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Singing for a just peace: music against conscription


Conscription into the South African Defence Force (SADF) became a rallying point for expressing resistance to an increasingly militant apartheid state in the 1980s. As conscious objectors were becoming more vocal about how compulsory military conscription was forcing white men to become perpetrators of state repression, many of the songs recorded by Shifty reflected these concerns.

Into this context in early 1985, Shifty released the slyly titled A Naartjie in our Sosatie, a compilation of South African rebel rhythms by musicians who were, in different ways, trying to put their music where their politics were.

"They pull a blanket over Soweto
they pull a blanket nowhere to go
they pull a blanket over the news
they pull a blanket nothing to choose."

- International News, National Wake

Album cover: Forces Favourites (Rounder release)Album cover: A naartjie in our sosatie

Less than a year later, the country was deep in a state of emergency, troops were in the townships and more conscripts were refusing to report to duty than ever before. Shifty, in conjunction with the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), issued a potent new musical call for South Africans to support young men who were refusing to march to war unthinkingly for apartheid's army, choosing rather to challenge the system that had forced conscription upon them. The album title, Forces Favourites, was an ironic nod at a SABC radio's armed forces request programme that sent patriotic messages of support to "our boys on the border" and played music that could not have been further removed from Shifty in spirit or intent.

Featuring various Shifty musicians who had been performing at ECC concerts and speaking plainly about these dark days, Forces Favourites was “a brilliant cross-section of alternative white youth culturei” demonstrating how disaffected young people were choosing to question apartheid, to get up off their feet and move to a different beat. Shifty provided the soundtrack to this partying for a purpose, for a just future for South Africa.

i "Don't underestimate the power of electric guitar", Business Day, August 6, 2012

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