Posts Tagged 'South Africa'

Mandela’s Greatness May Be Assured, but Not His Legacy

TruthOut, December 12, 2013

Mandela’s Greatness May Be Assured, but Not His Legacy

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John Pilger recalls an interview with Nelson Mandela in the 1990s, painting a portrait of a leader whose African National Congress had been in struggle and exile for so long, they were willing to collude with forces that had been the people’s enemy.

  (See John Pilger’s 50 minute documentary ” Apartheid Did Not Die” at )

When I reported from South Africa in the 1960s, the Nazi admirer Johannes Vorster occupied the prime minister’s residence in Cape Town. Thirty years later, as I waited at the gates, it was as if the guards had not changed. White Afrikaners checked my ID with the confidence of men in secure work. One carried a copy of Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. “It’s very eenspirational,” he said.

Mandela had just had his afternoon nap and looked sleepy; his shoelaces were untied. Wearing a bright gold shirt, he meandered into the room. “Welcome back,” said the first president of a democratic South Africa, beaming. “You must understand that to have been banned from my country is a great honour.” The sheer grace and charm of the man made you feel good. He chuckled about his elevation to sainthood. “That’s not the job I applied for,” he said drily.

Still, he was well used to deferential interviews and I was ticked off several times – “you completely forgot what I said” and “I have already explained that matter to you”. In brooking no criticism of the African National Congress (ANC), he revealed something of why millions of South Africans will mourn his passing but not his “legacy”.

I had asked him why the pledges he and the ANC had given on his release from prison in 1990 had not been kept. The liberation government, Mandela had promised, would take over the apartheid economy, including the banks – and “a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable”.  Once in power, the party’s official policy to end the impoverishment of most South Africans, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), was abandoned, with one of his ministers boasting that the ANC’s politics were Thatcherite.

“You can put any label on it if you like,” he replied. “ …but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy.”

“That’s the opposite of what you said in 1994.”

“You have to appreciate that every process incorporates a change.”

Few ordinary South Africans were aware that this “process” had begun in high secrecy more than two years before Mandela’s release when the ANC in exile had, in effect, done a deal with prominent members of the Afrikaaner elite at meetings in a stately home, Mells Park House, near Bath. The prime movers were the corporations that had underpinned apartheid.

Around the same time, Mandela was conducting his own secret negotiations. In 1982, he had been moved from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison, where he could receive and entertain people. The apartheid regime’s aim was to split the ANC between the “moderates” they could “do business with” (Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Oliver Tambo) and those in the frontline townships who led the United Democratic Front (UDF). On 5 July, 1989, Mandela was spirited out of prison to meet P.W. Botha, the white minority president known as the Groot Krokodil (Big Crocodile). Mandela was delighted that Botha poured the tea.

With democratic elections in 1994, racial apartheid was ended, and economic apartheid had a new face.  During the 1980s, the Botha regime had offered black businessmen generous loans, allowing them set up companies outside the Bantustans. A new black bourgeoisie emerged quickly, along with a rampant cronyism. ANC chieftains moved into mansions in “golf and country estates”.  As disparities between white and black narrowed, they widened between black and black.

The familiar refrain that the new wealth would “trickle down” and “create jobs” was lost in dodgy merger deals and “restructuring” that cost jobs. For foreign companies, a black face on the board often ensured that nothing had changed. In 2001, George Soros told the Davos Economic Forum, “South Africa is in the hands of international capital.”

In the townships, people felt little change and were subjected to apartheid-era evictions; some expressed nostalgia for the “order” of the old regime.  The post-apartheid achievements in de-segregating daily life in South Africa, including schools, were  undercut by the extremes and corruption of a “neoliberalism” to which the ANC devoted itself.  This led directly to state crimes such as the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana in 2012, which evoked the infamous Sharpeville massacre more than half a century earlier. Both had been protests about injustice.

Mandela, too, fostered crony relationships with wealthy whites from the corporate world, including those who had profited from apartheid.  He saw this as part of “reconciliation”. Perhaps he and his beloved ANC had been in struggle and exile for so long they were willing to accept and collude with the forces that had been the people’s enemy. There were those who genuinely wanted radical change, including a few in the South African Communist Party, but it was the powerful influence of mission Christianity that may have left the most indelible mark. White liberals at home and abroad warmed to this, often ignoring or welcoming Mandela’s reluctance to spell out a coherent vision, as Amilcar Cabral and Pandit Nehru had done.

