PhD Presentation - Stephen Symons

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‘Shadows asking an echo to dance’ Navigating ambiguity: How former conscripts (1980-1990) navigate memories of induction into the SADF and whiteness in post post-apartheid society.

Text of PhD Presentation - Stephen Symons

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    Call-up papers were issued to all white males from the age of 17

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    Conscript photos from SA Army Basic Training in the SADF (1980s)

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    SA Navy conscripts: Bierman Company, SAS Saldanha (1990)

    Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

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    Beach party, SA Navy conscripts: Bierman Company,

    SAS Saldanha (1990)

    Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

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    Situating itself within the interdisciplinary nexus of gender,

    memory and visual studies, my thesis focuses on

    recollections of the transitionary phase of registration for

    military service (initially occurring within a secondary school

    environment), induction and basic training of conscripts in the

    SADF, as well as the place / role / guises of these typically highly

    gendered memories within post-apartheid South Africa.

  • While the Border War and conflict in the townships has drawn

    much discussion and research, the induction phase and basic

    training within the SADF remains a largely unexplored domain,

    particularly within the disciplinary framework of this study. The

    thesis responds to this gap, highlighting not the battlefield

    but the induction and training phase of SADF conscripts.

  • Border War literature histories & commentary

  • Border War literature photographic and conscript narratives

  • Border War literature novels, plays & poetry

  • According to sociologist, George Lipsitz,

    counter-memory unearths the past exposing

    the "hidden histories" excluded from dominant

    narratives to present fresh perspectives on

    past events.

  • The induction phase acknowledged and

    underwrote a deterministic view of race,

    duty and hegemonic masculinities

    inculcated in young white South African

    men since early childhood.

  • The Secondary School Cadets system was established

    in the mid 70s and fell under the auspices of the SADF.

  • By entering parental roles, ex-conscripts are forced to pose

    deeper questions relating to apartheid era parental compliance

    with conscription.

    However, discourse (written, spoken and visual) is also crucial

    to individual cathartic processes of necessary forgetting, not

    necessarily as an antidote to memory, but as a means of

    relinquishing redundant notions of masculinity.

  • The Archive as counter-memory

    Letters to the author.

    These are objects (including photographs) that act as evidence

    of past events or traces of subjugated histories, and once

    contextualised, begin to function as counter-memories.

  • The archive as counter-memory

    Standard issue South African Defence Force R1 rifle bayonet

  • The archive as counter-memory

    Inspection checklist & small arms safety manual, Feb. 1990

  • The archive as counter-memory

    Standard issue South African Defence Force R1 rifle. This rifle was a locally manufactured copy of the Belgiun FN FAL rifle.

  • The archive as counter-memory

    SAS Simonstown, Marine Naval Base inspection

  • The archive as counter-memory

    SADF Pattern 70 webbing. During basic training webbing was often filled with

    a sandbag during route marches and physical training.

  • Excerpt from a letter to the author, Feb. 1990

  • Conscript portrait archive

    All the following photographs were taken during basic

    training as SAS Saldana Naval Training Base during

    basic training in February & March 1990.

    All the photographs were taken on a Minolta XG 1

    analogue camera with no flash using Kodak E3 slide film.

  • The photograph as counter-memory

    For Barthes, not only is the photograph never, in essence a memory ... but

    it actually blocks memory, (and) quickly becomes a counter-memory.

    (Barthes 1981:91)

    2. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography . New York, Hill and Wang, 1981, 91.

  • The photograph as counter-memory

    Barthes perceives memory as more sensation than frozen image. We as

    the viewer can only imagine and never smell, touch, taste, or feel what

    is pictured in the photograph.

    2. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography . New York, Hill and Wang, 1981, 91.

  • SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

    Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Film: Kodak E3 Slide film, Camera: Minolta XG 1, no flash

    SA Navy Conscript birthday celebration, Bierman Company,

    SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Conscript photo archive

    Basic Training

  • Route march, SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval

    Base, Feb. 1990

  • Route march, SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval

    Base, Feb. 1990

  • Completion of a route march, SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS

    Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Passing out parade, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Route march, SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company,

    SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • Smoke break during PT, SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base,

    Feb. 1990

    Inspection, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • SA Navy PT instructor,SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • SA Navy Conscripts, Bierman Company, SAS Saldana Naval Base, Feb. 1990

  • This study may also be of relevance to

    transitional contexts elsewhere in which

    men who were conscripted into a system

    that was eventually vanquished and much

    castigated seek means of reintegration

    into the society they call home.

  • Thank you

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