The Tradition of the African National Congress: Maintaining Relevance

In 1990, Nelson Mandela ended an almost forty-year prison term on Robben Island where he had essentially been internally exiled along with other African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leaders by the apartheid government in an attempt to neutralize his political influence on the black South African population. Even after almost four decades of imprisonment, what Mandela represented, as a symbol of a movement to rid the country of minority rule, still resonated with anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Because of Mandela’s influence and the ANC in exile’s international political maneuvering, the apartheid government was able to use Mandela as a bridge between South African whites and blacks to initiate democratic elections and majority rule. A few short years later in 1994, Mandela, along with the African National Congress, were voted into office as a result of the first universal democratic elections held in South Africa. This was certainly a victory for anti-apartheid activists. For the first time, the government was truly democratic and representative.

However, the rise of the ANC after the end of apartheid raises questions about how the movement maintained its legitimacy in the eyes of both South Africans (apartheid government and anti-apartheid activists) and the international community during exile. This paper will focus on how scholars have addressed the effectiveness of the ANC as a resistance movement and potential governing institution in the 1950s and during the exile period. Based on the available material, the ANC often lacked direction and ideological coherence and was unable to reach or appeal to a large portion of the black South African population. Other movements, like Black Consciousness and the Communist Party, were essential in pushing forward the anti-apartheid movement both within and outside the country. Moreover, this paper will examine debates about the organization’s relationship with other nationalist movements, including Black Consciousness, the PAC, and African Congress members.

During the years between 1992 and 2009, there is a relative lull in accessible sources written from a historical perspective that address the role of the ANC in anti-apartheid activities. This lull corresponds to the unbanning of the ANC and SACP in 1990 and the democratic elections held in 1994 that brought the ANC to power in South Africa. Some of the authors noted that after 1994 the ANC allowed all of its records from the exile period to be made available for study.[1] It is reasonable to assume that transporting and organizing these records required time, and then researching that archive took additional time. With the exception of Hugh Macmillan’s work, the early 1990s generally separates two types of scholarship that this paper addresses: pre-1992 literature like that written by Gail Gerhart (1979) and Robert Fatton (1986) that is mostly first-hand accounts or that relies on interviews and eyewitness testimony; and post-1992 literature that relies more heavily on archival research and documentary evidence, like Sean Morrow’s 1998 article on the Dakawa education camp.[2]

This paper will first look at the debates presented by scholars writing about the African National Congress in the 1950s and its relationship with other movements during that time period. Gail Gerhart (1979) and Robert Fatton (1986) argue that the organization lacked ideological coherence and that it failed to deliver on its promises. The failures of the ANC, along with its offshoot, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), led to a public backlash during the 1960s that caused people to avoid becoming involved in political movements that could draw the attention of the white apartheid authorities. Stephen Ellis & Tsepo Sechaba (a pseudonym used by Oyama Mabandla, 1992) and Daniel Magaziner (2010) argue that this fear created an opportunity for another movement, Black Consciousness, to come to the forefront. By presenting itself as a sort of self-help movement that was at first interpreted as non-threatening to the establishment, Black Consciousness was easily disseminated and kept the idea and possibility of African self-rule alive during the 1960s when the ANC and PAC were banned.

This paper will then look at the debates surrounding the ANC in exile. In 1992, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba argue that the SACP took control of the ANC in exile, occupying key posts, manipulating votes and re-orienting the ANC along Party lines of armed revolution. In 2009, Arianna Lissoni presents an overview of the ANC in exile in the 1960s, arguing that the organization suffered an identity crisis in terms of its “image” as an African organization, creating stresses that led to the 1969 Morogoro conference. Sean Morrow (1998), Rachel Sandwell (2015), and to some extent Colin Bundy (2012) present scholarship focused on the day-to-day life of the ANC’s camps. They generally argue that the ANC was inefficient and moribund, essentially struggling to maintain itself rather than working towards the goal of anti-apartheid. In 2013, Hugh Macmillan presents a history of the ANC in exile in Lusaka, in an attempt to counter modern accusations that weaknesses in the South African ANC government is a result of the exile experience.

Other scholars, like Janet Cherry (2012) and Steve Davis (2012), focus more heavily on the dissolution of the connection between the ANC and black South Africans within South Africa itself. Janet Cherry’s analysis of violent versus non-violent tactics is highly theoretical but also includes analysis that shows that the ANC had become marginal in the armed struggle against apartheid due to a lack of communications with actors inside South Africa. To show how the ANC attempted to overcome this barrier, Steve Davis looks at the role and use of radio by ANC personnel, arguing that the system was poorly planned and had limited effect.

In Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (1979), Gail Gerhart shows how policies of accommodation cyclically fell out of favor for a more African-centered political ideology. Gerhart’s work is a political history and presents an overview of the development of black national ideology rather than a particular critique or exploration of any one group or organization. She covers a broad time period, from the founding of the ANC in 1912 to the banning of the South African Student Organization and Black People’s Congress in 1973. This presents particular difficulties in finding coherent arguments about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the organizations she is analyzing. The author indicates in her conclusion that she is hesitant in forming arguments or conclusions about the ANC, since she is writing about an ongoing conflict and does not have the benefit of hindsight.

Gerhart is generally critical of the ANC as an organization. Throughout her text she refers to the ANC as having no sound or consistent ideology to present to the public at large.[3] She is not alone in this assessment. In Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (1986), Robert Fatton also argues that the ANC lacked ideological coherence, though he presents his analysis through the lens of Marxism and class struggle.  He attributes the failure of the early ANC to properly mobilize and actively engage in revolutionary activities to their attachment to entrenched “white” ideas of class membership. Fatton sees the “old guard” of the pre-1948 ANC leadership as being too infatuated with their status as members of the petty bourgeoisie to be capable of conceiving of an alternative ideological framework, and consequently a new system.[4] As a result, the organization was unable to achieve their goals.[5]

Both Gerhart and Fatton demonstrate that the ANC changed and shifted direction constantly. This can be viewed as an organization being realistic and pragmatic, but it also shows a clear lack of vision and a lack of any clear plan for reaching self-government or what that self-government might look like and who might be included. In addition to not having a clear ideological position, Gerhart argues that the lack of a clear goal turned the ANC into a “tradition”, rather than something one believed in. She compares membership in the ANC to membership in the local church: casual, traditional, and mostly composed of women, children and the elderly. This is a damning criticism of the ANC and shows that it had no connection with the public at large. Gerhart writes that:

Few in the ANC were prepared to admit to any ideological shortcomings, but it was evident by the late 1950s that the ANC was taking a line which no longer adequately reflected the mood of the urban African, or in particular the impatience of the urban youth. … as an organization it had now begun to lag behind the times, a captive of its traditions, its allies, and of the world view of its prestigious older leaders.[6]

The ANC then, as a movement, did not speak to the people. Other organizations and streams of thought stepped in to fill this gap, though Gerhart argues that they too had their failings.