Ironically, Mandela seemed to change in retirement, alerting the world to the post 9/11 dangers of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. His description of Blair as “Bush’s foreign minister” was mischievously timed; Thabo Mbeki, his successor, was about to arrive in London to meet Blair. I wonder what he would make of the recent “pilgrimage” to his cell on Robben Island by Barack Obama, the unrelenting jailer of Guantanamo.

Mandela seemed unfailingly gracious. When my interview with him was over, he patted me on the arm as if to say I was forgiven for contradicting him. We walked to his silver Mercedes, which consumed his small grey head among a bevy of white men with huge arms and wires in their ears. One of them gave an order in Afrikaans and he was gone.

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John Pilger is an Australian-born, London-based journalist, filmmaker and author. For his foreign and war reporting, ranging from Vietnam and Cambodia to the Middle East, he has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism. For his documentary films, he won a British Academy Award and an American Emmy. In 2009, he was awarded Australia’s human rights prize, the Sydney Peace Prize. His most recent film, Utopia, will be released in British theaters on November 15, 2013, and will open in Australia in January 2014.

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How the ANC’s Faustian pact sold out South Africa’s poorest

This article is written by Ronnie Kasrils, who was interviewed on Democracy Now on Thursday, December 12. See the Democracy Now interview at . “A founder of the armed wing of the African National Congress, Kasrils worked closely with Mandela after first meeting him in 1962. Kasrils was a leading anti-apartheid underground activist, and on the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress from 1987 to 2007. He was also a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party from December 1986 to 2007.”

Guardian (UK), June 23, 2013

How the ANC’s Faustian pact sold out South Africa’s poorest

Read the Guardian article on-line at

In the early 1990s, we in the leadership of the ANC made a serious error. Our people still paying the price

Lonmin mineworkers pay their respects to Mpuzeni Ngxande, one of the 34 miners killed by police on 16 August near the Marikana mine. ‘The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to end such barbarity.’ Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa’s young people today are known as the Born Free generation. They enjoy the dignity of being born into a democratic society with the right to vote and choose who will govern. But modern South Africa is not a perfect society. Full equality – social and economic – does not exist, and control of the country’s wealth remains in the hands of a few, so new challenges and frustrations arise. Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle like myself are frequently asked whether, in the light of such disappointment, the sacrifice was worth it. While my answer is yes, I must confess to grave misgivings: I believe we should be doing far better.

There have been impressive achievements since the attainment of freedom in 1994: in building houses, crèches, schools, roads and infrastructure; the provision of water and electricity to millions; free education and healthcare; increases in pensions and social grants; financial and banking stability; and slow but steady economic growth (until the 2008 crisis at any rate). These gains, however, have been offset by a breakdown in service delivery, resulting in violent protests by poor and marginalised communities; gross inadequacies and inequities in the education and health sectors; a ferocious rise in unemployment; endemic police brutality and torture; unseemly power struggles within the ruling party that have grown far worse since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008; an alarming tendency to secrecy and authoritarianism in government; the meddling with the judiciary; and threats to the media and freedom of expression. Even Nelson Mandela’s privacy and dignity are violated for the sake of a cheap photo opportunity by the ANC’s top echelon.

Most shameful and shocking of all, the events of Bloody Thursday – 16 August 2012 – when police massacred 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by the London-based Lonmin company. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to bring an end to such barbarity. And yet the president and his ministers, locked into a culture of cover-up. Incredibly, the South African Communist party, my party of over 50 years, did not condemn the police either.

South Africa’s liberation struggle reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. Back then, our hopes were high for our country given its modern industrial economy, strategic mineral resources (not only gold and diamonds), and a working class and organized trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle. But that optimism overlooked the tenacity of the international capitalist system. From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC’s soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we “sold our people down the river”.

What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalizing South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals. To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.

To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favorable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela’s leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.

It was a dire error on my part to focus on my own responsibilities and leave the economic issues to the ANC’s experts. However, at the time, most of us never quite knew what was happening with the top-level economic discussions. As  Sampie Terreblanche has revealed in his critique, Lost in Transformation, by late 1993 big business strategies – hatched in 1991 at the mining mogul Harry Oppenheimer‘s Johannesburg residence – were crystallizing in secret late-night discussions at the Development Bank of South Africa. Present were South Africa’s mineral and energy leaders, the bosses of US and British companies with a presence in South Africa – and young ANC economists schooled in western economics. They were reporting to Mandela, and were either outwitted or frightened into submission by hints of the dire consequences for South Africa should an ANC government prevail with what were considered ruinous economic policies.

