RESISTANCE to war has a long and noble history. From pacifists during the Anglo-Boer War, objectors to WW1 and WW2, conscripts against the Vietnam War and South Africa’s own Border War, the names and faces of those who have chosen the difficult path of combating militarism and state-sponsored aggression, number in their thousands.
When dissent is quashed by political expediency the nuances and cadence of individual struggle against war is lost. The evolution of the ‘just-war thesis’ by either side to the conflict in the Middle East provides a case in point, as does resistance to the promotion of war as a solution.
During 1987, ANC stalwart, then SRC president Cameron Dugmore, stood on a podium alongside 23 white conscripts from UCT opposed to military conscription during apartheid. The initial group of conscientious objectors, included Christian pacifists as well as then president of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), Jonathan Handler. Signicantly Handler opposed the Border War on the basis of a defense of Israel.
The result was that I relinquished my membership of SAUJS. Instead of joining Handler in his “just war thesis”, which was little more than a promotion of Zionism, and thus a moral justification for his later joining the Israeli Defense Force, and with Dugmore rubber-stamping Handler’s participation, I took the difficult path of involvement in South Africa’s armed struggle, crossing the colour line and embracing the culture of resistance and rebellion.
The creation of the environmental justice movement in the aftermath of the banning of the ECC, and my work for Grassroots, South Press, Sached/New Nation form a body of work and deserve a chapter on their own. However the lesson drawn from this experience is that the Middle East problem is not as easily reducible to a binary struggle between black and white, right and wrong.
Faced with a difficult and unenviable predicament, I chose a very different approach, that of civil disobedience. Lodging a public objection to Handler’s participation on the platform and Dugmore’s acquiescence, would have merely playing into the hands of the Botha government and its securocrats. It also risked an embarrassing side-show, in a vulnerable moment. Nevertheless we exchanged words during the media briefing session. For Michael Rautenbach, this was sign that I was ‘simply not ready for the big time’.
Not only was the SAUJS involvement untenable, but as a 19-year-old enrolled in law-school, the problem did not lead itself to any immediate legal answers, save for hoping that it would all somehow pan out and that history would be the better judge. An outright objection against the “just war thesis” instead of simple resistance, would also have required a Phd essay written with all the gusto necessary to balance the complexity of the struggle itself, solidarity amongst comrades, campus spies, security police paranoia, my call-up papers and the lack of engagement by ECC leadership.
With no support for my nascent position from either SAUJS nor ECC’s Dugmore and the merry bunch of Christian fanatics who were assured of a place in heaven with emotional guidance from the Church, and with Atheists then in the minority within the ECC itself, I took my struggle against the system and my membership card elsewhere. Arriving at an outright rejection of war much later than anticipated, and only after an encounter with the international peace movement following the democratic elections.
It is a period which has come to haunt me in recent years, the difficulties following the banning of the ECC and SWAPO solidarity committee, not because I have been cross-examined by a racist bigot acting for a racist company, in an unfair legal proceeding without the aid of an attorney, on my involvement in some of the details. This whilst also being subjected to a religious inquisition of my secular identity. But because the paranoia surrounding BDS in its current form, and its supporters from the far-right in Fatah and Hamas, combined with Zionist intransigence and lack of public debate, have all moved to close down what little dissent and individual freedom remains.
There are many robust claims made by either parties to the conflict in the Middle East. The result though is invariably the same — the silencing of individual right to dissent, the removal of civil liberties, the abolition of the right to freedom from religion, the right to not be constrained by the religious views of others, the very essence of freedom of religion. Theist, Non-Theist, Atheist. For my part, the conflict is one of injustice vs injustice, a terrible ‘battle between monsters and maniacs’, whether blood on the streets of Tel Aviv, Ramallah, or Gaza, and neighbouring Syria, while the public all to readily reach out for religious texts, as easily as weapons of war.
South Africa for all intents and purposes is a secular country. We pride ourselves in our Constitution which ostensibly guarantees religious and cultural rights, and we like to think we are an exception and there is somehow continuity with our secular struggle and the struggle for human rights in the Middle East. This remains to be seen.
To date there has been no proof that we are special, except propaganda and lies. The short-circuiting of debate. The sheer religiosity of those involved. The astonishing willingness to resort to bloodshed. It is time to face up to facts and to stop the rubber-stamping and handing out of blank cheques to activists on either side, preaching the exact opposite of truth. There is another path, another way out of the conflict, besides advocacy of hatred, bloodshed and eternal war.
