Disunity in African Apartheid Resistance

The African opposition to Apartheid was not united because the resistance organizations shared no common framework for advancing society beyond it. Furthermore the oppression of the South African regime was effective in demeaning, dehumanizing and brutalizing the disenfranchised into fearful submission; the system, commonly acting upon unlawful search and seizure, torture and murder, systematically silenced a significant share of the African population.

In the first sense we are informed by Rian Malan of an African community which by the late 1980s had been thoroughly divided at a grassroots level by rival political factions. By this period the struggle to resist Apartheid victory seemed soon to conclude and in the preceding days leading to what is now called Freedom Day the African community was claimed and partitioned into turf by various political gangs, all with different plans for the future development of South Africa. While in the formative years of the resistance (1950s-1960s) these political groups were united by the common ideals of the Freedom Charter, by the 1980s the situation had degenerated into a grab for power perpetuated by the country’s children, involving revenge killing, kidnapping and firebombing, leaving devastated townships in the wake.

While some groups envisioned the future South Africa to become a Marxist or thoroughly liberal haven and venerated the leadership of Nelson Mandela (the ANC, in a broader sense referred to as Wararas) other groups championed the ideas of Black Consciousness (BC) and the by then martyred Steve Biko. While Biko hoped for a future South Africa in rejection of the European and Western liberal foundations which the country was then based upon, the primacy of African culture and the severing of Western political ties, the Nelson Mandela leadership sought a more conciliatory spirit and welcomed the aid of Western liberal democracies, particularly the United States. Regardless of the ideological differences between the two camps by the early 90s the African community had been partitioned by often cannibalistic gangs which sought to grab a piece of the political pie before the government collapsed under the pressure of mounting internal pressure. Strangely, these gangs have persisted to this day, remnants of a bygone era, still killing in the streets, now more likely to kill for drug money rather than to win representation in an upcoming election.

Another reason for disunity against Apartheid was the psychological aftermath of the regime’s ruthless suppression campaigns, alluded to by the interview by Grace Cele. While in the early years of the resistance the South African officials had tempered their reactions to protest and uprising with prudence and nuanced force, after the Soweto uprising the character of the justice system forever changed. Rather than attempt to prevent African infractions, the police and military adopted a more aggressive stratagem, haphazardly raiding the homelands and legal residences of suspects in an almost random fashion, causing immeasurable destruction and psychological duress in their wake. Kangaroo trials, casual torture, unrestrained brutality, the suspension of habeas corpus, summary execution and false charges are related to us with astonishing detail and regularity by survivors of the system (Ms. Cele, Michael Dingake and Frank Chikane to name a few). The result of these unjustified and unaccountable intrusions into the lives of the African community was the sapping of human dignity, the reducing of a people to feeble shells of what once was, a disarming of the will. The victimized were unable or unwilling to resist the machine, often under the threat of further harm if they spoke of their interactions with the judicial system (Williams 373), and so did not unite with the more active players.