All means to eradicate poverty, which was Mandela’s and the ANC’s sworn promise to the “poorest of the poor”, were lost in the process. Nationalisation of the mines and heights of the economy as envisaged by the Freedom charter was abandoned. The ANC accepted responsibility for a vast apartheid-era debt, which should have been cancelled. A wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside, and domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any financial reparations. Extremely tight budgetary obligations were instituted that would tie the hands of any future governments; obligations to implement a free-trade policy and abolish all forms of tariff protection in keeping with neo-liberal free trade fundamentals were accepted. Big corporations were allowed to shift their main listings abroad. In Terreblanche’s opinion, these ANC concessions constituted “treacherous decisions that [will] haunt South Africa for generations to come”.

An ANC-Communist party leadership eager to assume political office (myself no less than others) readily accepted this devil’s pact, only to be damned in the process. It has bequeathed an economy so tied in to the neoliberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the plight of most of our people.

Little wonder that their patience is running out; that their anguished protests increase as they wrestle with deteriorating conditions of life; that those in power have no solutions. The scraps are left go to the emergent black elite; corruption has taken root as the greedy and ambitious fight like dogs over a bone.

In South Africa in 2008 the poorest 50% received only 7.8% of total income. While 83% of white South Africans were among the top 20% of income receivers in 2008, only 11% of our black population were. These statistics conceal unmitigated human suffering. Little wonder that the country has seen such an enormous rise in civil protest.

A descent into darkness must be curtailed. I do not believe the ANC alliance is beyond hope. There are countless good people in the ranks. But a revitalization and renewal from top to bottom is urgently required. The ANC’s soul needs to be restored; its traditional values and culture of service reinstated. The pact with the devil needs to be broken.

At present the impoverished majority do not see any hope other than the ruling party, although the ANC’s ability to hold those allegiances is deteriorating. The effective parliamentary opposition reflects big business interests of various stripes, and while a strong parliamentary opposition is vital to keep the ANC on its toes, most voters want socialist policies, not measures inclined to serve big business interests, more privatization and neoliberal economics.

This does not mean it is only up to the ANC, SACP and Cosatu to rescue the country from crises. There are countless patriots and comrades in existing and emerging organised formations who are vital to the process. Then there are the legal avenues and institutions such as the public protector’s office and human rights commission that – including the ultimate appeal to the constitutional court – can test, expose and challenge injustice and the infringement of rights. The strategies and tactics of the grassroots – trade unions, civic and community organisations, women’s and youth groups – signpost the way ahead with their non-violent and dignified but militant action.

The space and freedom to express one’s views, won through decades of struggle, are available and need to be developed. We look to the Born Frees as the future torchbearers.

This is an edited extract from the new introduction to his autobiography, Armed and Dangerous

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Israeli Jews and the one-state solution

The Electronic Intifada, November 10, 2009

Israeli Jews and the one-state solution

Anyone who rejects the two-state solution, won’t bring a one-state solution. They will instead bring one war, not one state. A bloody war with no end. — Israeli President Shimon Peres, 7 November 2009.

One of the most commonly voiced objections to a one-state solution for Palestine/Israel stems from the accurate observation that the vast majority of Israeli Jews reject it, and fear being “swamped” by a Palestinian majority. Across the political spectrum, Israeli Jews insist on maintaining a separate Jewish-majority state.

But with the total collapse of the Obama Administration’s peace efforts, and relentless Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank, the reality is dawning rapidly that the two-state solution is no more than a slogan that has no chance of being implemented or altering the reality of a de facto binational state in Palestine/Israel.

This places an obligation on all who care about the future of Palestine/Israel to seriously consider the democratic alternatives. I have long argued that the systems in post-apartheid South Africa (a unitary democratic state), and Northern Ireland (consociational democracy) — offer hopeful, real-life models.

But does solid Israeli Jewish opposition to a one-state solution mean that a peaceful one-state outcome is so unlikely that Palestinians should not pursue it, and should instead focus only on “pragmatic” solutions that would be less fiercely resisted by Israeli Jews?

The experience in South Africa suggests otherwise. In 1994, white-minority rule — apartheid — came to a peaceful, negotiated end, and was replaced (after a transitional period of power-sharing) with a unitary democratic state with a one person, one vote system. Before this happened, how likely did this outcome look? Was there any significant constituency of whites prepared to contemplate it, and what if the African National Congress (ANC) had only advanced political solutions that whites told pollsters they would accept?