Organizations like the Pan Africanist Congress, South African Student Organization, Black People’s Congress and early thinkers like Anton Lembede and even the early ANC Youth Leaugers, all adhered to the “rebel” stream of thought in African nationalist politics, which promoted an African centered theory of government, to one degree or another. In Black Power, Gerhart explains that in most cases, these early adherents of “Africa for Africans” ideology generally “mellowed” and became realists, attempting to work within the existing white apartheid framework of government.[7] The ANC was primarily representative of this racially inclusive stream of thought. However, together with other groups like the PAC, Steve Biko’s SASO and the Black People’s Congress, which promoted more militant ideologies, the ANC was banned and exiled by the apartheid government because it threatened the existing order. Gerhart argues that all of these organizations generally lacked proper planning, clear structure or goals. For example, she argues that the PAC failed to gain traction because it did not do enough grassroots organizing.[8]

Gerhart’s narrative essentially shows that all black political movements were ineffective during the period she writes about. Cycling between ideologies of ethnic solidarity, racial inclusiveness, and African-centered or African-only political ideologies, there was no cohesiveness to African political expression. Of course, expecting there to be one theory of proper politics from any group is unrealistic, but Gerhart clearly shows that the resistance movement as a whole was fragmented and disorganized. Additionally, these movements were restricted to small, educated and typically urban circles and had little impact on rural black Africans. Gerhart argues that the only movement to make any progress in that field was Black Consciousness, which appealed not only to students, but also to African clergy in independent churches. She also notes that Black Consciousness made inroads with the average black African because it included symbols and nonverbal language, like the raised first, that uneducated and illiterate people could understand and identify with. Black Consciousness, Gerhart writes, was not just a philosophy, but a “mood” with which all Africans could identify.[9]

Gerhart shows that Black Consciousness was more effective in reaching the people and reflecting the attitudes of average Africans than the ANC, but she questions whether or not Black Consciousness will remain relevant, describing it as a transitional philosophy that will outlive its usefulness.[10] In that respect, she is arguing that the ANC has something that Black Consciousness does not: lasting power.[11] She consistently shows that the ANC has established itself as a hallmark of African life and, while not particularly effective, has been able to stay active in one form or another, a feat no other anti-apartheid organization had managed to duplicate. This in itself, Gerhart agues, was its own form of currency. Gerhart only passingly mentions the ANC’s ban and the group’s subsequent ineffectiveness in the country, but her emphasis on the popular appeal of Black Consciousness further undermines the idea that the ANC was consistently the driving force in African political thought during the apartheid period.[12] At best, it was a symbol of a legacy of resistance to apartheid.

In Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (1986), Robert Fatton builds on Gerhart’s analysis of Black Consciousness by analyzing its development and progress through the lens of Marxism and revolution. He argues that prior to 1948 the anti-apartheid movement failed as a revolutionary ideology and primarily focuses his attention on the rise of Black Consciousness, the ideology and movement attributed to Steve Biko.[13] Fatton’s interpretation of events is an attempt to marry Marxist class struggles with Black Consciousness, which promoted an independent system of values that would essentially place black men on their own, equivalent scale, separate and apart from white conceptions of civilization, values, and achievement. Black Consciousness was the idea that Africans were just as inherently valuable and worthwhile as whites, and that their culture and ideas were just as valuable, on their own, and did not have to be held in relation to white values and culture, or placed on some sliding scale of achievement created by white intellectuals.

Fatton analyses the history of ideologies that gave birth to the Black Consciousness Movement as well as other groups’ reactions to it. Most notably, he mentions the ANC’s view of the movement as a transitional stage that the ANC had already passed through, which was likely an attempt to delegitimize Black Consciousness and maintain supremacy as the sole legitimate representatives of the anti-apartheid movement and black Africans in South Africa.[14] This is important in understanding how little relevance the ANC actually had. The organization felt the need to “get in front of” a new movement and delegitimize it. This tactic indicates the ANC was reacting from a position of weakness and attempting to remain relevant in the face of a fresh and growing movement, rather than speaking from a position of strength. As an organization that had been relegated to a “tradition”, with a membership of mainly the elderly and children, the ANC had lost the initiative.

In addition, when Black Consciousness was gaining in popularity, Gerhart notes that the ANC was mostly dormant in South Africa because of the banning orders, internal imprisonment, and external exile of the organization in the 1960s.[15] Writing much later, in 1992, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba would reach the same conclusion, as would Arianna Lissoni, writing in 2009. Ellis and Sechaba write that the arrests at Liliesleaf Farm in 1963 of the leadership of the ANC and Imkhonto we Sizwe (MK) rendered the ANC and SACP inactive in South Africa. Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness movement’s founder, had no connection with or interest in either the ANC or the SACP because neither one had any remaining power or influence in the country. Steve Biko had only just begun to think in terms of creating a political framework when he was assassinated in prison. Ellis and Sechaba argue that Black Consciousness was able to spread because the apartheid government hoped that the ideology would help to legitimate and promote the idea of separate African homelands (Bantustans). In some cases this did work, leading former ANC and PAC leaders to give up the struggle and head “home”.[16] The movement did, however, lay the foundation for continued resistance to apartheid, as well as widen the rift between the ANC and black South Africans.

