“Let no one say the past is dead.
The past is all about us and within.” —Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) 1970
Even though 2009 is a long way from 1985 when government sanctions were launched against the apartheid regime in South Africa, what effect economic sanctions had on the apartheid regime should be considered by groups launching boycott campaigns against Israel.
What type of political campaign is required to bring justice to the Palestinian people? An economic sanctions campaign? A cultural (or sporting) sanctions campaign? Sanctions by unions? Sanctions by governments? How, when the Australian electorate and its government are so conservative? Sanctions by private individuals?
If it is a campaign of boycott of Israeli companies as proposed, how should it be targeted, if at all? Will such a campaign hurt Palestinians in the occupied territories?
If there are risks of retaliation and repression by Israel and its supporter (the Australian government), what are they, and how should they be dealt with?
The case of South Africa
Economic sanctions by various governments were applied in the mid-1980s to pressure the South African government to end apartheid.
However this came about as a result of actions by anti-apartheid groups that had existed since the 1970s. A flyer advertising the ‘Lessons of the Anti-apartheid struggle‘ puts it this way:
“In South Africa, during the 1970s and 1980s, when Western governments were encouraging “constructive” engagement with the racist white minority regime there, thousands of ordinary people across the world took creative actions to isolate it and companies that did business there. “
This culminated in economic sanctions by governments in 1985. After Soweto, the UN had placed an arms embargo of South Africa. OPEC* placed an oil embargo as well, however South Africa overcame this by sourcing its oil from Iran (until the US-backed Shah was deposed n 1979).
Resistance occurred in waves after the setting up of apartheid in 1948 after a long period of European colonialism in Southern Africa dating back to the early 19th century.
The ANC wave of resistance was led by Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others who were all jailed in the 1950s for treason — Mandela until Feb 1990.
Others leaders took their place including Steve Biko, Winnie Mandela and Chris Hani.
Chris Hani had this to say about his political development:
“The arraignment for Treason of the ANC leaders in 1956 convinced me to join the ANC and participate in the struggle for freedom.
In 1957 I made up my mind and joined the ANC Youth League. I was fifteen then, and since politics was proscribed at African schools our activities were clandestine.
In 1959 I went over to university at Fort Hare where I became openly involved in the struggle, as Fort Hare was a liberal campus. It was here that I got exposed to Marxist ideas and the scope and nature of the racist capitalist system.
My conversion to Marxism also deepened my non-racial perspective.” See http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/1266/historical-hani.htm
Resistance mounted through the 1970s and led to the 1976 Soweto uprising.
It began as a revolt against a government plan to teach Afrikaans in black schools, but built a new resistance to the apartheid regime.
“The final key ingredient in the change was the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and Mikhail Gorbachev’s forswearing of regional proxy wars [i.e. the end of the cold war]. The Afrikaner government of South Africa saw the ANC as a party of godless communists, ready to take their country into the communist bloc. Once the communist bloc fell apart and a withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola was negotiated, a political deal with the ANC became conceivable.” See “SANCTIONS ON SOUTH AFRICA: WHAT DID THEY DO?” by Philip I. Levy
This included an extensive bureaucracy to maintain apartheid, restrictive labor laws against black people that hurt the economy and growing reluctance by financial institutions in the West to lend money to South African business because of the risk that the ANC may take power and swear allegiance to the Soviet bloc. This led to a decline in the growth of GDP in the period 1974 to 1987 when it averaged only 1.8 percent per year compared to 4.9% in the years prior. This occurred before sanctions were applied in the mid 1980s. A period of increased growth in GDP occurred after the sanctions were applied because of efforts made by the apartheid regime to exploit black labour and to circumvent the sanctions and the exemption of strategic goods from the sanctions applied by the US and Europe. The repression inside the country got worse.
“In July of 1985, President P.W. Botha declared a state of emergency. Shortly thereafter, Chase Manhattan Bank declared it would not renew its short-term loans, touching off a liquidity crisis as other lenders followed suit. [from See “SANCTIONS ON SOUTH AFRICA: WHAT DID THEY DO?” by Philip I. Levy]”
This occurred before the sanctions were applied. It was private capital that saw the risk to their investments.