Until close to the end of apartheid, the vast majority of whites, including many of the system’s liberal critics, completely rejected a one person, one vote system, predicting that any attempt to impose it would lead to a bloodbath. As late as 1989, F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid president, described a one person, one vote system as the “death knell” for South Africa.

A 1988 study by political scientist Pierre Hugo documented the widespread fears among South African whites that a transition to majority rule would entail not only a loss of political power and socioeconomic status, but engendered “physical dread” and fear of “violence, total collapse, expulsion and flight.” Successive surveys showed that four out of five whites thought that majority rule would threaten their “physical safety.” Such fears were frequently heightened by common racist tropes of inherently savage and violent Africans, but the departure of more than a million white colons from Algeria and the airlifting of 300,000 whites from Angola during decolonization set terrifying precedents (“Towards darkness and death: racial demonology in South Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 26(4), 1988).

Throughout the 1980s, polls showed that even as whites increasingly understood that apartheid could not last, only a small minority ever supported majority rule and a one person, one vote system. In a March 1986 survey, for example, 47 percent of whites said they would favor some form of “mixed-race” government, but 83 percent said they would opt for continued white domination of the government if they had the choice (Peter Goodspeed, “Afrikaners cling to their all-white dream,” The Toronto Star, 5 October 1986).

A 1990 nationwide survey of Afrikaner whites (native speakers of Afrikaans, as opposed to English, and who traditionally formed the backbone of the apartheid state), found just 2.2 percent were willing to accept a “universal franchise with majority rule” (Kate Manzo and Pat McGowan, “Afrikaner fears and the politics of despair: Understanding change in South Africa,” International Studies Quarterly, 36, 1992).

Perhaps an enlightened white elite was able to lead the white masses to higher ground? This was not the case either. A 1988 academic survey of more than 400 white politicians, business and media leaders, top civil servants, academics and clergy found that just 4.8 percent were prepared to accept a unitary state with a universal voting franchise and two-thirds considered such an outcome “unacceptable.” According to Manzo and McGowan, white elites reflected the sentiments and biases of the rest of the society and overwhelmingly considered whites inherently more civilized and culturally superior to black Africans. Just more than half of prominent whites were prepared to accept “a federal state in which power is shared between white and non-white groups and areas so that no one group dominates.”

During the 1980s, the white electorate in South Africa moved to the right, as Israel’s Jewish electorate is doing today. Support seeped from the National Party, which had established formal apartheid in 1948, to the even more extreme Conservative Party. Yet, “on the issue of majority rule,” Hugo observed, “supporters of the National Party and the Conservative Party, as well as most white voters to the ‘left’ of these organizations, ha[d] little quarrel with each other.”

The vast majority of whites, wracked with existential fears, were simply unable to contemplate relinquishing effective control, or at least a veto, over political decision-making in South Africa.

Yet, the African National Congress insisted firmly on a one person, one vote system with no white veto. As the township protests and strikes and international pressure mounted, The Economist observed in an extensive 1986 survey of South Africa published on 1 February of that year, that many “enlightened” whites “still fondly argue that a dramatic improvement in the quality of black life may take the revolutionary sting out of the black townships — and persuade ‘responsible’ blacks, led by the emergent black middle class, to accept some power-sharing formula.”

Schemes to stabilize the apartheid system abounded, and bear a strong resemblance to the current Israeli government’s vision of “economic peace” in which a collaborationist Palestinian Authority leadership would manage a still-subjugated Palestinian population anesthetized by consumer goods and shopping malls.

Because of the staunch opposition of whites to a unitary democratic state, the ANC heard no shortage of advice from western liberals that it should seek a “realistic” political accommodation with the apartheid regime, and that no amount of pressure could force whites to succumb to the ANC’s political demands. The ANC was warned that insistence on majority rule would force Afrikaners into the “laager” — they would retreat into a militarized garrison state and siege economy, preferring death before surrender.

Even the late Helen Suzman, one of apartheid’s fiercest liberal critics, predicted in 1987, as quoted by Hugo, “The Zimbabwe conflict took 15 years … and cost 20,000 lives and I can assure you that the South African transfer of power will take a good deal more than that, both in time and I am afraid lives.”

But as The Economist observed, the view that whites would prefer “collective suicide” was something of a caricature. The vast majority of Afrikaners were “no longer bible-thumping boers.” They were “part of a spoilt, affluent suburban society, whose economic pain threshold may prove to be rather low.”

