Criticism of Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas is often centred around a comparison with the ANC. “Remember that the ANC was also once referred to as a terrorist group” we are told.
This seems to have become the established truth. Minds have simply snapped shut on the issue. But does this comparison stand up to closer scrutiny?
An article by Benjamin Pogrund on “The ANC example” from the Palestine-Israel journal of politics, economics and culture provides great insight into the alleged similarities between the ANC and Palestinian terrorists.
The comparison is easy to get away with. The ANC was the leader in the battle against apartheid and their armed struggle resulted in the apartheid government branding them a “terrorist organisation”.
The first point of departure between the ANC's armed struggle and Hamas lies in their beginnings. Hamas was born a violent group sworn to the complete destruction of the Jewish state. They have always been utterly opposed to the concept of compromise or negotiations.
The ANC was different. The ANC was created in 1912 and adhered to non-violence for almost 50 years. They attempted to achieve racial equality by pleading with the white minority for negotiations. The ANC’s armed struggle only started after the white government killed 68 blacks who had participated in peaceful demonstrations in Sharpeville.
Another significant departure is the principles on which the ANC’s armed struggle was based.
|Violence Against Property, Not People|
The armed struggle was founded on two fundamental principles: First, violence should not be directed against civilians but against property and military targets. This derived from the ANC’s history of non-violent protest, and its belief in the principle of non-violent political action to effect change as preached and practised by Mahatma Gandhi in fighting British rule in India. (Gandhi was an admired figure: He had lived in South Africa early in the century and led nonviolent protests against racial discrimination; his precepts were carried forward by an ANC ally, the South African Indian Congress).
Second, not killing whites was a pragmatic strategy aimed at keeping the door open for them to change. The argument was that violent and indiscriminate attacks would so frighten whites about their future that their determination to resist change would be deepened. Giving this approach even greater depth was the fact that whites were members of the ANC, and some occupied high leadership positions, alongside black, colored and Asian South Africans.
Religion was an added dimension. Christianity was strongly rooted among many blacks. Oliver Tambo, the ANC’s president in exile, was a devout Christian and nonviolence was part of his creed. Dr. Tom Karis, the eminent American authority on South African political history, has described it thus1: “The ANC was fundamentally opposed to any form of terrorism because such action would subvert its popular appeal among all racial groups and its legitimacy in a future government. In particular, the ANC’s policy on racial cooperation placed a high priority on facilitating the growth of white groups within South Africa that would be prepared to cooperate with it. It was genuinely anxious not to exacerbate racial bitterness, thus jeopardizing the goal of a nonracial society.
Nelson Mandela explained this strategy at his trial
|Mandela also explained that the ANC had adopted sabotage as a policy because it, “did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations.” Umkhonto members, he noted, were given, “strict instructions ... that on no account were they to injure or kill people.”|
So deep did this outlook go that the ANC became the first liberation movement to sign the protocol of the Geneva Convention on the “humanitarian conduct of war.” Hamas on the other-hand dress in civilian clothing - in direct contravention with the Geneva Convention.
Whilst their adherence to the principles of not harming civilians was never perfect the harm caused to whites was limited.
During the succeeding years, Umkhonto carried out many acts of sabotage: Some were spectacular in attacking government plants and electricity installations but overall they did only limited damage to the economy. “Armed struggle” was really no more than “armed propaganda.”
Nonviolence did not extend to what the ANC viewed as legitimate targets - armed or uniformed combatants, police officers, perceived informers and collaborators, and white farmers in border areas who formed part of military structures. But even this was limited: According to police statistics of the time, from 1976 to 1986, in a population of 30 to 35 million, about 130 people were killed by “terrorists.” Of these, about 30 were members of government security forces and 100 were civilians, of whom, in turn, 40 were whites and 60 were blacks.
The Hamas charter makes it clear the armed struggle is the only way. “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model to be followed, the Koran its constitution, Jihad its way, and death for the sake of Allah its loftiest desire.”
For the ANC, the armed struggle was always considered secondary.
|Intense Internal Debate|
Within the ANC, there was intense debate about the nature of the struggle: Should the priority be guerrilla warfare by soldiers trained in African and other countries (and by the PLO, too) and sent back into South Africa? Or should the focus be on political mass action inside South Africa?
The issue, noted Karis, was resolved in the late 1970s after a visit by Tambo and others to Vietnam to study its revolutionary experience. Henceforth, the “armed struggle” was considered “secondary” and the “main task” was “to concentrate on political mobilization and organization.” That, through the 1980s, was achieved through alliance with new organizations at home that worked in the open - the United Democratic Front and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
Another departure is the regret often expressed by the ANC after their actions resulted in the loss of innocent civilian lives.
|The worst bomb attack perpetrated by the ANC was outside a military headquarters in the capital, Pretoria, in 1983. The bomb exploded downtown during the afternoon rush hour, killing 21 people and injuring 217. The ANC explained that the bomb had gone off “prematurely.” When a bomb intended for a military convoy in the eastern coastal city of Durban caused civilian casualties, Oliver Tambo said the bombers had been “inexcusably careless.” At one stage, the ANC laid anti-tank mines in rural areas near the country’s northern and eastern borders. The mines were aimed at army patrols but also caused the death of civilians, including black laborers. The ANC abandoned the mining campaign.|
Can you remember when last a Hamas leader (or any Palestinian terrorist leader) apologised for the loss of lives after a terrorist attack?
Comparisons between the ANC and Hamas are clearly nothing more than an expression of prejudice, ignorance, and gross distortions.
For a related item, see this comparison between the ANC's Freedom charter and the hateful PLO charter.