The very essence of secularism, according to George Holyoake, the man who coined the term, is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious rules. “A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature—what ought to be in morals—selecting the affirmative in exposition, concerning himself with the real, the right, and the constructive. Positive principles are principles which are provable.”
Secularism is firmly based upon enlightenment values, the right not to be subjected to religious persecution by the state nor any religious authority or otherwise. Secular values are the ‘We, the People’ values enshrined by our Constitution which are remarkable absent when it comes to the Middle East. If South Africans are to contribute to justice and a peaceful solution, it must be because we are also willing to defend our own history of opposition to war in all its forms, our nation’s own war resisters, and thus our nation’s core values in the non-aligned movement.
Unlike many politico’s, we must urge seekers of peace, to do this with the courage to avoid rubber-stamping the “just war thesis” come what may, and whatever the consequences. To avoid providing wholesale support for any of the belligerent parties, whatever the ends and means, and no matter the outcome, and without at very least, measuring the results against our own conscience, free-will and opinion.
THAT some commentators and journalists are rising to the defense of paramilitary politics in South Africa is not all that surprising. Far-right spokesperson Simon Shear, whom the Daily Vox’s of the EFF and the urgent topic of whether self-proclaimed “Commander in Chief” Julius Malema, is a fascist or not, needs to be congratulated for setting the matter straight. insists is required reading on the subject
Yes, the EFF are a Marxist-Leninist party, and if anything, Malema is a Stalinist not a Fascist in the traditional sense of the word.
That Hlongwane should find himself quoting the author of a piece purporting to debunk Affirmative Action, and thus “The case against Affirmative Action” is typical of so many on the authoritarian left, who see in Malema many of the macho characteristics and atavistic impulses they too, would wish to emulate, yet also find the need to meekly reinterpret their party dictator and thus to apologise for his often strident and offensive comments, which exist alongside the steady racial barrage and ideological violence of his many lieutenants.
Hlongwane rushed into criticism of Van Onselen’s piece on the EFF, calling Malema a fascist, a piece which he believes is “an ideologically inconsistent mess, but the overall intended effect is to take concepts such as whiteness (no matter how many times that this doesn’t refer to white people, but a social construct of power), socialism, and even black consciousness off the table.”
If taking Affirmative Action off the table, to promote Milton Friedman, as Shear does, while dissing the new dawn Ramaphosa ANC and its politics of unity and centerism, the Maimane DA and its equal opportunity ‘property rights for all’, and thus the Rainbow Nation, isn’t in the same league, as dismissing all Marxists as simply the descendents of proto-fascists, then I don’t know what else would rate as a critique of the authoritarian centre of the new paramilitary left?
An authoritarian cabal whose pundits are apt to quote Marx, Fanon and Sankara, while forgetting that the anti-hegemonic ideals propagated by these politicos were essentially founded upon humanism and the love of freedom as much as they are bound up in dialectical materialism. Marx was a fervent champion of press freedom, even if this means tolerating the excesses of the tabloids, writes Mark Thomas, citing Marx himself who said the “press, in general, is a realisation of human freedom,”
Not only does the belligerent EFF have a ‘war council’, in possible contravention of our pacifist constitution, but in many ways, its paramilitary operations have centred around the cult of personality which has evolved around Malema. A man whose daily diatribe and steady output of race-talk exists right alongside the politics of hate, symbols of outrage, and acts of political thuggery, which are emblematic of both National Socialism under the Nazis and Communism under Joseph Stalin.
Racism, hostility and ideological cant, all too familiar for many South Africans who may remember similar periods in which paramilitary organisations have graced the political stage, often urging violence, whilst seeking to play the parliamentary card of political privilege — thus it is almost impossible to check Nuremberg Rallies if they happen to happen in Vereeniging, or to counter Malema’s aggressive “cut the throat of whiteness” comment in the runup to an election in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Whether it be the brownshirts and swastikas of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and the late Eugene Terreblanche or the Red attire of ‘White’ Communist Party leader W H Andrews, known as ‘Comrade Bill’, one of the Red leaders of the 1922 Rand Revolt, the denouement and rationale in authoritarianism, dictatorship and obedience to a leader at the expense of personal freedom, has always been the same.
In 1932 the South African Gentile National Socialist Movement of Louis Weichard emerged and quickly became known as the Greyshirts because of their clothing.
In 1939 a fascist and racist group known as the Ossewabrandwag (OB) was founded and along with its volkish symbolism, was also inspired by Adolf Hitler.