The Economist concluded that if whites would only come so far voluntarily, then it was perfectly reasonable for the anti-apartheid movement to bring them the rest of the way through “coercion” in the form of sanctions and other forms of pressure. “The quicker the white tribe submits,” the magazine wrote, “the better its chance of a bearable future in a black-ruled South Africa.”

Ultimately, as we now know, the combination of internal resistance and international isolation did force whites to abandon political apartheid and accept majority rule. However, it is important to note that the combined strength of the anti-apartheid movement never seriously threatened the physical integrity of the white regime.

Even after the massive township uprisings of 1985-86, the South African regime was secure. “So far there is no real physical threat to white power,” The Economist noted, “so far there is little threat to white lives. … The white state is mighty, and well-equipped. It has the capacity to repress the township revolts far more bloodily. The blacks have virtually no urban or rural guerrilla capacity, practically no guns, few safe havens within South Africa or without.”

This balance never changed, and a similar equation could be written today about the relative power of a massively-armed — and much more ruthless — Israeli state, and lightly armed Palestinian resistance factions.

What did change for South Africa, and what all the weapons in the world were not able to prevent, was the complete loss of legitimacy of the apartheid regime and its practices. Once this legitimacy was gone, whites lost the will to maintain a system that relied on repression and violence and rendered them international pariahs; they negotiated a way out and lived to tell the tale. It all happened much more quickly and with considerably less violence than even the most optimistic predictions of the time. But this outcome could not have been predicted based on what whites said they were willing to accept, and it would not have occurred had the ANC been guided by opinion polls rather than the democratic principles of the Freedom Charter.

Zionism — as many Israelis openly worry — is suffering a similar, terminal loss of legitimacy as Israel is ever more isolated as a result of its actions. Israel’s self-image as a liberal “Jewish and democratic state” is proving impossible to maintain against the reality of a militarized, ultra-nationalist Jewish sectarian settler-colony that must carry out frequent and escalating massacres of “enemy” civilians (Lebanon and Gaza 2006, Gaza 2009) in a losing effort to check the resistance of the region’s indigenous people. Zionism cannot bomb, kidnap, assassinate, expel, demolish, settle and lie its way to legitimacy and acceptance.

Already difficult to disguise, the loss of legitimacy becomes impossible to conceal once Palestinians are a demographic majority ruled by a Jewish minority. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” is in effect an acknowledgement of failure: without Palestinian consent, something which is unlikely ever to be granted, the Zionist project of a Jewish ethnocracy in Palestine has grim long-term prospects.

Similarly, South African whites typically attempted to justify their opposition to democracy, not in terms of a desire to preserve their privilege and power, but using liberal arguments about protecting distinctive cultural differences. Hendrik Verwoerd Jr., the son of assassinated Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid’s founder, expressed the problem in these terms in 1986, as reported by The Toronto Star, stating that, “These two people, the Afrikaner and the black, are not capable of becoming one nation. Our differences are unique, cultural and deep. The only way a man can be happy, can live in peace, is really when he is among his own people, when he shares cultural values.”

The younger Verwoerd was on the far-right of South African politics, leading a quixotic effort to carve out a whites-only homeland in the heart of South Africa. But his reasoning sounds remarkably similar to liberal Zionist defenses of the “two-state solution” today. The Economist clarified the use of such language at the time, stating that “One of the weirder products of apartheid is the crippling of language in a maw of hypocrisy, euphemism and sociologese. You talk about the Afrikaner ‘right to self-determination’ — meaning power over everybody else.”

Zionism’s claim for “Jewish self-determination” amidst an intermixed population, is in effect a demand to preserve and legitimize a status quo in which Israeli Jews exercise power in perpetuity. But there’s little reason to expect that Israeli Jews would abandon this quest voluntarily any more than South African whites did. As in South Africa, coercion is necessary — and the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is one of the most powerful, nonviolent, legitimate and proven tools of coercion that Palestinians possess. Israel’s vulnerabilities may be different from those of apartheid South Africa, but Israel is not invulnerable to pressure.

Coercion is not enough, however; as I have long argued, and sought to do, Palestinians must also put forward a positive vision. Neither can Palestinians advocating a one-state solution simply disregard the views of Israeli Jews. We must recognize that the opposition of Israeli Jews to any solution that threatens their power and privilege stems from at least two sources. One is irrational, racist fears of black and brown hordes (in this case, Arab Muslims) stoked by decades of colonial, racist demonization. The other source — certainly heightened by the former — are normal human concerns about personal and family dislocation, loss of socioeconomic status and community security: change is scary.

