Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How the ANC's armed struggle prolonged Apartheid in South Africa

"Violence sometimes 'works,' that is, forces a particular change, but in the long run leads to more misery and disorder." - Michael N. Nagler, Six Principles of Nonviolence  

It was the United Democratic Front and Nonviolence that ended Apartheid
Michael Nagler on page 43 of his important book "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action" offers the following analysis of the decision to embrace violence in South Africa and its consequences:
“When sixty peaceful demonstrators were shot dead at Sharpeville, South Africa, in 1960, the African National Congress leaders decided that nonviolence was not enough to overcome the apartheid regime. They subsequently lost nearly thirty years trying to fight the regime with acts of violence before Nelson Mandela was released from prison and they regained their nonviolent momentum.”
It was not the African National Congress and the armed struggle that brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiating table but the United Democratic Front (UDF) and mass civic nonviolent action combined with international sanctions

Let me be clear that I've been to South Africa and met with members of the African National Congress (ANC) and engaged some of them in civil discussions on the nature of the Castro regime and found differences of opinions within the ranks. However, the open letter by the ANC to the Cuban Communist Party released last week that re-writes South African history and the end of Apartheid ignoring that it was the nonviolent struggle that freed Nelson Mandela and brought the racist regime to the negotiating table raises great concerns. Mandela's greatness, in my opinion, is that he presided over a nonviolent transition and left office after serving out a full term as president following a free election.

Unfortunately, the legacy of violence that did not succeed in defeating Apartheid may in the end destroy South African democracy by embracing a legacy of bloody violence and a regime such as the one that exists in Cuba.  In the long run violence leads to more misery and disorder.

Civic resistance actions ended Apartheid in South Africa
Sadly, the glorification of violence is not a phenomenon unique to South Africa. Embracing violence while ignoring or trivializing successful nonviolent actions is all too common a practice around the world. In a twitter exchange with professor Cynthia Boaz on October 11, 2011 when I asked her about this she replied that these were:  "Meta frames, i.e. deeply-held hardened beliefs about perceived efficacy of violence & the misconception that violence = power."Continuing the discussion I asked her how one could go about breaking down these "meta frames" and her response was that she didn't have an answer although her opinion was "that it requires truly grasping the power of nonviolent action by engaging in it."

At the same time that doing trumps talking when breaking through the meta-frames having access to the history of what actually took place is also helpful. In the case of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa the people who led the non-violent resistance are still around and telling their story. Let us listen to them and their courageous victories for freedom. One of these leaders is Mkhuseli Jack who is recognized by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory as a key figure in dismantling Apartheid can be heard below.

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