David Bruce received a call-up notice from the South African Defence Force (SADF) in July 1987. His choices were two years in the army, exile, or six years in jail. Bruce had just finishing an extended stay in college, went to an open-air military induction point called Sturrock Park, on 5 August, and told a clerk there he would refuse military service-not because he`s a pacifist, but because he won`t ``fight in defence of a racist political system.``

In January 1988, the SADF contacted his parents and asked him to come to the military police headquarters where they asked him once again if he would do his national military service and he refused. They placed him under arrest. He was charged and released on his own recognisance. On he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.

At that time, the government didn’t acknowledge ‘political offenders’, but they made a distinction between ‘security offenders’ and common criminals. Security offenders were kept in separate prisons from common criminals. Conscientious objectors weren’t treated as security offenders. They were all placed in jails with ordinary criminals, and were all kept in separate prisons. Conscientious objectors were also not allowed to receive remission or parole.

On 25 July 1988, David Bruce was the first military conscientious objector, in South Africa, to be sentenced to the maximum prison term of six years. He is now an independent researcher specialising in policing, crime and criminal justice.

His father, a pension clerk, served in the British air force in World War II. His mother was a pre-war refugee from Nazi Germany.

In Bruce’s words:

“My mother came from a German Jewish family. Though she and her mother and father escaped to South Africa, her broader family suffered severely during the years of the Nazi Holocaust. I grew up with an awareness that my own family had suffered from racism and that racism was wrong. In order to be able to condemn what had happened in Germany I felt that I had to be able to say that I would refuse to cooperate in racial oppression of other people. I refused to serve in the SADF as a statement against racism.”

Bruce, a White South African who refused military service on the grounds that it exists "purely to maintain white supremacy," was sentenced to an unprecedented six years in prison. At the time, the 25-year-old conscientious objector received the maximum penalty for violating a law requiring young White men to serve in the South African Defence Force (SADF).The crowd broke into “Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika" (God Bless Africa), the national anthem of the Black resistance, moments after the sentence was handed down.

The Magistrate, Pieter Bredenkamp, rejected appeals for leniency, saying the state has a duty "to protect all individuals" and that military service is an obligation vital to safeguarding state security.The case received widespread publicity in the South African media and refocused attention on demands by the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) for changes in the military service law to provide alternatives for conscientious objectors.

Fortunately, at the end of 1989, military service was cut in half. The State President announced that the sentences of conscientious objectors would be cut in half. His sentence was reduced from six to three years.

Presently, Bruce is a Senior Researcher in the Criminal Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. While he has a general interest in issues of policing, criminal justice and crime prevention his work is mainly focused firstly on issues of police integrity, conduct and accountability and on the issue of effective evidence based crime investigation and prosecution. In the recent period his work on police integrity has focused on the use of force by police and a range of related issues including the problems of police brutality and deaths as a result of police action, and measures to control police use of force including internal control measures and oversight mechanisms. His work has also focused on the issue of police corruption and he is currently editing a book on preventing and controlling police corruption and brutality in South Africa. The work on evidence based crime investigation and prosecution links to an interest in the role of witnesses, particularly in relation to the types of skills which detectives and prosecutors need to have to work effectively with witnesses, and the links between these issues and victim empowerment.

Bruce also coordinates the policing components of the work of the CJP. In the past his work has also dealt with other aspects of policing and crime prevention including community policing and local level safety and security issues as well as the issue of vigilantism. He has written for a variety of South African newspapers as well as criminal justice related journals. Prior to joining CSVR in 1996, David worked for the Nedcor Project on Crime, Violence and Investment, the Ceasefire Campaign, the National Youth Service Initiative, the ECC and the journal, Critical Health.

In 1988 he received the Reebok Human Rights Award after being sentenced to imprisonment for refusing to do military service under the apartheid system on the grounds of his opposition to racism. He has a BA from the University of the Witwatersrand which he obtained in 1988 and a Masters in Public and Development Management which he obtained in 2000.


Pierce, T. (2014). David Bruce . Available at https://thompierce.com/the-objectors/ online. Accessed on 6 November 2014| UPI. (1988). White S. African Who Refused to Serve in Military Gets 6-Year Prison Term from the Los Angeles Times, 26 July - Available at https://articles.latimes.com/1988-07-26/news/mn-6445_1_white-south-african online. Accessed on 6 November 2014.| Zucchino, D. (1988). 'Viva, Bruce!': S. African Draft Resister Is Jailed, from Philly.com, 26 July.  https://articles.philly.com/1988-07-26/news/26238797_1_whites-army-blacks online. Accessed on 6 November 2014.| Gordon, J.  David Bruce, interviewed by Julie Gordon in Cutting through the mountain. Available athttps://www.sahistory.org.za/sites/default/files/civil_disobedience.pdf online. Accessed on 7 November 2014.| CSVR. (2013). David Bruce, Specialist Researcher from the CSVR. Available at https://www.csvr.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1891%3Adavid-bruce&catid=148%3Astaff&Itemid=6 online. Accessed on 7 November 2014.

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