The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is 58 years old this June, while the African National Congress (ANC) celebrated its 110th birthday last January. They are two of the longest liberation movements so far. They are as comparable as apartheid South Africa is comparable to its once close friend, Israel—who became another unique apartheid state in its own right.
The PLO was founded as a Pan-Arabism movement, envisioning the establishment of a unified Arab State on the former British Mandate in historical Palestine. The ANC, on the other hand, wanted to unify all black Africans under Pan-Africanism for emancipation and freedom from colonialism, worst symbolised by the White minority government in South Africa.
The struggles the PLO and ANC went through began decades earlier, when the British Empire was ruling in both Palestine and South Africa. In Palestine, the British turned a blind eye to the Zionists’ emigration to Palestine and their 1917 infamous Balfour Declaration, made it the promised land of the Zionists, as if it was a land without people. In South Africa, the British were marginalising the indigenous population. Modern day Britain, incidentally this June, has just celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, without any regret to what its processor has done around the world.
That marginalisation in South Africa gave birth to apartheid (originally a Dutch word) right after the White National Party, led by Daniel Malan (1874–1959), came to power in 1948. It was he who first used the word “apartheid”. His administration worked hard to institutionalise racism and forced segregation of races throughout South Africa.
Basically, apartheid denied the black South African majority (the indigenous population) the right to vote, separated them from Whites, and restricted every aspect of their lives including where they could live in their own country. The idea is rooted in an 1863 paper titled “The Negro’s Place in Nature” presented by James Hunt to London’s Anthropological Society claiming inferiority of the black race and they should be treated as such. That struck a chord with someone named Cecil Rhodes, (1853-1902) —a greedy and brutal English businessman turned politician. Rhodes conquered more African lands, further spreading apartheid beyond South Africa.
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To him any “negro” should be denied the vote and be treated as a “child” because of inferiority to Whites. Rhodes was a strong believer in the superiority of the English race all over the world—a true white supremacist ideology, which was at the heart of European colonisation conquests.
In Palestine the issue of apartheid was, incrementally, copied from South Africa and carefully applied to suit the times. After the creation of Zionist Israel, and by the 1960s, Israel was a close friend of apartheid South Africa, as both States faced increased rejection by the rest of the world.
Zionist Israel, supposedly created on higher moral grounds to save the Jewish people from persecution, did not mind having close ties to apartheid Pretoria. By 1976, former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was openly welcoming South Africa’s John Vorster in Jerusalem by toasting “the ideals shared” by Israel and South Africa, explaining that both countries faced “foreign-inspired instability and recklessness”—the same propaganda Pretoria used against the ANC.
What Israel was doing then was carefully copying Pretoria’s apartheid model and adapting it to its own situation against the Palestinian people.
When the South African apartheid system collapsed in the 1990s and Nelson Mandela was freed from 27 years in jail, Israel had already developed its own “modern” version of apartheid based on Pretoria’s standards. This is what promoted Mandela, while meeting Yasir Arafat for the first time in Zambia in February 1990, to describe him as a “hero” fighting against a “unique form of colonisation”. Mandela knew only too well the “uniqueness” of the Zionist occupation because he has just come out of it in his own country—South Africa.
By then, both the PLO and ANC had been “comrades” in arms sharing the set of ideals against what Pretoria shared with Tel Aviv— ideals of freedom, equality and independence. Decades earlier, when top ANC leaders fled South Africa to start the struggle from neighbouring African countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique, they found support and help from the PLO, which had already been forced out of the West Bank after the 1967 Israeli occupation. During those years, Mandela had been in jail but, as a leader, he knew how people like Arafat, Gaddafi, Castro and Mugabe had been helping the ANC in its struggle.
The PLO and ANC also shared the fact that they were, initially, liberation movements seeking to free their respective peoples who were being forcefully removed from their ancestors’ lands by colonialists—an extension of the waning British Empire, as more former colonies became independent from British rule and the world turned against Western imperialism.
When Pretoria adopted apartheid and segregation as a State policy towards the black majority in 1948, the ANC was already winning the ethical and moral battle since it became increasingly difficult for any other country to defend such an inhumane system of government that practices racism every single day.
Even today, Tel Aviv is hardly bothered as it practices apartheid against the Palestinians, decades after the demise of apartheid in South Africa.
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Unfortunately, both the PLO and ANC today are far removed from what they once stood for as freedom seeking organisations. The PLO, after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, became the protector of the oppressor of the very people, the Palestinians, whom it wanted to liberate.
The ANC, on the other hand, once in power in South Africa, morphed into a corrupt entity accused of economic mismanagement affecting, principally, the majority of the blacks it once defended. Many see it as an organisation busy defending and preserving its top leaders’ privileges gained at the expense, and in the name, of its own people. ANC’s Secretary-General, Ace Magashule, and former President, Jacob Zuma, have been charged with corruption in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The PLO’s ideals have long since been forgotten, eating away much of its historical credibility its earlier founders, like Arafat, laboured for decades to build, among the Palestinians inside Palestine and among the Diaspora.
Amnesty International’s 2021 report on South Africa speaks of mass school dropouts among children, millions without access to sanitation and gender violence. The report about the situation in the Palestinian territories is equally damning to the Palestinian Authority, which is PLO dominated.
While Amnesty and Human Rights Watch describe Israel as an apartheid State they are not any favourable to the Palestinian Authority either.
It is time for the PLO and ANC to reform themselves and try to set their house in order for the sake of their own, once shining, history before it is too late and to preserve the legacy of founding leaders like Mandela and Arafat.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.