Gerhart notes that the rise of Black Consciousness psychologically prepared urban black youth for confrontation with whites and was accepted to such a degree among Africans that it created a shift away from accommodation in politics. One could no longer operate within the white-defined political system and be seen as legitimately representing black South African interests.[17] This is significant in terms of the ANC’s effectiveness as a representative of South Africans during this period and after unbanning, since the organization promoted a non-racial, inclusive and democratic government for South Africa along existing institutional lines. Despite this inconsistency, Black Consciousness and its effects were indispensable to the anti-apartheid movement during the years when the ANC could not effectively communicate with or organize people inside South Africa. In The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977 (2010), Daniel Magaziner writes that “Black Consciousness filled the gap between the 1950s and early 1960s and the younger generation of activists who emerged in the wake of the Soweto protests of 1976.”[18]

Magaziner analyzes the Black Consciousness Movement from a perspective that is almost the exact opposite of that taken by Fatton. Where Fatton tries to fit the movement into a paradigm of class struggle with a teleological conclusion, Magaziner is attempting to avoid grand political narratives. Rather he wants to analyze process, positioning his work as intellectual history, something that he says is not popular in South African history because it is not popular or democratic, referring to popular literature that attempts to paint a rosy picture of the anti-apartheid movements.[19]

Magaziner looks at the period in the mid- to late-1960s and early 1970s as a time when ideas were fermenting and solidifying into an ideology that came to be termed Black Consciousness. Magaziner defines Black Consciousness as “multiple and contingent, subject to debate and change,” but also “an ethic, a way of life, a being for change that was supposed to saturate and fundamentally alter an entire society.”[20] Magaziner sees the Black Consciousness movement as having sold out on its original principles when it aligned itself politically, but that does not take away from the effectiveness of the organization in promoting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa when the ANC and other groups were unable to do so.[21]

In relation to the ANC and PAC, Magaziner shows that Black Consciousness was consistently thought of as a “baby organization,” because of the movement’s early emphasis on philosophy and deference to older organizations in terms of political action. However, the South African Student Organization (SASO), of which Black Consciousness was a part, soon took an active role in promoting anti-apartheid activities. Magaziner describes the movement as having grassroots support and being at the cutting edge of black opinion in South Africa.[22] In other words, Magaziner agrees that the ANC had lost relevance in South Africa, especially among the younger generation, and Black Consciousness stepped in to fill the ideological gap.

The exile period was a time of internal disintegration for the ANC. Writing in 1992 in Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba argue that the organization had given up its ideological stance of multi-racialism and inclusiveness and had adopted an African first policy in order to appeal to African nations that they came to rely on for help and sanctuary. Arianna Lissoni focuses on this transformation in a 2009 article titled “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969.” She provides an overview of the nature of the Congress Alliance in the 1950s and then argues that the idea of multi-racialism was undermined by pragmatic concerns when the organization attempted to restructure itself in exile. She notes that after Nelson Mandela returned from a mission in Africa to find support for the ANC, he expressed concern about promoting “the image” of the ANC as being authentically Africa in order to appeal to other African nations that the ANC relied on for sanctuary and support. This became an important point of discussion at meetings and a vote was taken that situated the ANC as the first among equals in order to create the right “image.”[23]

Ellis and Sechaba’s work is an outlier in terms of its position on the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Soviet Communist influence on the ANC as an organization. They argue that the ANC had essentially disappeared in all but name, with key posts being taken over by SACP members and votes being manipulated to conform to Party lines.[24] According to the introduction of Comrades Against Apartheid, Sechaba, Oyama Mabandla writing under a pen name, was an ANC and SACP member in the exile community and is writing from a position of insider knowledge. The claim that the ANC in exile was “[dancing] to the tune of the Communists” was not new when Comrades was written, however.[25] According to Lissoni that had been a common accusation beginning as early as the 1950s.[26]

Lissoni seems dismissive of the idea, as does Hugh Macmillan, who directly criticizes Ellis and Sechaba’s work in his introduction to The Lusaka Years, 1963 to 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia in 2013. He applauds Comrades Against Apartheid for revealing some of the excesses of the ANC’s security department in Angola and the mutinies that took place there, which Lissoni mentions had been covered up by the ANC, but goes on to call their work “marred by a conspiratorial view of history and profound anti-communism.”[27] Macmillan goes on to criticize Ellis’s solo reworking of the same book as equally poor for including the same thesis of the SACP hijacking the ANC and for overemphasizing the influence of Moscow in the organization.[28]

Given Ellis and Sechaba’s analysis, the claim that the ANC was run by Communists was likely due to the ANC’s policy of inclusiveness in contrast to the rest of Africa’s Pan-Africanist mentality. Ellis and Sechaba also argue that the SACP had a long-term plan in place to take over the ANC and redirect its fight for liberation into a revolutionary “People’s War” that would establish a socialist order. Macmillan probably disagrees with this as well, but weighing one scholar against another is difficult without a larger understanding of the issue involved.

For the purposes of this paper, it is enough to note that Macmillan is presenting and promoting a point of view that limits Communist and Soviet influence on the ANC in exile, while other scholars are promoting the view that the SACP and Moscow had some degree of influence. Considering the investment that Moscow made into the liberation movement, it seems reasonable to believe that the Soviets would have expected something in return for their help. Not only does that mesh with the overall atmosphere and terminology used in the ANC (commissar, comrade, etc.), it fits into the reality of Cold War politics in the “third world,” which in general expected a commitment to one side or the other in exchange for economic aid.

Lissoni notes that the issue of participation and inclusion in the ANC was constantly brought up by both former ANC members and members of other groups formerly in the Congress Alliance. She also notes, interestingly, that after a meeting in Morogoro in 1966, a non-public sub-committee of non-African organization members was established to facilitate coordination, including with the Communist Party, finally allowing them to have some degree of influence.[29] Ellis and Sechaba would argue that the Communist party already had all of the influence it needed. If Ellis and Sechaba are correct, the reasons for not opening membership were likely unchanged from the previously noted pragmatism towards maintaining support from African countries for the armed struggle against South Africa.

Ellis and Sechaba argue that the ANC had so completely been subsumed by Communist Party ideology that its very nature had changed. It was no longer an umbrella organization, but rather had become a socialist movement with commissars, education programs meant to instill Soviet-socialist ideology and a heavy emphasis on military revolution. The authors also note the disproportionate amount of energy and time put into military training and preparations for an armed struggle that failed, since it never arrived.[30]

According to the authors of Comrades against Apartheid the influence of the Communist party negatively impacted the ANC by misdirecting the majority of supplies and resources into armed struggle to conform to an imported Communist ideology. The atmosphere of the ANC was altered and became heavily socialist, paranoid and involved internal checks to enforce adherence to Communist ideology. [31] One could argue that this was a justified move in order to maintain the support of a super power (the USSR), but in the process the ANC as an organization disappeared in all but name and failed to accomplish its mission. The international solidarity that led the way to ending apartheid was triggered by the Sharpeville Massacre, which was associated with the PAC. Also, Arianna Lissoni writes that later efforts to mobilize international support for the isolation of South Africa and the end of apartheid was largely organized by those people who had been denied official ANC membership because of skin color.[32]

Ellis and Sechaba also note that the end of the cold war played a major role in ending apartheid. A situation was created that simultaneously denied the ANC its international military support while also diluting the Marxist influence in South Africa’s neighbors. Combined with the financial incentives of ending international isolation and normalization with her neighbor countries, Ellis and Sechaba argue that this gave the South African government the justification it needed to unban the ANC and SACP, which was the first step in ending apartheid.[33] Considering the major implications the end of the Cold War had for the world in general and the authors’ temporal proximity to the event, it is possible that this influence is overstated. If the ANC lost its military backer, that would be more of a reason for the South African government to continue apartheid. It is more likely that international isolation in general and the opportunity for financial growth played larger roles in the decision making process.

