This thesis seeks to contribute fresh insights into the construction of militarised masculinities,
memory and whiteness during the height of the apartheid era. It focuses specifically on
the militarised childhoods and conscription of white males into the former South African
Defence Force (SADF), and how their memories navigate the ambiguities of a post-apartheid
space. Situating itself within the interdisciplinary nexus of memory, masculinity, whiteness
and creative visual studies, the study focuses on the decade from 1980 to 1990, primarily
because this period marks both the apogee and decline of the regime’s political and military
While the South African Border War (1966-1989) has drawn much scholarly discussion and
research, induction and basic training in the SADF remain a largely unexplored domain,
particularly within the disciplinary framework of the study. The thesis responds to this gap,
highlighting not the battlefield but memories of induction and basic training in the SADF.
Drawing on a series of one-to-one interviews with ex-conscripts, I explore the formative and
ritualised stages of the development of white militarised masculinities during the 1980s.
These memories draw on furtive histories that have been largely excluded from presiding
narratives, yet continue to resonate in the present, assuming the guise of collective or
individual counter-memories, that are often infused with nostalgia.
I propose that conscription was perceived by white South African males, including their
families and white apartheid society at large, as a mandatory rite of passage into adulthood,
the price of white citizenship and privilege. This prompts a deeper exploration of the ex-
SADF conscript’s sense of self within the contested narrative geographies of post-apartheid
The introduction and opening chapter provide a robust theoretical and methodological
framework for the study, followed by chapters that trace the process of militarised childhoods, induction into the SADF and basic training in chronological order. The thesis then shifts to
an expository and analytical exploration of the creative component.
The written component is complemented by two exhibitions that combine traditional
photography with digital imaging techniques, military materiel and architectural spaces
(visit: http://www.stephensymons.co.za to view the exhibitions). The venues included
an ex-SADF military base, the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town (2017), followed by an
on-campus exhibition at the University of Pretoria (2018). The creative component proposes
new vantage points within the framework of creative visual studies. In this sense it intends
to act as an alternative articulation in terms of knowledge production within the framework
of masculinity, whiteness and memory, encouraging epistemological shifts relating to visual
discourses within a post-apartheid space.
The conclusion includes reflections of how the thesis may encourage further inter-disciplinary
methodologies aimed at mapping the narratives of ex-SADF conscripts. Additionally, the
conclusion proposes that research of this nature may be of relevance to transitional contexts
elsewhere, in which ex-conscripts or veterans, now seek means of reintegration into the
society they call home.