“Although the direct economic impact of governmentally imposed sanctions was quite small, one could argue that they were the “final straw” that made economic conditions intolerable and forced political change.
There were numerous contemporaneous statements from South Africans that drew such a link between the economic climate and political change, although they were usually accompanied by denials of sanctions’ role.
However, one might discount such denials as an effort to dissuade foreign governments from further sanctions…
Yet once the perceived communist threat diminished, the release of Mandela and negotiations on a transition followed fairly quickly” — SANCTIONS ON SOUTH AFRICA: WHAT DID THEY DO?” by Philip I. Levy
It seems to me that the demise of the apartheid regime was brought about mainly by resistance organised by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid groups inside South Africa. They had considerable assistance from Cuba and the Soviet Union in the armed struggle against the regime. They had assistance from the growing nationalist movements in Africa and the Arab states (particularly from Nasser in Egypt).
Solidarity groups in the west mounted various campaigns that may have been more psychological in their effect, contributing to but not a key part of the resistance against the apartheid state. Australia did not play such a big role in bringing down apartheid. Australian governments like the Queensland and West Australian governments supported the regime. The Queensland government tried to implement its own form of apartheid against aboriginal people through the Queensland Acts. Even the cutting of Australian sporting ties with South Africa was limited; for example, Kim Hughes led an Australian cricket side to South Africa during the sanctions.
However the protests against the 1971 Springbok Rugby Union tour did a lot to raise the consciousness of white Austrtalia. Gary Foley put it this way:
“On 26 June 1971 the South African Springbok rugby union team arrived in Perth for the beginning of a tumultuous six week tour of Australia which would not only divide the nation on the issue of race, but would also have a profound effect on the indigenous political movement.
As the South African footballers stepped off their plane in Perth, on the other side of the country the Redfern Aboriginal activists had already developed strong connections with the leaders of the Anti-Apartheid Movement(AAM).” — http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/essays/essay_1a.html
Mandela may have been alluding to the psychological effects of sanctions when he said on release from prison:
“To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process toward ending apartheid.”
However the US only pushed hard against the apartheid regime when they knew a communist ANC was no longer a possibility.
The US wanted a compromised ANC to deal with, one that would implement economic rationalist policies, which is pretty much what the ANC in government did.
The same could be said for the US administration now, they want a compromised Palestinian Authority to deal with.
As the world is entering the second year of a Global Financial Crisis, solidarity groups could do well to consider alternatives to the model being proposed for Palestine by the US administration, the World Bank and the British government:
“Over the last six months ( up till July 2008), the Palestinian economy has been radically transformed under a new plan drawn up by the Palestinian Authority (PA) called the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP).
Developed in close collaboration with institutions such as the World Bank and the British Department for International Development (DFID), the PRDP is currently being implemented in the West Bank where the Abu Mazen-led PA has effective control.
It embraces the fundamental precepts of neoliberalism: a private sector-driven economic strategy in which the aim is to attract foreign investment and reduce public spending to a minimum.” — Palestine in the Middle East: Opposing Neoliberalism and US Power more @ http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/hanieh190708a.html
What sort of economy do the Palestinian people in Gaza want? One without siege, where there is a free flow of food, goods and supplies.
When aid is given, what is there to stop Israel from bombing the new buildings, schools and hospitals as they have been doing over the years?
2 Feb 2009
“SANCTIONS ON SOUTH AFRICA: WHAT DID THEY DO?” by Philip I. Levy
“Biko” by Donald Woods Paddington Press 1978
OPEC was born out of the Arab-Israeli
conflict, which occurred in 1973. An Arab oil embargo, a
political measure taken in support of the war effort against
Israel, resulted in oil prices on international markets surging.
This price hike sparked alarm in the oil-dependent
nations of the industrialized world, who, in realizing their
vulnerability to such supply disruptions, took action to
safeguard their future position. The International Energy Agency was established to fulfill that role. See OPEC Bulletin