All were local South African fascist groups, and one should add that the term fascist does not necessarily connote a direct causal link with the politics of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Yet his fascist progeny have invariably emphasised ethnic, class and racial differences. Thus for the fascist right, it was Aryan race rhetoric which was used to organise amongst the various poor white immigrant communities, while for the fascist Afrikaner Reds, it was a strange mixture of class revolt and cruel desire to preserve economic advantage over their fellow black workers, and thus race privilege amongst the ranks of those with jobs, that drove their Marxist fantasy and inspired revolt.
A third not insignificant group known as New Order, emerged in 1940 under the leadership of Oswald Pirow.
In the case of Julius Malema, like his nemesis Jacob Zuma, the imperatives of equality and civil rights for all, outlined by our constitution, appear to have been bent by sleight of hand and trick of tongue, into a perverse demand for land but only for those within the political laager, those closest to the Red authority at the Red centre, while the constitution itself is seen as merely an impediment to the leader’s ultimate stated goals of power for the sake of power and Totalitarianism by any other name. Malema’s Newcastle statements on slaughtering the opposition and land ownership for example, contradict his recent statements at New Brighton, all part and parcel of the get elected at any cost, and by any means campaign, and therefore the leader’s poetic license to say whatever needs to be said to any group, at any given time.
It was an admixture of right-wing groups, (and quasi-leftists), some armed with socialist ideas such as volkscapitalisme, which eventually became the National Party, a political organisation responsible for apartheid. The NP was openly affiliated to the International Gentile Movement, and sought special privileges for the Afrikaner to the exclusion of all other ‘race groups’ while creating an authoritarian state, a country whose economy still shares many of the defects associated with the socialism of former Eastern European Bloc countries.
Like these earlier periods, the misreading of seemingly egalitarian texts, whether the Bible or Das Kapital, combined with a volatile confluence of popular disgruntlement with the ruling party, racism in the form of anti-white hostility, and the lure of the land debate, all appear to have invigorated the paramilitary EFF party. Its leader, Julius Malema, not an emerging leftist ideological oracle, has been catapulted into media headlines, as the ranks at the forefront of the authoritarian left swell, and as demonstrated, are articulated by apparatchiks and gauleiters, who are not ashamed to draw ideas from the fascists on the far right when it suits them.
Hence the internal contradictions of the ANC itself, a party which risks losing elements within come the 2019 election, that have always aligned themselves with dictators from Lenin to Fidel Castro, and thus the politics of Hugo Chavez and Jacob Zuma. These “fascists” may have just found themselves a new political home. We wish them well.
NOTE: Gauleiter was the second highest Nazi Party paramilitary rank, subordinate only to the higher rank Reichsleiter and to the position of Führer.
IT WAS inevitable that the opposition Democratic Alliance would arrive at its own Rubicon. The saga involving party stalwart Helen Zille, what she said or didn’t say, what was meant or not meant, the affectations of white liberal insiders, the embarrassing grand old colonial edifice and all its past glories, suddenly rendered impotent by a growing and vocal group of black entrepreneurs to its left and the irony of a conservative Afrikaner establishment to its right. Let’s just say that the old model of opposition politics no longer holds.
While cavalier, Mmusi Maimane was certainly reading the mood of the electorate, setting the stage for the 2019 general election, and his run for President in standing firmly against superiority, class attitudes and snobbery within his own party. Admittedly with this type of populism, it is all about political demeanour, perceptions and the will of the masses on the ground.
That national student movements such as SASCO found themselves weighing in on the subject, meant the DA, an alliance if ever there was one, was suddenly finding itself cast into the national spotlight. Provincialism of the kind articulated by Zille and her followers had no place. And hence while some bemoaned the outcome, a tragic fait accompli, it was inevitable that the party would find itself at a cross-roads, with a choice of futures. Can the DA ever hope to govern the nation, without creating tensions amongst its provincial partners?
It was no less than Douglas Gibson who first characterised the problem, Zille was past her sell-by-date. Thus Tony Leon soon found himself publicly praising Maimane for taking tough action against Helen over the colonialism tweets. While the prevarications and equivocations by the premier went from bad to worse. That the Cape Town lady was deploying the politics of World War 2 in her defence, admittedly of an Asian economic model merely made her arguments seem antiquated.
This was not a society gone racially mad but a case of corrective action, a necessary medicament arising from the furore surrounding a simple online tweet, and requiring a better perspective, than the past fiasco which had been a case of not growing up, or too much too soon — the party head-hunted struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele mid-flight, in the last general election was unable to broker an effective alliance with its grass-roots ticket and thus a broad coalition of partners that could have produced a major victory for moderate black voters and their allies in the civil service and SOEs.
