Mhambi has been redeployed.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Principled and brave Ivan Toms dies

Sometimes brave and principled individuals can make a difference. This week Dr. Ivan Toms died. He is one of those people we seem to have to such a dearth of in today's South Africa.

Ivan Toms shot to prominence when he agreed to be the public face of resistance to conscription at a time when it was very critical for the SADF. He very publicly refused to go to the SADF and went on a hunger strike. Ivan Toms, against the advice of ECC organisers, was also openly gay. And for this he was pilloried as much as for his objection to military service.

Toms had done time on the Namibian Angolan border as a medic. But it was upon his return to South Africa, when violence erupted in the townships and he witnessed troops involved in this violence that Toms decided not to serve in the army again.

On 3 March 1988, Toms was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment of which he served nine months in Pollsmoor Prison as a 'criminal' prisoner, after which he was released on bail.

At the time of his sentence the Judge said although he had no option but to follow the law and sentence Toms:

“You are not a criminal. Our jails are there for people who are a menace to society – you are not a menace to society. In fact you are just the opposite, you have always been an asset to society in the services you have rendered.”

According to Richard Steele another ex conscientious objector:

Further to the finding that Ivan died due to infection with meningococcal meningitis:- Some pieces of the puzzle may be that Ivan had his spleen removed some years after his ECC fast, due to the damage incurred during the fast. According to the medical literature on meningitis, lack of a spleen can be a risk factor for the rapid progress of meningitis. Another risk factor may have been the fact that he had recently completed the Argus cycle race. Such a strenuous event can deplete the immune system and make one vulnerable to infection.

I once spoke to Toms to get an interview with him for a documentary on the Border War. He was humble and although helpful, felt that other ex members of the ECC also deserved credit and gave me their details.

Read a good summary of some of Ivan Toms achievements here.

Or try to get hold of the Eat my Call Up documentary by Naashon Zalk to see an intimate portrait of Ivan Toms.

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