Gaza and Soweto

By Juan Cole

On June 16, 1976, some 20,000 students rose up to protest in the slum of Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Here is a summary of the June 18 NYT article on the repression of the protests:

“Rioting continues for 3d day in Soweto, black township outside Johannesburg, with rioters, mostly young, directing fury at govt bldgs and vehicles. Death toll continues to mount as more than 1,000 armed policemen move into township sts. Official casualty toll put at 58 dead and 788 injured. Only 2 of dead and 5 of injured are white. Rioting is most serious in nation since Sharpeville massacre in ’60. There is widespread feeling that repercussions could be even greater.Gen W H Kotze, police comdr, sees no end to violence. Battle between police and rioters described.”

The students were protesting (white people said “rioting”) because the minority white government had decided that they suddenly would have to study not in English but in Afrikaans, a form of Dutch. Most of them did not know that language and did not want to know it, then seeing it as the tongue of hated colonialists who had deprived them of citizenship in a state and left them stateless.

The summary for the lead article by John F. Burns on Saturday June 19 reports, “Prime Min Vorster says there is ‘no reason for panic,’ TV and radio speech. Declares Govt will not be intimidated. Says instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” Already 60 had been killed and more than 800 wounded according to the government, but officials admitted that the toll on day 3 was likely far higher. It ends, “Fact that almost all of black leaders who might have influence with radical elements among rioters have been imprisoned under special detention laws is problem for Govt.”

By late August, the South African Apartheid government was still shooting down protesters with live ammunition. It also connived at encouraging tensions between the inhabitants of Soweto and members of the Zulu tribe, hoping to divide and rule. Prime Min Vorster insisted “that white S Africans ‘have no reason to have guilty conscience about anything’.”

As activists were repressed or saw friends killed, some took up arms and became insurgents. They were sought and sometimes captured and prosecuted under the Sabotage and Terrorism Acts of June 1962 and June 1967.

An account of the guerrilla wing of the African National Congress notes of the impact of Soweto:

“The 1976 uprising, and subsequent massacres and other atrocities by the security forces, gave new impetus to the struggle. Thousands of new recruits flooded into MK, bringing with them a fresh will to fight the enemy, born of their own bitter experience in fighting a brutal enemy only with stones. New vistas opened to intensify the struggle and to hit back in defence of the people . . .

Between 1976 and 1979 there was a marked escalation of armed actions: about 37 armed actions took place between June 1976 and the end of 1978. Railway lines were sabotaged, police stations attacked, and Bantu Administration offices were bombed. The battle was slowly but surely being taken to the enemy, and MK had moved from concentrating purely on sabotage operations to the first stages of guerilla war.”

The total death toll for the Soweto protests is probably 700 with many times that number wounded. Participants later remembered that the white police and troops were “trigger happy– being racists, you know.”

SABC: ” June 16, 1976 uprising, students relives that day ”

The repressive and trigger happy white minority regime had many resemblances to the current Likud government in Israel. and the same governments that actively supported Apartheid South Frica are supporting the Likud.

One tactic of the Apartheid South African regime was to consign black Africans to Bantustans, territories that were subordinate to Pretoria. In this way their citizenship could be revoked but they did not gain an actual new state. Gaza is very much like a Bantustan of Israel, surrounded by it and kept weak and disrupted. But in this way the nearly 2 million Palestinians displaced there from their original homes in what is now southern Israel can be denied citizenship in Israel while also being kept stateless with regard to their “Palestine” Bantustan.

ExpressoSABC “Soweto Uprising (16 June 2014)”

As in Apartheid South Africa, resistance to the Apartheid policies of Israel is met with extreme violence. In Israel “law and order” is maintained “at all costs” just as in Apartheid South Africa. If it is necessary to shoot down 700 students and youth for refusing to go along with the dictates of old white men, then so be it. The minority government “has nothing to apologize for.” Just as the sabotage and bombings of Umkhonte we Sizwe were termed mere terrorism and the ANC was demonized as a stalking horse for Stalinist dictatorship, so resistance organizations welling up from the slummy conditions imposed on Gaza are demonized and their very resistance to being denied the rights of human beings is used to justify further repression.

No wonder that today’s South Africa is calling on Israel to cease its ground offensive into Gaza.

Bishop Desmond Tutu defended John Kerry’s use of the term “Apartheid” for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. He said that he saw a situation in Israel/Palestine that exactly mirrored the forms of discrimination, the pass system, etc., that characterized South Africa.

This is the reason that those who think restoration of the status quo ante is sufficient to end the fighting are fooling themselves. There is only one thing that could bring lasting peace — an end to Apartheid.

21 Responses

  1. I now get the idea of why I am seeing some white South Africans openly supporting the Israeli Government’s policies. It occurs to me that both South Africa in the past, and Israel in the present operate from the same psyche; the idea of one’s race being superior to the other, which allows them to think that it is perfectly fine to brutally mistreat the other race, and they think it is perfectly fine for them to do so since the other race is ‘inhuman’, if harsher terms are used. It is this sense of solidarity (along with Israel’s support of the predecessor apartheid regime in South Africa), that in both situations, the same characteristics of racism, occupation, lack of respect for international law and a violation of democracy and human rights exist.