Of the articles on the ANC in exile explored in this paper, many are narrow in focus. They use particular situations or places as lenses through which to understand life as an ANC exile. For example, in an article titled “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992” (1998), Sean Morrow analyses the role of education in the ANC’s external mission, demonstrating a change in the organization’s focus from short-term exile to long-term self-sustainment with a diverse population.[34] Also, in “’Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990,” Rachel Sandwell addresses changing perceptions of the ANC’s mission over time through the lens of women’s roles as mothers and revolutionary fighters. Both authors are critical of the ANC. Morrow shows that attempts were made to gain international support for education programs at Dakawa, near Morogoro in Tanzania, but through mismanagement of services and personnel, the program became a site of exploitation and punishment. Sandwell similarly shows that there was a consistent effort to use the Charlottes as a positive place to support and free women from the responsibilities of motherhood in order to engage in revolutionary work, but through administrative mismanagement the institution became a site of punishment.

Sandwell shows that initially the Charlottes were meant to be a place that freed women from the responsibilities of motherhood in order to engage in the struggle against apartheid. She then argues that in the ANC, women’s attitudes towards motherhood and family changed over time as it became obvious that there would not be a quick victory and return to South Africa. The ANC was ineffective in engaging with apartheid in a meaningful way, leading to apathy and the feeling of needing to settle down among ANC members. In Sandwell’s study, this was reflected in the way that women changed their minds about having their children stay with them in their current location.[35] ANC exiles were scattered all over Africa, Europe and Russia, but the ANC only set up one maternity center in Tanzania at Morogoro. The houses were not well built and were not constructed specifically to serve as maternity centers. The approach the ANC took was piecemeal, which would lead one to think the organization did not originally see maternity as a priority.

Later, as time passed and it became obvious that there would be no quick return, attitudes towards unattached, single mothers changed. Pregnancy came to be viewed as a lack of dedication to the cause and women were punished by sending them to the Charlottes, with their “sentences” reduced in exchange for breastfeeding their own children.[36] Money was often requested to build a real maternity ward according to the original intent of the Charlottes as a place to free mothers for ANC work, but that money was never provided.

Janet Cherry’s article, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle” (2012), complements the work done by Morrow and Sandwell. Cherry analyzes the use of violence in securing the transition to a democratic, fully representative government in South Africa. In her article, Cherry presents evidence and analysis by security police analysts and underground ANC members that acknowledge that MK did not have the strength necessary to overthrow the apartheid regime. She also presents an assessment by a military intelligence colonel named Lourens du Plessis who believed mass action and international pressure, rather than armed struggle, were key to ending apartheid. In other words, mass action inside South Africa and international pressure from other countries was more important than anything the ANC in exile necessarily accomplished. The ANC had put a lot of effort and resources into providing military training for its personnel, but the organization lacked the requisite skill and equipment to actually take on the South African defense forces, leading to changing perspectives on the nature of living in exile, as noted above.

One of the more interesting concepts raised by scholars like Morrow, Sandwell, Lissoni and Cherry is the way that the desires of ANC members to actively do something to further the fight against the apartheid government was blocked, leaving them with pent up frustrations that had no available outlet. Lissoni’s article also notes the disaffection in the MK with the ANC’s leadership, but Hugh Macmillan really develops this idea in The Lusaka Years, 1963 to 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (2013). Macmillan’s writing seems less academic in style. The text reads like popular history, especially since he uses endnotes rather than footnotes. He uses a considerable amount of archival research, oral testimony, personal experiences, secondary sources and even unpublished dissertations in his work, however, so that is less a criticism and more an observation on style. More unusual is the fact that his writing seems apologetic and glorifying in tone. It lacks the same critical tone common in other writing on the ANC.

Regardless, in Macmillan’s work on the ANC in Lusaka, the issue of diminishing morale stands out. He seems to indicate that this became a problem with the failed Sipolilo and Wankie raids.[37] He notes Chris Hani’s observations of a lack of morale and direction and then details the effects of the Hani Memorandum on the leadership of the ANC, which the authors of the 3000 word document accused of becoming career, salaried, globe-trotting bureaucrats that had turned the ANC into an end unto itself.[38] The document was not well received.

Macmillan also attempts to put the ANC in Lusaka in context with other movements, the most similar being the Palestine Liberation Organization’s establishment of extensive camp networks in Southern Lebanon. He shows that the ANC and Zambian leadership were not unaware of the similarities and that Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia, feared that Lusaka might become the target of reprisals, as was the case with Beirut.[39] By the 1970s, Macmillan notes that the MK in Lusaka had been disarmed. The men lived in the towns with Zambian civilians and the trained fighting men being kept busy with vegetable gardening. Oliver Tambo thought these men should be sent for education or training, but many lacked educational qualifications, something noted by Sean Morrow in his analysis of Dakawa in Tanzania.[40]

It was almost as if, for lack of forward momentum, the ANC external mission began to turn in on itself, becoming trapped in a spiral of self-accusation and self-destruction. Lissoni’s article ends on a hopeful note, with the argument that the Morogoro conference of 1969 showed a willingness to work together and create something better, but Morrow, Sandwell, Ellis and Sechaba all demonstrate that issues of poor leadership and the inability of MK to be effective continued through the end of apartheid.

For example, Dakawa, a facility near Morogoro that was originally conceived of as an adult education center, became a site of punishment and exploitation, with training programs set up that gave people just the bare essentials in terms of knowledge so that they could engage in ANC work programs, but not necessarily have marketable skills. Dakawa was in operation until the end of apartheid. Apathy was reflected in the use of dagga (marijuana), alcohol, and an unwillingness to engage in physical labor.

Both Morrow and Sandwell show that ANC officials, cadres, paramilitary members and other exiled South Africans were acculturating to a life external to their country, with towns and welfare systems developing around self-support and maintenance.[41] This mirrors Macmillan’s argument that the MK rank and file became disaffected with a leadership that had committed to being “career bureaucrats” with large paychecks in exile, rather than revolutionaries. The ANC had stopped being a revolutionary movement and had instead set itself in a holding pattern.