But change will come. Without indulging Israeli racism or preserving undue privilege, the legitimate concerns of ordinary Israeli Jews can be addressed directly in any negotiated transition to ensure that the shift to democracy is orderly, and essential redistributive policies are carried out fairly. Inevitably, decolonization will cause some pain as Israeli Jews lose power and privilege, but there are few reasons to believe it cannot be a well-managed process, or that the vast majority of Israeli Jews, like white South Africans, would not be prepared to make the adjustment for the sake of a normality and legitimacy they cannot have any other way.

This is where the wealth of research and real-life experience about the successes, failures, difficulties and opportunities of managing such transitions at the level of national and local politics, neighborhoods, schools and universities, workplaces, state institutions and policing, emerging from South Africa and Northern Ireland, will be of enormous value.

Every situation has unique features, and although there are patterns in history, it never repeats itself exactly. But what we can conclude from studying the pasts and presents of others is that Palestinians and Israelis are no less capable of writing themselves a post-colonial future that gives everyone a chance at a life worth living in a single, democratic state.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Jewish Voice for Peace comments:

Ali Abunimah is a prominent defender of a single democratic state in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In this article he makes the now quite common – though also controversial – comparison with Apartheid South Africa. Usually the question this comparison raises is whether Israeli treatment of Palestinians is really analogous to or as bad as the Apartheid regime’s treatment of its black majority, and the comparison is often used to support the use of tactics of resistance like BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) modeled on the anti-Apartheid campaigns of the 1980s.  But Abunimah instead hones narrowly in on the hostility of the white minority in South Africa to a multi-racial democratic state, a hostility that persisted until surprisingly shortly before change was initiated. It is this that he compares, in a wealth of detail, with Jewish Israeli fears of a single state solution. If change could occur in South Africa in spite of such widespread rejection in the white community, why, Abuminah argues, should change not occur in Israel despite the fears of the Jewish community? It won’t happen, he recognizes without outside pressure (and he supports BDS); but current Jewish Israeli rejection need not make it impossible.

This is surely true, but ‘not necessarily impossible’ is very far from showing that a one-state solution ought to be the aspiration of activist movements, Palestinian, Jewish or otherwise. As his banner quotation from Shimon Peres – a barely veiled threat – makes clear, it remains quite possible that a one-state ‘solution’ will involve no diminution of violence towards or oppression of Palestinians. One state is, after all, what there is now. What might make it important to explore a one state possibility is the fact, clearly motivating Abunimah, that two viable states are now impossible. Certainly he is correct to say that there is presently no political will in the Israeli or US administrations to move in the direction of a viable Palestinian state and reasonable opinions can differ on whether the current ‘facts on the ground’ make it impossible to eke out such a state. But it is also surely true that activist pressure can be brought to bear both on that political
will and even on the facts on the ground and this pressure has a natural point of application in the official commitment of Israel, the US, the PA (and even Hamas) to two states. If change is possible, as Abunimah argues, on the one state solution, then it is certainly possible for two states. But if two states can be achieved, then this removes a big chunk of the motivation for directing one’s energies to one state. Indeed, aiming for two viable states in the medium term is not inconsistent with seeking to build consensus, along the lines Abunimah suggests, for single state in the long term.

The question is by no means an obvious one to resolve, but it is important to consider where activist energies are most likely to have an effect, and avoid directions that absorb energy with little hope of result. Indeed some commentators have suggested that the one state solution has become increasingly acceptable in the mainstream US  media precisely because it is so unlikely to come about that it represents – from the point of view of the status quo – a harmless safety valve through which to discharge otherwise potentially dangerous activist pressure.

Alistair Welchman

Protest: Police stand by while thugs attack shackdwellers in Durban, South Africa

Protest: Police stand by while thugs attack shackdwellers in Durban,  South Africa.

The poorest and most marginalized people in South Africa, the large number of homeless shackdwellers, have been been attacked again outside of Durban, South Africa, while police stood by and did nothing. This is the latest of many government-inspired and police-inspired attacks on South African shackdwellers, whose crime is demanding a decent life.  Please sign the open letter of protest to South African President Jacob Zuma.