    • In fact, this well describes the history of an entire class of countries: settler societies. The USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the former Rhodesia… and Israel. Under English practice (perhaps enforced by clever elites) intermarriage with natives was taboo, while entire white families were exported to keep up the conqueror population. Spain and France did not follow these practices as rigidly in their early empires. White supremacy is the only way vast lands have been successfully stolen in the modern world.

      So the question is, how consciously did the Zionists, many from the US and Britain, follow this horrible but successful Anglo-American model in their plans for supplanting the Palestinians? (Extra credit question: how much is the American far right, in turn, using the Zionist blueprint to inspire its plans to “restore” America to its white Christian laissez-faire past?)

  2. Has the real reason behind this Gaza Massacre even been mentioned anywhere? It’s simple. A peaceful Two State solution was coming too close. The ultra-hardline coalition held together by Netanyahu saw this, and it had to be stopped. The unification of two Palestinian parties threatened Israel on one hand with a Palestine ready to negotiate in full, and on the other, to seek UN relief. Well, this massacre and casting all the blame on Hamas has scuttled that very nicely.

    • Perhaps Netanyahu was trying to influence American politics as well by putting pressure on Obama. Most of Congress, especially the Republicans, are gung ho for the “war” in Gaza to continue. The vast majority of the media is also showing Israel in a sympathetic light. Plus, Netanyahu is much more concerned with Iran’s nuclear program rather than ISIS conquering territory in western Syria and northern Iraq.

      As long as Israel can play up the danger of Hamas rockets, Netanyahu can keep Obama off balance.

  3. On June 16, 1976, some 20,000 students rose up to protest in the slum of Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

    But we apparently can’t get one senator or one representative in Congress out of a total of 535 to be a profile in courage and oppose the crimes against humanity in Gaza.

  4. Israel and old South Africa were always close allies. The Zionists and the Afrikaners had the same siege mentality, as well as the same sense of ethno-religious mission that could not be denied without forfeiting the nation’s raison d’etre. They learned from each other how to oppress and spin it to the rest of the world. Even their nuclear programs were a partnership.

    I have no doubt that many Israelis look at SA’s recent history and fear the past may be prologue and are emboldened by that fear to greater oppression and intractability: their regime is unsustainable except through sheer will. First the West is embarrassed into withdrawing active support, then come sanctions (financial, cultural, etc.), then the people’s own resolve weakens, and finally political power – and with it, the identity of the nation – is yielded to demographics. They think that Israeli Jews will become like white South Africans: those who built the country becoming unwanted guests in their own [former] home, systematically discriminated against and deprived in the name of majoritarianism.

    It’s ironic then that many Afrikaners considered liberal and Anglo-oriented SA Jews to be a hypocritical fifth column: enjoying the full privileges of whiteness while also being some of the loudest white voices – and deepest pockets – in favor of abolishing apartheid.

  5. Currently reading “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”-when you begin to comprehend the particular kind of hatred towards the Palestinians that has been carelessly brewed by the Israeli right, you begin to see who Israel’s greatest enemy really is.

    • Ever wonder why South Africa was developing (in partnership with Israel) atomic bombs? One per Bantustan, in case of emergency.

  6. Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote in his 1923 essay “The Iron Wall”:

    “We cannot offer any adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine. And therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. So that all those who regard such an agreement as a condition sine qua non for Zionism may as well say “non” and withdraw from Zionism.

    Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.

    That is our Arab policy; not what we should be, but what it actually is, whether we admit it or not. What need, otherwise, of the Balfour Declaration? Or of the Mandate? Their value to us is that outside Power has undertaken to create in the country such conditions of administration and security that if the native population should desire to hinder our work, they will find it impossible. And we are all of us, without any exception, demanding day after day that this outside Power, should carry out this task vigorously and with determination. In this matter there is no difference between our “militarists” and our “vegetarians”. Except that the first prefer that the iron wall should consist of Jewish soldiers, and the others are content that they should be British.

    We all demand that there should be an iron wall. Yet we keep spoiling our own case, by talking about “agreement” which means telling the Mandatory Government that the important thing is not the iron wall, but discussions. Empty rhetoric of this kind is dangerous. And that is why it is not only a pleasure but a duty to discredit it and to demonstrate that it is both fantastic and dishonest.” (link to

    Switch the British with the Americans and add the Iron Dome to the “Iron Wall” and we have the present state of things in uncompensated occupied Palestine.

    • Gotta love intellectuals. We can’t compensate our opponents, so we WILL eliminate them. The word justice never enters into it.