In Colin Bundy’s article, “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship” (2012), the author examines the working relationship between the African National Congress and the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). An interesting idea introduced in Bundy’s article centers on ideas of community and identity formation, which is relevant in relation to the articles written by Sandwell and Morrow. Bundy relates feelings of disconnectedness among people and families that were exiled from South Africa and shows how the AAM and ANC stepped into the gap, becoming cultural anchors that maintained community cohesiveness and solidarity.[42] The fact that exiles recognized and felt at home in ANC/AAM exile institutions shows that there was some degree of continuity between what was happening inside South Africa and in exile culturally. However, Bundy’s article also raises the question of the legitimacy of the ANC as a government in exile.

If the ANC had become a disconnected government in exile, with only other exiles as constituents, how well did the organization represent the actual will of black South Africans within South Africa? And, if the ANC and AAM were jointly creating a national identity among exiles, complete with education institutions and the management of sexual ethics, how did that identity compare to the national identity being formed within South Africa? Bundy reveals that there was a political and cultural disconnection between the “outside” and “inside” anti-apartheid movements and a parallel development of identities. Ellis and Sechaba also note that returning ANC leaders experienced culture shock. They noted that there were layers of removal from the South African reality, including those who had been interned at Robben Island, those in exile, and those who had lived in South Africa for the duration of the struggle.[43]

Janet Cherry’s analysis of violent versus non-violent strategies reveals that the external ANC leadership was unable to adequately communicate with the underground network inside the country, leaving the internal leaders to take the initiative while waiting for some “grand strategy to unfold.”[44] In other words, there was a distinct lack of a coherent plan of action or any means of implementing plans for anti-apartheid activities within the country. In an article by Steve Davis on the use of radio, addressed more fully below, Davis elaborates on this lack of a coherent strategy on the ground by pointing out that during the first two years of MK’s operations (1961-1963) there was only a vague notion among regional commanders in South Africa that they had to put pressure on the government. They supposed that if they could destabilize the economy, the “masses” would rise up and MK could lead them to victory.[45] There was no consideration of the logistics of arming these masses, just a notion of spontaneous action and victory. This is very similar to the idea presented by Ellis and Sechaba that the SACP wanted to initiate a “People’s War” through the ANC at some indeterminate point in the future.

Like Bundy, Janet Cherry also dismisses the role of the ANC in the liberation struggle as marginal. She describes Imkhonto we Sizwe members as being heroes after-the-fact and presents the ANC as being ideologically symbolic rather than practically effective, and certainly not as an organization at the forefront of the struggle.[46] If the ANC had largely become an “outside” organization and was ineffective in organizing or supplying internal anti-apartheid actions, militant or otherwise, then how did it maintain popularity and public support? Was it simply the best of bad choices? Or was it the organization’s legacy status, mentioned in 1979 by Gail Gerhart as a tradition, similar to belonging to and attending church? In his article, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom” (2012), Steve Davis explains one method the ANC attempted to use to maintain its status among the South African population.

Davis analyzes radio usage by the ANC as a lens through which to explore the ANC’s relationship with the anti-apartheid movement within South Africa. The physical proximity of friendly countries allowed the ANC’s exile leadership to attempt to remain relevant within South Africa by broadcasting messages over radio from neighboring countries. Unfortunately, the ANC never presented a clear plan of action and seemed to be more interested in fighting to stay relevant at home than fighting to actually free South Africa. As Janet Cherry noted, Imkhonto we Sizwe lacked the ability to actually engage with South Africa militarily, so the radio messages were merely rhetoric. Davis notes that the first broadcast did not appear to be planned or well thought out, but rather an act that signaled the desperation of the MK leadership to maintain momentum and legitimacy.[47]

However unplanned and potentially ineffective the use of radio was, it was the best option available to MK and the ANC and, if nothing else, reflects the adaptability of the organization.  Davis notes that the failure to “incorporate radio into a coherent plan for political mobilization within South Africa from the late 1960s into the early 1970s” was the result of “ongoing internecine conflicts within the ANC/SACP [(South African Communist Party)] alliance” that was formed in exile.[48] Ellis and Sechaba mention this infighting, noting that the organization’s military effectiveness was likely affected by the attempt to “neutralize” military and political leaders of opposing factions. They do not make clearly articulate whether or not they think this would have made a real operational difference.

After surveying these books and articles, it becomes apparent that the ANC had only a limited role in the actual popular uprisings and protests within South Africa after their banning. Existing scholarship is fairly consistent in its evaluation of the ANC as reactionary and generally ineffective, overly preoccupied with internal rivalries and gaining financial welfare. A major debate seems to be the amount of influence the USSR and the South African Communist Party exerted over the ANC in exile.

Even before the banning, the ANC is described as being reactionary at best and was unable to develop or maintain a coherent strategy. Existing scholarship seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the ANC as a type of heritage or legacy organization that had symbolic currency with the average South African. The ANC earned early recognition as leaders against apartheid, but its real strength was simply the organization’s ability to survive long enough to emerge at the end of the struggle mostly intact. Defiance of apartheid alone was socially significant.

Many of the leaders in the ANC were educated and education in South Africa was generally limited to those who came from upper-class backgrounds. It would be interesting to see research done on how black South African ideas of proper social customs affected their loyalties to the ANC and other political organizations. In other words, how much of their loyalty was based on ideas of traditional leadership being autocratic. How much influence did tribalism have in dictating loyalties among those who were generally uneducated? And, in terms of the modern conclusion to the anti-apartheid struggle, how does the legacy of being unrepresentative of actual South Africans affect the ability of the ANC to effectively rule South Africa?


Footnotes

[1] For example: Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 287-288.

[2] For some early histories of the ANC that are not addressed in this paper, see: Peter Walshe, The Rise of African Nationalism in South Africa, The African National Congress 1912-1952 (Christopher Hurst, London, 1970); John Pampallis, Foundations of the New South Africa (Zed Books, London, 1991); Mary Benson, The African Patriots (London: Faber & Faber, 1963); Heidi Hollander, The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress (New York: George Braziller, 1990); Stephen Davis, Apartheid’s Rebels: Inside South Africa’s Hidden War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). For primary documents of the early history of the ANC, see: Thomas Karis and Gwendolen M. Carter (eds), From Protest to Challenge, a Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa 1882-1964 4 vols., (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1972-77).

[3] For example: Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 88.

[4] Robert Fatton, Jr., Black Consciousness in South Africa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 7.

