Johannesburg — Billy Paddock's words were often drowned out by the rumble of passing military trucks.
But his message was audible and unambiguous when he told a uniformed military tribunal earlier this week (Oct. 5) why he refused to do military service:
''I cannot enter the SADF [South African Defense Force] because of the role it plays in defending the structural violence of the South African system.''
The words were startling in the South African context. They represented the first purely political objection to Pretoria's massive military call-up system, which sets its sights on every able-bodied white male from 16 to 65.
For the most part, that call-up system operates without serious resistance. The South African government constantly warns the population here of Soviet designs to take control of South Africa. It contends those designs include a looming military threat from neighboring black countries as part of a Soviet-backed ''onslaught.''
As a result, this society bristles with military preparedness. In the white political spectrum there is basic agreement on the need for South Africa to maintain a superior military posture in Africa. It is against the law to encourage anyone to resist military service.
Whatever resistance there is to doing military service goes on largely out of public view. A church official knowledgeable on such matters estimates some 3, 000 South African males refuse call-up each year by either leaving the country or simply evading their legal obligation.
This background makes the Paddock case highly unusual.
He was only the seventh ''conscientious objector'' to overtly refuse to do military service in South Africa, outside of those belonging to religious groups that prohibit members from participating in the military. The first case was in 1977.
All but one of the previous conscientious objectors refused to join the defense force because they claimed they were pacifists. The exception based his refusal on primarily religious grounds.
Although Paddock said he could not separate his Christian convictions from his political views, the 16-page statement he read to the court in his own defense was a lucid and detailed attack on the social structure in South Africa.
He depicted the South African Defense Force as mainly a vehicle used by Pretoria to ''maintain white class and racial domination in South and southern Africa.'' He said bluntly: ''The SADF is engaged in a war against blacks.''
Paddock did not claim to be a pacifist. He subscribes to the ''just war'' theory, which holds that if a war can meet certain basic conditions, it does not necessarily violate Christian ethics.
But in going down the list of these basic requirements, which call, for example, for the war to be for a just cause and declared by a legitimate authority, Paddock said the ''war'' effort being waged by South Africa both internally (against black resistance) and externally (in Namibia) failed to satisfy any of these requirements.
Paddock sees the white government of South Africa as not legitimate, because it represents a minority. He detailed a number of laws used to maintain South Africa's segregated racial structure and concluded the buildup of military might was not to ward off any outside aggressor, but to wage a ''war in defense of apartheid.''
The only legal concession made to conscientious objectors in South Africa is for those who belong to a church that teaches its members not to participate in military service. Members of these churches are still subject to a jail term, but they are not vulnerable to prosecution again after release from jail, as are others who refuse to do military service.
The military court took little time in deciding Paddock's fate, as it was a straightforward case of political resistance. He was discharged dishonorably from the service and sent to prison for one year.