Last week Mike and I visited the Apartheid museum, next door to Gold Reef City. This was my first visit and I was impressed. It certainly is a jewel amongst the many bland museums in South Africa.
As I walked through the eerie halls of the museum with its hundreds of murals displaying the wrongs that were committed in South Africa, I could not help but feel a great sense of anger at the fact that Apartheid today has become a politicised word, more famous for polemic descriptions of Israel than for the actual horror that it was.
The tour is meant to last 2 hours but we wandered around the many impressive exhibits for far longer. By the end, we couldn't help but relate what we had seen to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
I have already written at a high level about what Apartheid was and how comparing it to Israel waters it down to 'just another swear word' as Benjamin Pogrund so aptly put it. (See Israel Apartheid – Part Hate).
As today is Freedom Day in South Africa, I think it's fitting for this blog to discuss Apartheid South Africa and how it differs from the current conflict in Israel. Yet despite the error of applying the apartheid analogy, our past presents many lessons that can be transferred to the Israel-Palestinian peacemaking process.
Ineffectiveness of Violence
The ANC was born in 1912 as a party of non-violence. The struggle was one of deep thought and conscience. The ANC was an intellectual organisation, which tried to liberate all South Africans (both the oppressed and the oppressor) via persuasion and negotiation. They adhered to this principle of non-violent resistance for 50 years until the Sharepeville Massacre in 1961 where the police opened fire on peaceful anti-Apartheid demonstrations. 68 Blacks were killed.
After SharpeVille, ANC leader Chief Albert Luthuli chaired a meeting where it was decided that Nelson Mandela would create an armed wing for the ANC called Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Violence was chosen only as a last resort but even then was limited to acts of sabotage against infrastructure (and against the State's police service and military.)
The aim was noble and important -- it was to identify responsible leaders to channel the massive simmering public anger into something constructive.
The newly formed armed wing would use sabotage to make South Africa ungovernable. The aim was never to kill white civilians. Mandela explained that they adopted sabotage as a policy because "it did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations." Umkhonto members were given "strict instructions …that on no account were they to injure or kill people."
The ANC even signed the Geneva Convention on the humanitarian conduct of war.
Benjamin Pogrund explains that whilst their adherence to the principles of not harming civilians was never perfect the harm caused to whites South Africans was limited.
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.
Organisations that used more radical forms of violence (ICWU, SACP, PAC) did not come close to achieving the local and international influence and successes of the ANC.
Roots of compromise
The late 80s saw the ANC and the NP caught in a 'mutually hurting stalemate'. The people's war had failed to topple the minority government. The government in turn realised they would have to jail or kill millions of black South Africans in order to sustain white minority domination. The ANC did not want to take over a country reduced to ruins; the NP did not want untold numbers of white South Africans to die in an unending anti-insurgent war. Both sides realised that continuing conflict was not to their advantage.
Concessions on Violence
The ANC suspended its armed struggle 13 months before the peace deal was signed with the apartheid regime. They suspended it once they realised that violence would never topple the government and in order to create a climate for negotiations. They agreed to suspend it even before the ruling Nationalist Party (NP) had agreed to end the state of emergency that had reigned in South Africa.
But the NP also made concessions before violence was ended. PW Botha initially agreed to release Mandela on condition that Mandela publicly call for an end to violent resistance. Mandela refused. Later, Botha's successor, FW De Klerk, boldly released Mandela from prison without preconditions. De Klerk's concession bore fruit when Mandela ended the violence 6 months later.
Israel has already learned from this. Using the premise that they should not award terrorists with veto power to end negotiations, they continued to negotiate during the Olso process amidst almost constant violence.
During Oslo the number of terror incidents reached record highs. After the signing of the accords the years 1994 and 1996 saw the largest number of terrorist fatalities since Israel started administering the territories in 1967. Amazingly however, Israel pushed forward with the Oslo accords and continued the path of negotiation, transferring power and territory to the PA
The Labour government tried their very best to create a peace partner even though they knew one did not exist. The extent of the Israeli leap of faith in Oslo was mind boggling. After pressure from the Israeli public to end the negotiations on the basis of the terrorist attacks in 94 Shimon Peres said "we close our eyes, we don't criticize because for peace we must produce a partner."
Next...More points debunking the fraudulent comparison of Israel to Apartheid South Africa