[5] In Black Power (1979), Gerhart also addresses the issue of relative standards of achievement and the importance of understanding self-worth outside of a European framework (p.6, 111). She emphasizes the role of external black influence in guiding black South African thinking, especially in terms of ideology imported from other African countries and the American South, for example W.E.B. Du Bois (pp. 273-277). Additionally, she shows that the ANC had become ineffective, leading to the rise of organizations like the ANC Youth League and PAC (p. 49).

[6] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 215.

[7] Ibid., 292.

[8] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 226.

[9] Ibid., 294-295.

[10] Ibid., 311.

[11] Ibid., 214.

[12] Ibid., 249.

[13] Robert Fatton, Jr., Black Consciousness in South Africa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 3.

[14] Ibid., 135.

[15] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 249-251, 315.

[16]  Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 69-71.

[17] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 296, 315.

[18] Daniel R. Magaziner, The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 3.

[19] Ibid., 5.

[20] Ibid., 5, 187.

[21] Ibid., 181.

[22] Ibid., 141-150.

[23] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 292-293.

[24] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 6, 41, 52-60. For an example of this type of political maneuvering within the ANC by SACP members, see South African Communists Speak. Documents from the History of South African Communist Party 1915-1980 (London: Inkululeko Publications, 1981), 408-17. Also: Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945 (London: Longman Group United Kingdom, 1983), 302-303.

[25] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 291.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hugh Macmillan, The Lusaka Years, 1963 t0 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, 2013), 10.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 293-297.

[30] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 200-201.

[31]Ibid., 125, 200-201.

[32] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 293.

[33] Ibid., 203.

[34] Sean Morrow, “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992,” African Affairs 97 (1998): 497, 504. Morrow’s article relies on primary research of African National Congress records from the exile period that had just been deposited in the Liberation Archives at Fort Hare and opened to the public, as well as interviews.

[35] Rachel Sandwell, “’Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990,” Journal of Southern African Studies 41:1 (2015): 81.

[36] Ibid.: 78-79.

[37] Hugh Macmillan, The Lusaka Years, 1963 t0 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, 2013), 71.

[38] Ibid., 71-74.

[39] Ibid., 64.

[40] Ibid., 101.

[41] Sean Morrow, “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992,” African Affairs 97 (1998): 501-502.

[42] Colin Bundy, “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 218-220. For more information on families in exile see: Tom Lodge, “State of exile: the African National Congress of South Africa, 1976-86,” Third World Quarterly 9.1 (1987): 1-27; the chapter titled “Family in exile” in Luli Callinicos’s biography of Oliver Tambo; Hilda Bernstein, The Rift: The Exile Experience of South Africans (London: Johnathan Cape, 1994).

[43] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 205.

[44] Janet Cherry, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 144.

[45] Steve Davis, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 118.

[46] Janet Cherry, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 148.

[47] Steve Davis, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 119.

[48] Ibid., 126.


 

References

 

Cherry, Janet. 2012. “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 142-161. Cape Town: University if Cape Town Press.

Colin, Bundy. 2012. “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 212-228. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Davis, Steve. 2012. “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional, and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 117-141. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Ellis, Stephen, and Tsepo Sechaba. 1992. Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Fatton, Jr., Robert. 1986. Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gerhart, Gail M. 1979. Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology. Berkely: University of California Press.

Lissoni, Arianna. 2009. “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960–1969.” Journal of Southern African Studies, June: 287-301.

Macmillan, Hugh. 2013. The Lusaka Years (1963-1994): The ANC in Exile in Zambia. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Magaziner, Daniel R. 2010. The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Morrow, Sean. 1998. “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992.” African Affairs, 497-521.

Sandwell, Rachel. 2015. “‘Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990.” Journal of Southern African Studies, January 9: 63-81.

Ghandhi & Terrorism: Tackling the “Mad Idea”

With globalization being so popular an idea these days, we often seem to forget that nations do have sovereignty over their own territory.  That sovereignty comes with the ability to live in ways that don’t necessarily agree with our own values, expectations or religion and to create law systems that have a foundation on something other than a mirror of our (US) constitution.  One example that comes to mind right away is the shocked reaction that everyone had when Egyptians decided they wanted to replace Mubarak’s tyranny with a government based on Islamic values.

I mention sovereignty because it seems to me that most of the world’s problems come from unrealistic expectations that ones’ own way is not only the best way, but the only way.  If anyone doesn’t want our way, we use it as an excuse to force it on them for their own good while exploiting them for economic gain.  In India, that behavior led to a revolution that, thankfully, wound up being more peaceful than it would have been due to the hard work of a man named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma.  In the Middle East, Western meddling planted the seeds that would eventually grow into global terrorism on a grand scale.

Tying Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent non-cooperation into modern day problems with terrorism was the focus of a class I took over Winter Session.  It was 3 weeks of class, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, that culminated in an oral presentation and a 10 page paper after having read 3 books on Gandhi’s philosophy and 1 on the rise of religious terrorism.  It was difficult, but educational.  Looking at the paper now, I wish I’d had more time to directly compare Gandhi’s goals with bin Laden’s goals, and to compare their use of religion as a tool to achieve an end.  Instead, I tried to explain the mentality of religious violence and how meeting that violence with more violence only perpetuates the cycle and, even worse, justifies and empowers the terrorist ideology of hatred.  In a way, meeting violence with violence is cooperating with the terrorists, and after you read this you might have a better understanding of why.

[Sources and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]

The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City

The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City

On August 15, 1947, India acquired independence from the British Empire. The country’s road to freedom was paved not with violence, but with Satyagraha, a method of non-violent non-cooperation employed and promulgated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Mahatma (Great Soul) who expanded on this unique style of civil disobedience in South Africa.[1] The word Satyagraha is a Sanskrit composite formed from satya and agraha. Satya implies love and agraha firmness, which is synonymous with force in terms of the force born of “Truth and Love or Non-Violence…”[2] Gandhi didn’t claim to have invented Satyagraha. Rather, he just named it. Gandhi was certain of the existence of Satyagraha prior to his use of it by the very fact that the world still lived on, despite the constant warfare. He cited Satyagraha as the force that amiably dissolves the quarrels of millions of families daily and emphasized that the only reason it’s not mentioned in history books is because history itself is a record of the disruptions of Satyagraha, or ahimsa, which is the natural course of nature.[3]

Mahatma Gandhi successfully used Satyagraha to fight for Indian rights in South Africa. He used it again to win independence from the British Empire for India. Dr. Martin Luther King adapted Gandhi’s ideology to his own movement and successfully fought for equal rights for African Americans. Without using weapons, Gandhi’s Satyagraha has been proven to work. So, does that mean it has applications for today’s modern war on terrorism? And how would we go about making the changes necessary to effectively employ this force against the ‘enemy’ and bring about a peaceful resolution of conflicts?

Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India

Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India

Gandhi said, “…if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, believing ourselves to be strong…we grow stronger and stronger every day.”[4] Satyagraha is an ideology of empowerment that places emphasis on maintaining the moral high ground through “self-help, self-sacrifice and faith in God…”[5] Naturally, this is something one must do oneself for it to work properly, which is why Gandhi said that Satyagraha is for self-help and declined the assistance of foreigners in fighting for India’s freedom, except insomuch as he wanted their attention and sympathy.

Gandhi believed that the process of Satyagraha could only happen if one maintained a total absence of violence, both in one’s actions and one’s thoughts. For Gandhi, a “struggle could be forceful…but it could not be violent,” so willing self-sacrifice played a key role in achieving one’s goal.[6] Through non-violent self-sacrifice a movement gains both public sympathy and the admiration and respect of the aggressor, eventually inducing a change of heart and an amiable resolution to conflicts.

Most importantly, by not using violence, Satyagraha creates solutions that break the cycle of violence. Gandhi said, “A non-co-operationist strives to compel attention and set an example not by his violence but by his unobtrusive humility.”[7] The moment violence is used the means become corrupted, which invariably leads to a corrupted end. Gandhi used this argument to counter the call for violent revolution against the British in India. He said that “by using similar means we can get only the same thing that [the British] got” and compared gaining morally pure rule through violence to planting weeds to grow roses.[8]

A violent response escalates the level of violence used. Gandhi believed that winning independence through violence would leave India just as bad off as it already was, because it would mean that violent people would be assuming control of the country.[9] He did agree that he would rather have bad home rule rather than suffer under a foreign master, but Gandhi’s goal was to achieve a free India that could initiate a new government with clean hands.[10] To do this, Gandhi believed that India had to break with modern secular Western society. He described the materialism of Western civilization as a sickness.[11] Britain’s industrialization, and all industrialization, relies on the exploitation of other countries. Engaging in industrialization would pollute India and India would become no better than the former masters’ whose yoke she had thrown off.[12]

1993 World Trade Center Bombers

1993 World Trade Center Bombers

According to Mark Juergensmeyer, the advent of modern Western society has devalued religious belief, replacing theology with secular morality and the Church with the nation state. Social identity has shifted from religious affiliation to national citizenship. Some religious activists believe that “secular society and modern nationalism can [not] provide the moral fiber that unites national communities or the ideological strength to sustain states buffeted by ethical, economic, and military failures.”[13]

In an interview with Mahmud Abouhalima, convicted of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mark Juergensmeyer asked him what it was that secular America was missing that caused it to not understand him and others like him. Abouhalima answered, “the soul of religion.”[14] He went on to compare secular life to an ink pen that was missing its ink. He said, “An ink pen, a pen worth two thousand dollars, gold and everything in it, it’s useless if there’s no ink in it. That’s the thing that gives life…”[15]

Western societies may see secularization as a positive process, a freeing of the population from archaic dogmas, but people like Abouhalima and even Gandhi were adamantly opposed to separating religion from life.[16] Without religion, Abouhalima would have no meaning in his life, and Gandhi would not have had the strength to free India. Thinking in those terms, any encroachment of Western society in the modern Middle East may be viewed by the locals as not only unbeneficial but harmful, and potentially as an attack on fundamental values and religion itself, which for Muslims constitutes a large portion of their everyday life and culture.[17] Gandhi believed that all change has to come from within to be lasting. It cannot be forced upon people, and attempting to use violence through sanctions that cause hardships or through rhetoric and demonizing will have no effect but to draw sympathy to the victimized, even if their cause is wrong.[18]

2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City

2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City

In today’s War on Terror, responding to terrorism with acts of violence empowers the terrorists by cooperating with their ideology of hatred, by affirming that the secular West is indeed evil and intent on destroying the religion and culture of the average person. Mark Juergensmeyer wrote that “many secular political leaders have described [the War on Terror] as a war that must be won—not only to avenge savage acts as the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, but also to allow civilization as the modern West has known it to survive.”[19] In a war between civilizations where the existence of each civilization’s future is at stake, only one can remain at the end of the conflict. The sort of rhetoric being used to promote the War on Terror is one of absolutes and only further justifies the teachings of terrorists: that the US must be defeated for Islam and Islamic culture to survive. The immediate response after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City was to launch a retaliatory attack, but has that attack actually solved anything? Did we not in fact validate the terrorists’ ideology of hatred by destroying the lives of the innocent along with the accused through long-term warfare?

Madanlal Dhingra

Madanlal Dhingra

In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, an Indian student in England, assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a political aide to Lord George Hamilton, the Secretary of State for India. According to Sankar Ghose, “Winston Churchill regarded Dhingra’s last words “as the finest made in the name of patriotism…”[20] Gandhi had a completely different opinion of Dhingra: “It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk, a mad idea can also do so… Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind. He gave his body in a wrong way, its ultimate result can only be mischevious.”[21] Gandhi, a man so religious that his last words after being shot by an assassin were “Hē Ram (Oh God),”[22] was absolutely opposed to violence in any form, for any objective, which makes it all the more surprising that terrorism today is most often tied to extreme religious views. In his own way, Gandhi was an extremist, but he was an extremist who used and advocated extremes of peace and love to achieve what he considered just ends. Today’s religious extremists are not so different from Gandhi, in that they go to extremes to ensure that their views are made known. In fact, Osama bin Laden’s goals were not that different from Gandhi’s.