One leaders kitchen after the attacks

One leader's kitchen after the attacks

The most recent attack on residents of the informal Kennedy Road settlement occurred on September 27.  A group of about 40 men heavily armed with guns, bush knives and even a sword attacked a meeting of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) in the Kennedy Road community hall. There was no warning and the attack was a complete surprise.  The men who attacked were shouting: ‘The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu,” reminiscent of racist slogans of the Apartheid era.  Some people were killed, many were very seriously injured.  It was later discovered that they had destroyed 15 houses belonging to people on or connected to the KRDC.  The police were called but they did not come.  When the attack happened one officer from Crime Intelligence was there in plain clothes.  The following morning, the police arrived and made eight arrests, only members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC).  None of the perpetrators has been arrested. This is not the first time that this movement has been attacked.   Read more of this report. Other reports say that later, senior ANC leaders and police were present and did nothing to prevent the same gang from demolishing and burning homes of the Kennedy Road leadership.  Read more of this report. (More background information is below.)       

Please sign the open letter of protest to South African President Jacob Zuma. It reads:

We the undersigned are scholars, activists, supporters and veterans of the struggle for a free South Africa from around the world. We celebrated the end of apartheid with you, and have worked with you for the building of a genuinely democratic South Africa.

It is for this reason that we write to you with grave concern following recent events at the Kennedy Road Shack Settlement in Durban. Reports from the informal settlement of seven thousand people indicate that horrors reminiscent of Apartheid’s darkest years are currently being perpetrated – armed thugs have killed members of the freely elected local development committee and destroyed their houses, with slogans dripping with the language of ethnic cleansing, such as “The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu”.

With these words of hate, members of the development committee have been hunted and, in at least one case, killed. What appalls us most about these attacks is that they appear to be happening with the support of local police and politicians. At the time of writing, reports indicate that local ANC branch executives and members of the Sydenham police force are in attendance, and doing nothing to halt the ongoing violence in the settlement. Further, it appears that members of the development committee, some of whom had been absent from the settlement during the attacks, have been targeted and arrested by the Sydenham police force.

Some of the signatories to this letter have personally experienced illegal political harassment by the Sydenham police in the past, and have witnessed their ruthless political intolerance towards the Abahlali baseMjondlo Shackdwellers Movement, of which the Kennedy Road Development Committee is a part. Many more of us have had the great pleasure of meeting leaders from the shackdwellers’ movement. All of us have been deeply impressed by the deep democratic and progressive commitments of the residents of Kennedy Road.

Under such circumstances, it is entirely inappropriate to rely on the Sydenham police to enforce the rule of law, and we appeal to your office to demand:

*an end to the violence in the shacks
*an end to arbitrary detention of innocent people
*an independent and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the Sydenham police and the continued violence
*an independent and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the violence and senior members of the local ANC branch present at the scene
*the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for these horrific attacks
*full restitution to those harmed in the violence
*and an undertaking that these tragic events be not used as a pretext for further hardship enforced on South Africa’s poorest citizens.

We have witnessed the great promise of South African democracy, and we hope that you will bring the full force of your office to protect it in this dark hour. As once before, the world is watching South Africa, to see how  democracy can triumph over fear.


Raj Patel, a long-time advocate and author of Stuffed and Starved writes:


Dear Members of the International Media

Like many of you, we fought and protested against the injustices of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and celebrated the fall of that monstrous government in 1994. As South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup, we write to you in grief and horror at the return of some of the most horrific tactics of that era, directed at South Africa’s poorest citizens.

We have worked for years with shack dweller communities living in South Africa, communities of people too poor to live in townships, who have waited patiently for the South African government to bring the dividends of housing, water, education, healthcare, employment and food to them. They have waited in vain – with levels of human development that are now lower than in 1994, South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, and now is the most unequal society in the world.

In response, some communities have organized to protest against their government, using the freedoms enshrined in one of the most open and supportive constitutions to be found in any modern democracy. For this, they have been punished.

On Sunday night, at one of the hubs for this civil society organizing, men from outside the settlement armed with knives, machetes and even a sword, descended on a shack community in Durban called “Kennedy Road”, a road named after the US president, and adjacent to a large municipal dump. These men chanted slogans of racial hatred – demanding that the Kennedy Road shack settlement be for Zulus only. This ethnic chauvinism is anathema to the shack settlements – in the xenophobia that swept South Africa earlier this year, the Kennedy Road shack settlement was free of these sorts of attacks.

The police were called, and when they finally arrived, they looked on as the attacks continued for several more hours. After the bloodbath, they moved in and arrested the community leaders.

