I found the following 1985 article by Thabo Mbeki, the current president
of South Africa striking.
At the time of writing, Mbeki was an exiled leader of the African National
Congress, and there was a nationwide uprising against Apartheid in the
South Africa's black townships. Black protesters unarmed, or armed with
stones and molotov cocktails were being shot dead in large numbers by the
South African police and army.
At the same time, South Africa's president, P.W. Botha was touting a
"reform process" that was totally rejected by the ANC as merely an effort
to perpetuate Apartheid, while deflecting foreign criticism of it. Mbeki
is forceful in his defence of the people's right to struggle against
Apartheid violently if necessary, and in his criticism of western
governments who at the time supported Botha on the grounds that his
"reforms" were the best way forward and the alternative to him might be
This willingness to support Botha despite his espousal of Apartheid
his brutality is reminiscent of the current doctrine that says support
Barak no matter how brutal he is, because he is a "dove" against
Netanyahu's and Sharon's supposed "hawkishness." To Palestinians living
under a brutal occupation, the difference between the "hawk" and the
"dove" is imperceptible and irrelevant to their daily experience, as it
was to South Africa's blacks. The "dove" also knows that he can deflect
criticism of his brutal policies by saying to the West "if you push me any
harder, I will alienate my constituency, I will fall, and then you will
have to deal with my opponent who will not give as much as I will." It is
an old game that Barak plays particularly well.
Mbeki's article would make a very good analysis of the present situation
if you replace "Botha" with "Barak," "Blacks" with "Palestinians,"
"Whites" with "Israelis" and "reforms" with "the peace process." For
"Communists" feel free to insert "Fatah," "Hamas" or any other of the
groups Israel blames for all the problems.
Was Mbeki's conclusion that an "evolutionary process" would never lead
justice correct? It is certainly true that in the end Aparthied went
quietly, but that was only because of the internal uprising, and the
strong external grassroots solidarity. Apartheid was also weakened when it
could no longer justify itself as a bastion against communism.
Palestinians too are now rejecting the "evolutionary process" that has
brought them nothing but further suffering and subjugation. Israel remains
much more influential than South Africa ever was within the US political
system and has managed to successfully reinvent itself as a US "ally"
according to what American interests of the day are. This could be
surmountable, but what Palestinians lack is the kind of strong global
solidarity movement that brought pressure on world governments to impose
sanctions on South Africa and end their tolerance for Apartheid. That is
where our work has to be done.
The New York Times
August 13, 1985, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition
BEYOND GRADUAL CHANGE IN SOUTH AFRICA;
Peaceful Struggle Is Futile
BYLINE: By Thabo Mbeki; Thabo Mbeki is director of information and
publicity for the African National Congress, the outlawed guerrilla
group fighting white rule in South Africa.
DATELINE: LUSAKA, Zambia
BODY: The agenda for change in South Africa is no longer being decided
in the White House, 10 Downing Street, Elysee Palace or the Union
Building in Pretoria. It is being decided in the townships of South
Africa and among the voters of the Western countries.
This poses a considerable dilemma for the policy-makers of the West,
who still cling to the illusion that there is an evolutionary answer
to the South African problem.
Accustomed to treating the South African regime as a legitimate
Government, the leaders of the West are now obliged to consider using
the kind of measures that are normally reserved for what they consider
pariah states. The policy-makers prefer, however, to avoid facing the
embarrassing truth - that South Africa is precisely such a state.
Thus, it is possible for President Reagan to denounce all manner of
countries for their ''violations of human rights.'' Yet he breathes
not a word about the horrors of the apartheid system. Some time later,
the same President produces a list of "terrorist states." Yet the
Republic of South Africa is absent from the list. Washington
apparently choses to ignore the commando team that Pretoria sent into
Angola to blow up American-owned oil installations and kill American
personnel working in the oil fields.
The amazing thing is that those Western leaders who propagate and
support these preposterous positions argue that they do so in defense
of freedom, justice and democracy. Boiled down to its essence, their
argument is that the people of South Africa are better off with the
devil of racism that they know than the scourge of Communism - and the
experts in Washington are quite convinced that Communism will descend
on the hapless peoples of southern Africa once the democratic majority
takes power there. Thus, the defense of the most virulent and
pernicious racism in the contemporary world is disguised as a
farsighted and principled promotion of freedom, justice and democracy.
And in the meantime, the democratization of South Africa is firmly -
and deliberately - obstructed.
The problem arises when the South African regime acts in a manner that
clearly reveals its abhorrent and unacceptable nature. What must the
Western policy-makers do when the people of South Africa rise up and
are killed because they proclaim freedom, justice and democracy and
denounce a racist order? The problem is compounded when those whom the
experts are supposed to represent -in this case, the American people
-also stand up and call for an end to the white minority domination in
When this happens, the policy-makers must make an effort to catch up
with their constituencies - to appear, at least, to appease and
respond to the demands of the overwhelming majority of the people of
South Africa. At the same time, however, they are determined not to
treat the racist rulers of South Africa as a regime of outlaws.
Out of this compound of irreconcilables emerges a two-pronged
strategy. First, the black people of South Africa - African, colored
and Indian - are fed on a diet of words expressing hostility to
apartheid. Our ears tingle to the thunderous announcements of actions
taken or about to be taken against Pretoria. In fact, however, the
actions are designed to have the minimum possible impact on the
apartheid system and on those who enforce it.
What's incredible is that when we blacks speak out against such
pusillanimity, we are reassured that it is really for our own good:
after all, we are told, if a boulder were to fall on President P. W.
Botha's head, we, the oppressed, would be hurt more than he would.
The second prong of this strategy is to do everything possible to
insure that President Botha does not get hurt, and to reassure him
whenever possible that the major Western governments will do nothing
to hurt him. Sometimes these reassurances come as sheep dressed in
wolfish clothes, measures described as sanctions but designed not to
have any impact at all.
Clearly this strategy is indefensible. Those who have elaborated it,
including the American and British Governments, know this, but they
try to disguise it by holding out the promise of an evolutionary
The problem is that an evolutionary process is predicated on the
quiescence of the oppressed, a quiescence imposed and maintained by
the oppressor. It is that relationship between oppressor and oppressed
- a relationship perfectly embodied in the brutal state of emergency
declared last month - that allows the Botha regime to argue that the
people of South Africa either accept the status quo or would be
satisfied by any meaningless ''reform program'' that the racists
choose to implement. It is, however, precisely this re-lationship that
we blacks are chal-lenging.
The question that President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher of Britain have yet to answer is this: If there is no
pressure for change, why should President Botha and the rest of white
South Africa initiate change?
It will not do to argue that our struggle inside South Africa is
permissible only if it is peaceful. The teacher Matthew Goniwe, the
lawyer Victoria Mxenge and many others have been murdered for their
involvement in a peaceful struggle. Thirty-eight of their colleagues
in the leadership of the United Democratic Front are facing treason
charges for no reason other than that they encouraged South Africans
to unite in a peaceful struggle for a democratic South Africa.
We will emerge victorious in this struggle - however many people we
lose in the process. We still call for meaningful sanctions to
minimize that loss of life. We rely on the voters to whom even such
people as President Reagan owe their positions to insure that the West
participates in bringing about a democratic South Africa.
The Western governments cannot continue to help perpetuate apartheid.
The millions of antiracist voters who elected them must oblige their
governments to impose sanctions.