Sunday, February 1, 2009


In my previous satirical post, I argued that South Africa had been "demonized" during Apartheid, because it was ostracized by the international community when other, far worse regimes were left alone. This was meant to expose the fallacy of the Zionist argument that singling out Israel for criticism is tantamount to demonization.

The piece was cross-posted on Harry's Place, a site which, while largely supporting behaviors and policies we have been fighting here, displays an openness not usually found in political blogs. HP was fiercely criticized by some of its unconditional followers for allowing me to cross-post the article.

One of HP's frequent contributors, Brett, responded in two different posts. On 28 January he pointed out several factual errors in my post, which were mostly deliberate and mocked the factual errors the Zionists commit in their defense of Israel. However, he didn't rebutt the demonization argument.

Then, on my insistence, Brett published a second post on 29 January, in which he did tackle the problem of why Apartheid was uniquely punished.

His new response posits that the African National Congress worked better than other liberation movements in presenting their case before the international community. To begin with, they had a Freedom Charter that was a model of good intentions. Next, they had clear and logical objectives. Finally, they showed good communicational skills. Their case was "better packaged" than that of other peoples who also fought for their freedom. Such is, in a nutshell, Brett's argument.

While publishing a response to it on HP would seem to be the logical step, I also understand that it would further anger the blog's "constituency," which does not appear to enjoy dissent very much. I don't expect HP's editors to commit blogospherical suicide for the sake of balance. Therefore, I'm responding to Brett here on my blog.

One must give the benefit of the doubt that Brett actually believes what he says. He lived in South Africa, and is much more aware than the Western public about the complexity of the ANC movement.

However, the reasons he gives are not the ones behind the international rejection of Apartheid. No one can honestly say that the people who demonstrated against Apartheid had the faintest idea of the Freedom Charter. And the ANC's bad image peaked precisely when punitive measures were being implemented.

Thus, for instance, the US imposed stiff sanctions in 1986 -- a time at which the ANC was rejected by the American government (which branded it as a terrorist organization) because of its associations with the Communist Party.

In fact, bilateral sanctions by the world's leading economies were imposed between 1985 and 1986. What was the ANC's image in those years? Let's see:

1) The ANC was seen as the organization behind several major terror attacks. Brett's assertion that these attacks were objected to by the ANC's leadership is highly debatable. In fact, after the Church Street bombing (aimed at a military building, but which mostly killed civilians), Oliver Tambo, ANC's leader in exile, declared it a legitimate target. Even one who had in fact read the Freedom Charter would have been horrified by this attack in rush hour, in which civilian casualties were inevitable.

2) The ANC was seen as the organization behind the blood-curdling practice of necklacing, a summary execution of political opponents and impimpi (police informers) carried out by forcing a rubber tire, filled with gasoline, around a victim's chest and arms, and setting it on fire. Although Brett argues that the practice was short-lived (1984-87), those who imposed sanctions in 1985-86 couldn't have known that. Also, the most visible ANC figure, Winnie Mandela, did endorse it quite explicitly. While Brett dismisses Winnie's importance within the ANC, the West saw her as the actual ANC leader, with her husband in prison and Tambo in London. She was even called "Mother of the Nation," which was perfectly known to Western anti-Apartheid demonstrators. As for the perpetrators of the necklacings, they were not ashamed of what they did. As the first man to photograph one, Kevin Carter, said:

After having seen so many 'necklacings' on the news, it occurs to me that either many others were being performed (off camera as it were) and this was just the tip of the iceberg, or that the presence of the camera completed the last requirement, and acted as a catalyst in this terrible reaction

3) The ANC was seen as one of the factions in the fratricidal war on Inkatha. Whether this war was encouraged by the Apartheid regime or not, the fact is that the West saw horrible black-on-black violence. Internal warfare is, as everyone knows, terrible publicity for a liberation movement. "If they can't help fighting each other, how could they run a country?"

Therefore, Brett's fable of a "good packaging" does not hold much water. Quite on the contrary, it can be argued that the West ostracized the Apartheid regime in spite of what could be seen in the news about the ANC. The question remains, then: why? My theory is that the reasons behind the West's shunning of South Africa are similar to those behind the widespread criticism of Israel: we know and care more about both countries because they're more "like us" than, say, Pol Pot or Jean Kambanda.

For those of you who don't know (whose existence, if confirmed, would thoroughly prove my point): Kambanda was Rwanda's Prime Minister during the Tutsi genocide.


Anonymous said...

Your piece was so 'bizarre' Brett had to respond twice.

After 'clarifying' his thoughts it became apparent that the I/P - SA analogy was better explained by VHS trumping Betamax.

He implicitly conceded your point - that SA was worthy of acute attention - but this had no moral grounding in the injustice of an oppressed people. Apparently the ANC just had better public relations. Glad that's clear.

Anonymous said...

Surely the piece was so blatantly satirical that one could not have mistaken it for pure fact. But what can one expect from Harry's Place?

Cute that Brent had no reason to object to the boycott of Israel and not object to one of South Africa.

I have my own theories BenP but that's an entirely longer comment/post for another day.

Tim Mitchell said...

Late here I know but HP is such an aggravating collection of twits and twats that it's bad for my blood pressure to go there too often.
But on packaging & effective public relations/propaganda and geopolitics aside (fall of the USSR etc); The ANC did get its act together in europe, after the Free Nelson Mandela concert the support for the ANC became "common sense". Even in the face of major propaganda by the Thatcher gov. (lots of "necklacing" stories in the press etc).
And I do recall after the death of Yasser Arafat that british TV was suddenly graced by a team of (incredibly attractive) young Palestinian-american PR people who spoke in warm american accents about the horrors of life under occupation. They'd challenge Israeli spokesmen (always men, they've changed that lately) and reel off the names of every Palestinian killed that week with great tact and humanising every one that Israel tried to label as a dead terrorist statistic. Then for some reason (internal Fatah issues, no more cash, banned in the west, who knows? but maybe a part of that window of hope at that time) but they disappeared, never to be seen again. It took Al Jazeera english (not widely seen at all in the UK) to restore some balance and talk a kind of media-language (cliche, maybe, shorthand, maybe, but effective).
So, yeah, Brett got the right answer to the wrong question.
Whatever happened to the Pal-Am PR team?
(Though the response by UK "popstars" and actors/film stars over Gaza was very effective. Okay, shallow example of the Society of the Spectacle, but perhaps that's the battle field sometimes.)
Like yr blogs and interventions. Take care, peace to us all.

Medicine said...

So, yeah, Brett got the right answer to the wrong question.

Compra Oro Plata said...

I have my own concepts BenP but that's an entirely more time comment/post for another day.