Tuesday, June 18, 2024

SA’s ‘Bantustan’ saga under apartheid drives its pro-Palestine sentiment

Proclaiming itself the only “democracy” and “outpost of civilisation” in the region, this country counted on its sophisticated military capabilities (including a covert nuclear programme), conscript army, and influential Western friends to make itself feel secure, while repressing the dispossessed natives of the land with institutionalised mistreatment, enforced segregation, and violence.

Israel?

No, it is actually South Africa, under the erstwhile apartheid regime.

And yet, it is South Africa – just around three decades down the line – which has joined a widening group of nations, spanning South and Central America, Middle East, and Africa, that have snapped or scaled back diplomatic ties with Israel over its unrestrained and indiscriminate Gaza campaign.

After pulling back its diplomats from Israel, South Africa‚Äôs ruling African National Conference – which had long-time relations with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians – also said it will support a motion in Parliament to sever diplomatic relations with Israel and shut down its embassy in Pretoria, saying it “cannot sit back and watch the genocidal actions of the Israeli regime”.

For good measure, President Cyril Ramaphosa had on Wednesday announced that he had referred Israel for a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), noting that the recommendation was brought “together with many other countries”, though he did not name them.

While South Africa, under White minority rule, had always discriminated against other sections of residents – Indians (as one M.K. Gandhi learned to his cost), the Coloureds, and especially, the Blacks, piecemeal from the 18th century onwards, it only introduced the stringent apartheid system in 1948. This happened the same year that Israel achieved statehood and control over most of mandatory Palestine and overtly and covertly ensured expulsion of most of the Palestinians.

Like the Palestinians pushed into Gaza and West Bank, millions of black Africans were removed from their homes and forced into segregated neighbourhoods as a result of apartheid legislation, and most of these targeted removals aimed at restricting them to ten designated “tribal homelands”, the infamous “Bantustans”.

While four even became nominally independent states, the South African state kept a pretty tight leash in them, and for good measure, the relocated persons lost their South African citizenship, become virtually stateless.

The parallels with the plight of Palestinians could not be less glaring.

Yet, three plus decades of this enforced eviction, deprivation, and downright brutal repression by the military and police did not leave the Whites feeling any lasting sense of safety, or cow down the Black “terrorists”, whose mass resistance never flagged.

South Africa was long a ‘pariah’ state for most of the world, though for the US, and some other Western nations, support to this “outpost of civilisation” continued, following their usual fears of communist influence expanding in Africa. However, the end of the last specimens of colonial rule in Africa in the mid 1970s and the early 1980s – Mozambique, Angola (Portuguese), and South Rhodesia (another example of minority White rule), South Africa found itself further isolated.

It was then more perceptive White politicians realised that there was no alternative to “the terrorists” who once was termed their existential enemy. While dyed-in-wool apartheid backer Prime Minister-turned-President P.W. Botha was sounded on the plan in 1987 and agreed but soon recanted, it was left to his successor F.W. De Klerk, who took over in 1989, to launch the process, which culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela the next year, the dismantling of apartheid, and finally, a united country with equal citizenship for all on residency, not race, religion, or ethnicity.

South Africa is still far from a perfect society but it had at least people who knew the current system was faulty and could break anytime into chaos – despite their vaunted security system.

The same occurred in Israel on October 7 where the Israeli policy of managing its Palestinian problem through intrusive monitoring and regulation by military and intelligence means, urban design, and a system of walls and barriers, while eschewing any peace talks or even a token acknowledgment of the two-state solution, came crashing down.

Will the Israeli strategy of delivering unrestrained and indiscriminate retribution to their own Palestinian ‘Bantustan’ by decimating its people and levelling its infrastructure work? Maybe, for the present rage-filled moment, but long-term?

Israel may differ from South Africa in having the unqualified backing of the US, and several European countries. But, even this support is ebbing, especially in Europe. Norway, Belgium, Spain, and Ireland, where the Sinn Fein – another old friend of Arafat and the PLO, due to shared history in opposing colonial rule, oppression, and division – have called for a ceasefire and action on the two-state solution.

But will Israel listen, despite the South African example?

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

20231118163748

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