In 1991, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, prompting a coalition force of Middle Eastern and Western nations (including the United States) to engage in military operations in defense of Kuwait. Military operations began on January 16th, 1991 with air and missile attacks on targets in both Kuwait and Iraq. After an unavoidable ground war, Iraqi forces were put into full retreat. On February 27th, 43 days later, President Bush declared a suspension of offensive combat. During the war, Saudi Arabia was used as a launching point for allied offensives against Iraq.[23] After the war ended, the US presence in Saudi Arabia remained, further outraging some religious conservatives that consider Saudi Arabia to be the holiest of Islamic lands, being home to both Mecca, where the Ka’aba resides, and Medina where the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community. The Ka’aba is the center of the Muslim world. Muslims believe that the Ka’aba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. One of the five pillars of Islam is pilgrimage to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’aba.[24]

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

Among those angered by the continued presence of US troops on Saudi soil was Osama bin Laden, head of the Al Qaeda network. On August 3rd, 1995, he issued a message called “an Open Letter to King Fahd,” outlining grievances against the Saudi monarchy, notably calling for a guerilla campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. In July 10, 1996, a British newspaper (The Independent) quoted bin Laden as saying that Saudi Arabia had become an American colony. He also stated that the real enemy of the Saudi people is America. In August of 1996, bin Laden issued a document known as the “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The two holy mosques he references are Mecca’s Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, where US troops were stationed, and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Osama bin Laden considered Israel to be a US puppet regime, so fault for occupying Jerusalem was transferred to the United States. In a CNN interview in 1997, bin Laden began to solidify his message with demands that may sound familiar to anyone familiar with India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire. He said:

We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation…. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God’s word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries…. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country.[25]

Almost a year later, he goes on to make the following demands:

For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. We–with God’s help–call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it… in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.[26]

Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi both had similar goals. Both felt oppressed by foreign powers who meddled in local affairs, to the detriment of the native populations, and in both cases as a result of something Gandhi warned of: the need to exploit other countries to support the industrialization of modern Western culture.

The implied conflict for the survival of civilizations and the perceived attack on religion causes some religious activists to use violence to try to bring attention to their stated goals. From Gandhi’s teachings, we know that he could have in no way supported the terrorism of today to attain independence from foreign oppression, but it is reasonable to believe that he would have empathized with Osama bin Laden’s goal.[27] When Gandhi condemned Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie, he didn’t condemn his goal; he instead called him a patriot and condemned the means he used. This is where terrorists like Osama bin Laden differ from Gandhi, in the means they use to reach their ends. The results of the two methods have been drastically different. Where India gained the sympathy of the world and won her independence through Satyagraha, Osama bin Laden’s use of violence has escalated out of control. Osama bin Laden himself has met a foul end and the Middle East has not been freed of foreign influence.

Gandhi believed that violence created a cycle, saying “Who lives by the sword must perish by the sword, and if the Asiatic peoples take up the sword, they in their turn will succumb to a more powerful adversary.”[28] That teaching is just as applicable today as it was during his fight with the British. In 1998, when the US launched retaliatory missile strikes on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, the attack “provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots.”[29] The attacks also increased bin Laden’s image as an underdog and damaged the United States’ international reputation. In July of 2002, an Israeli plane bombed the home of Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehada, wounding 140 people and killing 11 people, 7 of which were children. Another Hamas leader, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, responded by opening up targeting of terrorist attacks to all Israelis, including women and children.[30] Violent actions only led to an escalation of the level of violence employed by each side. The only way to ‘win’ is by breaking the chain of violence. An example is the 1998 Omagh bombing by a fringe element called the “Real IRA”. The bombing occurred during peace talks that would stop the violence in Northern Ireland. Rather than retaliate with more acts of violence, the guilty parties were arrested and tried using the existing legal system.[31]

So, what is the solution for stopping violence in the Middle East today? Rather than dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, the violent actions, the US should instead tackle the source of the problem. Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005 understood this and “spoke about the necessity of dealing with the social and economic grievances that fueled the anti-American disaffection in the Middle East and elsewhere as a way of undercutting al Qaeda support.”[32] Colin Powell was expressing an idea that Gandhi emphasized himself, in regards to responding to terrorism. Gandhi described Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie as being like a drunkard, caught in a “mad idea.” It’s that mad idea that we need to tackle: the belief in the Middle East that the United States is incapable of good and morally unambiguous behavior.

The first step is to stop responding to violence with violence. Violent action only succeeds in causing the conflict to escalate. That’s not to say that nothing should be done in the face of violent terrorist attacks. Even Gandhi didn’t believe in inaction.[33] Gandhi believed that no one had a complete view of the truth and the very existence of a conflict was the proof. He believed that every conflict was an “encounter between differing “angles of vision” illuminating the same truth.”[34] The key, then, is to take the moral high ground and understand that a response of violence will be satisfying in the short term, but will yield no real results.

The second step to solving the problem would be to address the problem of public opinion of the United States in the Islamic countries. After many years of duplicitous behavior on the part of the United States, finding a way to positively engage the Islamic community may be difficult without inciting suspicion and distrust, so it would be a gradual progress, in much the same way that Satyagraha was a gradual progress. The first efforts would have to be in areas that are politically and religiously neutral, such as providing medical care, basic literacy education in English and Arabic, building homes for the homeless, and acting in advisory capacities for social programs that would address other needs of the country. It’s a small step, but small steps add up and 30 years of providing education to the poor will mean more to them than bombing their fields to smoke out suspected terrorists. Additionally, we could take the biggest step towards having a friendly relationship with Islamic countries by respecting their sovereignty and allowing the people to determine their own futures through their own elected governments. Additionally, we could remove the US troop presence from Islamic countries and allow the people to fight for and affect their own social reforms. That would mean more to them than having the reforms handed to them with the help of Westerners. As Gandhi said, lasting change has to come from within.

One of Gandhi’s favorite quotes from Tolstoy sums up this policy best:

…if we would but get off the backs of our neighbours the world would be quite all right without any further help from us. And if we can only serve our immediate neighbors by ceasing to prey upon them, the circle of unities thus grouped in the right fashion will ever grow in circumference till at last it is conterminous with that of the whole world.[35]

 


[1] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 1, p. 3.
[2] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 6, p. 77.
[3] Ibid., p. 79.
[4] Ibid., p. 78.
[5] Ibid., p. 81.
[6] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[7] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 15, p. 59.
[8] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 10.
[9] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[10] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 7, p. 102.
[11] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[12] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 22, p. 249.
[13] Ibid., Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 229.
[14] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 70.
[15] Ibid.
[16] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 171, pp. 364-365.
[17] “Introduction to Islam”, describes Islam as a comprehensive way of life.
[18] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 18, p. 220.
[19] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror In The Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 233.
[20] Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi, Chapter 10, p. 98.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’: book”.
[23] “1991 Gulf War chronology”.
[24] Rosemary Pennington, “What Is The Ka’aba?”.
[25] Osama bin Laden, “Osama bin Laden v. the U.S.”.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 10, pp. 132-134.
[28] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 71.
[29] Barbara Elias, “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired”.
[30] James Bennet, “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home”.
[31] Henry McDonald, “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing”.
[32] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 234.
[33] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[34] Ibid., p. 3.
[35] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 46, p. 112.

 

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