  7. Minor factual correction:
    The students were protesting (white people said “rioting”) because the minority white government had decided that they suddenly would have to study not in English but in Afrikaans, a form of Dutch

    From wiki:
    Black high school students in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as languages of instruction


  8. With all due respect, there is a major difference – black South Africans never had it as their official program to eliminate the white population of the country. Hamas’s charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the subjugation of its Jewish population. That does not in any way excuse the violence being perpetrated by the Israeli government, but it’s simply not a valid analogy to claim that Gaza is Soweto. Israel could handle things much better, but they have a real, implacable enemy threatening their very existence from just next door. The Palestinians deserve better, both from Israel – and from Hamas. Just because Israel is doing evil things does not in any way make Hamas less than equally evil. There’s simply no real comparison to South Africa, not when you take the real situations into account. Calling Israel an apartheid state may be emotionally satisfying to people who don’t like Israel anyway but it confuses the actual issues. Israel can be condemned for its own mistakes without trying to blame them for those of the white minority in South Africa. And Hamas should be just as strongly condemned.

    • Very nice. Very subtle. Hamas is just as bad as Israelikudnia, I see. Implacably threatening “their,” not “its,” very existence from “just next door.” So sensitive too: “Israel could handle things much better,” we learn, but the remaining Palestinians threatening Israel from Gaza, unable to even fold their tent and give “Israel” what “it” wants because the Pals are locked in and stateless, (fairness alert, here)”deserve better” from bad Hamas as well as from bad-hanling “Israel.”

      Quite a nice bit of subterfginous messaging there. Appeals nicely to the “progressive” in us. Calling Israel an apartheid state confuse the actual issues? And those issues would be what, again?

      Is all that out of a new chapter from F. Luntz’s hasbara playbook?

    • Jabotinsky’s statement above proves the crimes against Palestinians were no mistake – they were the Zionist program from 20 years before Israel was official. The elimination of the natives. Hamas is the final product of those crimes, assisted by Israeli secret police in its early days for the purpose of making peace impossible. Israel continually switches sides from one Palestinian movement to the other so it can claim that it has no one to negotiate with… while the colonization continues. Feature, not bug.

      And according to the right-wing media of the 1980s the ANC was full of commies, so of course they would want to “enslave” the productive white population instead of removing it.

  9. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is far worse than South Africa’s apartheid. The Afrikaners committed massacres, but nothing comparable to the scale that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian people. The book by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, describes only the beginning of 70 years of brutal repression. How can one explain that the victims of the Holocaust should be the perpetrators of the same?

    • @Lara. ”The Israeli occupation of Palestine is far worse than South Africa’s apartheid”.
      Are you even aware of the extent my people in South Africa have suffered? We were oppressed for more than 300 years. So read up on SA and then comment. As much as I see what Israel is doing to the innocent Palestinians, people should not be hoodwinked into lies and deceit by some commentators. SA and the black population have been massacred and murdered for more than 300 years. Israeal is just as bad as tthe old Apartheid system.

    • “How can one explain that the victims of the Holocaust should be the perpetrators of the same?”

      p.7 of Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, a 1980 book by Livia Rokach, daughter of a former mayor of Tel Aviv:

      “The creation of a siege mentality in Israeli society was necessary to complement the pre-fabricated myth of the Arab threat. The two elements were intended to feed each other. Although Israeli society faced a serious risk of social and cultural disintegration under the impact of a mass immigration of Asian and North African Jews into the pre-State’s ideological homogenous community, the purpose of the siege mentality was not so much of attaining a defensive cohesiveness in Israel’s Jewish society. It was principally calculated to ‘eliminate the moral brakes’ required for a society to fully support a policy which constituted a complete reversal of the collective ethical code on which its formal education was based and from which it was supposed to derive its vital strength.”

  10. There are clear parallels to be drawn between Apartheid and the way Israel is controlling the occupied territories, and keeps down Gaza while pretending to that these territories are independent and responsible for themselves. And Kerry using this term makes sense: this is a dead-end. The current situation has developed over a long time, but it is not sustainable in the longer run. You don’t need a roadmap to see that Israel is moving further along a dead-end road. Can we hope for something like the miracle ending of Apartheid? I’m not sure. The end of Apartheid was clearly facilitated by the collapse of the soviet empire, the bug-bear of the apartheid regime.

    I don’t think it makes much sense to also try and draw parallels between the protest of school children in Soweto to the current war being wages between Hamas and Israel. That comparison is not helpful in understanding either situation.

  11. The idea that there is a “war” between Israel and Hamas has been advanced by the Israeli government and echoed by the usual supporters: the US political elite and the media, most notably the New York Times. Hamas’ rocket attacks are mostly symbolic, one can count with the fingers of one hand the number of casualties (killed and wounded) by such inept means, which are obviously bait for Israel’s out proportion attacks utilizing top of the world mass destruction technology. Hamas stupidly plays the game that the Israelis want them to play. This is not a war, this is a case of occupation of territories that belong to a neighbor utilizing brutal repression to keep its people in line. The indifference of the Western powers is reminiscent of their acquiescence to the persecution of “inferior races” by the Fascists prior and during WWII. What brought down the Apartheid regime was the world-wide boycott and the isolation of South Africa from the rest of the world. That is unlikely to happen with respect to Israel, which is not only the advance military force of the US into the Middle East and Asia, but an extension of US domestic culture and politics.

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