular intake of white youth, the apartheid regime could not have stayed in power as long as it did. The movement against conscription gained ground in the 1980s and was one of the contributing factors to the then government’s decision to enter negotiations. Finally after the first democratic elections in 1994, conscription became a thing of the past when South Africa introduced a voluntary professional army.

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During apartheid, the South African regime desperately needed arms to suppress resistance within the country and to destabilise neighbouring countries opposed to its rule. To curb the Pretoria desperados, the United Nations imposed an arms embargo in 1963. Pretoria’s response was the development of its own arms production industry (now Denel) coupled with a cloak-and-dagger sanctions-busting procurement agency (now Armscor).

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The apartheid government relied heavily on conscription to perpetuate its power in the region as well as to suppress the majority of South Africans.

Conscientious objection increased in the 1980s and found popular support in the End Conscription Campaign. The ever-increasing number of young white men refusing to serve in the apartheid army or just not turning up for duty, was a contributing factor to demise of the apartheid state. In 1993, with the first democratic election in sight, the ECC disbanded.

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