On Monday morning a huge police presence descended on the settlement as the local ANC councillor and the provincial minister for Safety and Security arrived. They announced that the local organizers had been driven out of the settlement. After the politicians left so did the police. The settlement was left in the hands of groups of armed men.

The future for the poorest residents of South Africa is grim. Faced with an ethnic hatred engineered by the ANC, they have tried to produce a genuinely democratic politics. And they have been killed, arrested and made homeless.

International support is crucial in order to prevent further violence, and to ensure justice for the shack dwellers. In just 24 hours, hundreds of people from around the world have signed a petition to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, insisting that he take action (at the time of writing over 600 people had signed the petition) . We hope that you’ll be able to support this effort to bring international scrutiny to the South African government, to hold it to the great promise offered by the end of Apartheid, by signing the petition below, and by sharing this news with your colleagues. If you’d like to know more, contact details are below, and we’d also be happy to answer any questions.


Nigel C. Gibson
Honors Program
Emerson College
PHONE: 617 824 8769

Raj Patel
Visiting Scholar
Center for African Studies
UC Berkeley
CELL: 510 717 0953

Cc: Jacob Zuma, President South Africa; Sepp Blatter, President FIFA.

MEDIA CONTACTS IN SOUTH AFRICA (if you are calling from outside South
Africa, the international dialing code is +27, and the first 0 is

The following members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee may be
available for comment if they have not been arrested:

Mzwakhe Mdlalose: 072 132 8458
Anton Zamisa: 079 380 1759
Bheki Simelane: 078 598 9491
Nokutula Manyawo: 083 949 1379

Mnikelo Ndabankulu, the elected media liason person for Abahlali
baseMjondolo, 097450653. If you can’t get Mnikelo you can also try:

Louisa Motha 0781760088
Shamita Naidoo 0743157962
Mashumi Figlan 0725274600
Philani Zungu 0729629312
S’bu Zikode 0835470474

Other local contacts who might be useful:

Kerry Chance at may have video footage
Richard Pithouse at


For some back ground on the shack dwellers’ organization see the website and also:

Michael Vines, “Shantytown Dwellers in South Africa Protest Sluggish
Pace of Change,”
New York Times, December 25, 2005.

The View from the Shacks” The Economist, April 8, 2006

For statements about the attacks see:

“Democracy Under Attack: A Statement by Bishop Rubin,” available at

“The ANC Has Invaded Kennedy Road,” by S’bu Zikode (President of
Abahlali baseMjondolo) whose house was destroyed in the attack on the
shack settlement, available at

Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) Emergency Press Release,
Sunday 27 September 2009 available at


After decades of valiant resistance, the racist South African Apartheid regime was overthrown.  Tragically, the new government left banks and international finance in control of the country, where, in John Pilger’s words,

“The US, the British and the World Bank made it clear that South Africa would be “welcomed into the global economy” on condition that its new government pursued orthodox, “neo-liberal” policies that favoured big business, foreign investors, deregulation, privatisation and, at best, offered a “trickle down” to the majority who were to be shut out of the economy.”

As a result,  living conditions for most working-class blacks are actually worse,  in terms of employment, opportunities for youth, access to electricity and water, and, most particularly, housing.   As Raj Patel points out, South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, and now is the most unequal society in the world.  Decent, affordable housing for all had been one of the highest hopes for the new government, but instead, vast shanty-towns have developed around major cities.   In terms of services like employment, water, sanitation, and electricity, these shanty-towns are completely neglected by the African National Congress government.  Instead, the ANC considers the shanty-town inhabitants a threat and has been trying to displace them for years.  The shanty-town inhabitants have organized themselves into a new movement, The South African Shackdwellers’ Movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo).   As its website explained in mid-2006:

The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement began in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. Although it is overwhelmingly located in and around the large port city of Durban it is, in terms of the numbers of people mobilised, the largest organisation of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa. …(It)  grew quickly and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements. In the last year and a half the movement has suffered more than a hundred arrests, regular police assault and ongoing death threats and other forms of intimidation from local party goons. It has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers in subaltern and elite publics and occupied and marched on the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets. …  The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as bottom up popular democracy. (Introduction to Abahlali baseMjondolo) (You can see photos and videos of their actions here.)

Read “From the South African Shackdwellers: We are the Third Force”

Also read “Struggle Is a School: The Rise of a Shack Dwellers’ Movement in Durban, South Africa”



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