If the party is to have any hope of winning the next general election, it has to move forward under its current leadership. There are a number of caveats. Can the social wage be protected if not by social democrats? Whereto the provinces versus the national vote? Is there a way of saving the Western Cape’s unique character, given that the DA is an alliance, which has done remarkably well in South Africa’s metros? Where to Mmusi from here?
It was thus apt, that Zille announced her suspension today, with a tweet “DA has suspended me. They have agreed I can share my reasons why I should not have been suspended. Here they are: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B7ZA1fLZUDzZS2VNNC0tNnV2a2s …”
Only time will tell whether or not this emerging political formation, untrammelled by the corruption within the current Zuma administration, and unhindered by the ideological baggage of the far-left, will pull through to its destiny in a future national cabinet. My bet is surely on Maimane for president, and come the next election, anything but the current Mafiosi state of Jacob Zuma.
Medialternatives will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on WordPress this year. The stats show that last year was our second best year in terms of traffic, with some 23 591 unique views and over 17000 visitors.
SOUTH AFRICA has a long and celebrated history of non-alignment when it comes to the numerous wars between the great powers.
During the cold war, the ANC received funding from members of the Eastern bloc and Warsaw Pact, but the party developed its own policies in regard to the apartheid regime.
Remarkable here are the historic ties with non-aligned Nordic countries, who also funded and supported the campaign against apartheid, so too, the significant role played by the African unity movement (and African Union) in developing a cohesive platform of independence and non-alignment.
Lately there are disturbing signs that our country is once again being drawn into a partisan global conflict, effectively taking sides in the Middle East War and the war in Syria. It would be foolhardy to ignore the recent hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal by the ruling party and what appears to be pro-Assad, pro-Iran policies slowly developing in relation to Syria, and of consequence, the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Early this year, South Africans were stunned to hear that a family of Syrian refugees in Cape Town have been told by a Home Affairs official that their asylum application was “unfounded”. The department declared their home country “stable” and rejected claims they feared for their lives if they returned to the war-torn country.
“Humanitarian aid was, therefore, not warranted,” the department’s finding is reported to have said. This is in line with the fiction created by Russia and other nations, that the diminished Assad regime is the only legitimate role player, and since it is officially not at war, and the conflict is ironically merely a “civil war” at best, the 450 000 people who have died in the region never existed.
Nelson Mandela shortly after his release and whilst on the Ted Koppel Show explained his principled position on the Middle East, in particular the Israel and Palestine conflict:
“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. “
“We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.”
“We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”
While Mandela’s position may no longer be considered relevant to the ruling party, any political pundit worth his or her salt would be abrogating responsibility in failing to consider the following facts, which present significant obstacles so far as the BDS version of history is concerned:
Firstly, the Assad regime has been at war with Israel since October 1973, when it attacked the country on the holiest day in the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur. Any support for the regime may thus have unintended consequences, that of deteriorating further into a religious war.
Secondly, the flag of Assad’s Ba’ath Party is the exact same Pan-Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies. BDS supporters may thus justifiably be accused of supporting the deaths of civilians in Syria in the name of Empire.
The influx of Arabs into Israel from Arab States, following the 1948 war, is well documented. Many of these Arabs were also Jews and Christians. Thus the problem in the region is not between black or white, but between right and wrong.
The position of Mandela continues to enjoy resounding support amongst South African Jews, the position of BDS on the other hand, in its evolving campaign, most recently articulated by the Media Review Network and others — namely that Israel has no right to exist, and consequently should be replaced by an Islamic State — has absolutely no support within this community, and where it does, such support should not be misconstrued as support on behalf of any one of the major religions.
Ideologically, those Jews, such as myself, who happen to be non-Zionist (and thus also non-Theist per se), have provided solidarity with the Palestinian cause over the years.
There was a time when such solidarity provided by the left was one of unconditional support. After so much death and destruction in the region, doing so without conditions is nothing but irresponsible madness. One has merely to point to the problem of 13 million Syrian-Palestinian refugees, many of whom are now in refugee camps in Jordan. That South Africa has a role to play in a negotiated peace, is clear. Our country also has a humanitarian role in assisting these Palestinians in relocating to our fine country.
I therefore wish to affirm here, that we are all hostages of the crisis, and thus hostages of the war, irrespective of our religious affiliation or otherwise, and that a secular solution — a negotiated settlement between the parties — is one that involves all parties, and thus both points of view. Such a solution, necessitates that we avoid taking sides as a nation, in what appears to be nothing more than a sectarian conflict, a partisan religious conflict as is the one over the Jerusalem-West Bank, which mirrors the neighbouring wars involving religion cascading around the Middle East.
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