[News] What Can South Africa Teach Palestinians: Reflections on our Palestinian Youth Organizer Delegation to Johannesburg

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 7 11:53:47 EDT 2019


  What Can South Africa Teach Palestinians: Reflections on our
  Palestinian Youth Organizer Delegation to Johannesburg

June 6, 2019

*By The Palestinian Youth Movement 

 From April 1 to April 11, 2019, the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) 
<https://www.pymusa.com/>, in partnership with the Afro-Middle East 
Center (AMEC) <https://www.amec.org.za/>, hosted a delegation of 20 
Palestinian youth organizers 
<http://www.pymusa.com/southafricadelegation> in Johannesburg, South 

The delegation was driven by three goals: first, to deepen relations of 
joint-struggle between Palestinians and South Africans; second, to study 
how we, as Palestinians, can learn from the historic achievements of the 
South African struggle; and third, to strengthen working relationships 
among a new generation of Palestinian youths from various geographic and 
ideological backgrounds toward a unified national liberation project.

The intensive study program featured lectures, seminar discussions, 
visits to landmark sites of historic struggle, and meetings with South 
African political figures, community leaders and youth activists.

Our delegation was comprised of Palestinians from the homeland, both 
from 1948 historic Palestine and the West Bank and Gaza Strip; 
Palestinian refugees from Lebanon and Syria; and Palestinians living in 
exile in the United States, in Europe, and the Arab region. In addition 
to their geographic diversity, the delegates also represented various 
sociocultural backgrounds, political ideologies, and organizational 
experiences that exist within Palestinian political and social life 

Bringing together Palestinian youth from such different backgrounds has 
become a critical feature of PYM’s programming 
<http://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/p2y_27.pdf> over the last decade 
as we attempt to overcome the fragmentation affecting our role as a new 
generation in our national struggle. The delegation in South Africa was 
yet another example of how PYM’s political principles are deeply 
embedded in our practice.

The timeliness of the delegation cannot be overstated. The delegation 
came at the heels of over a decade of global campaigning for justice in 
Palestine with the South African struggle’s appeal for boycott, 
divestment, and sanctions against apartheid as its blueprint. We note 
that boycott efforts have long been a part of the Palestinian and Third 
World traditions, even as far back as the 1936 Arab General Strikes. 
However, the last decade has seen major BDS victories as it has been 
modeled on the South African case. The delegation also coincided with 
the South African government’s decision to downgrade its embassy 
in Tel Aviv.

Just three years ago, Palestinians in Ramallah unveiled a six-meter 
statue of the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, gifted by the 
city of Johannesburg. During the statue honorary ceremony, mayor of 
Ramallah, Musa Hadid stated 
that with the statue, Ramallah would send a “clear message to the 
colonizer and occupier, Israel: we are much closer to freedom than you 
think.” The emerging parallels and linkages between Palestine and South 
Africa in many ways informed the purpose of the delegation as an 
investigative, fact-finding study tour.

The delegation took place nearly a quarter century since both the Oslo 
Accords and South Africa’s transition out of Apartheid. This period 
behind us provides us with adequate distance to assess 
<https://www.pymusa.com/southafricadelegation> the current Palestinian 
national condition against the backdrop of a country whose history and 
ongoing struggles parallel the Palestinian struggle in many ways. We 
examined why the Palestinian and South African struggles resulted in 
dramatically different scenarios since the early 1990s.

Further, the delegation allowed for deep and critical reflections on the 
ethics of solidarity and mechanisms of revitalizing a national frame 
/and/ internationalist trajectory among Palestinians ourselves. The 
delegation bore rich discussion amongst its participants and a 
commitment to building on the experience.

*Why South Africa? *

PYM chose South Africa for three reasons: first, because of the 
prominence of the apartheid framework in driving the global Palestine 
solidarity movement and the use of other frameworks of oppression 
including settler-colonialism and racial capitalism; second, because of 
the longstanding histories of joint struggle between the two struggles; 
and third, because of the parallels and divergent outcomes of the 1990’s 
negotiations processes in both contexts.

*Apartheid Framework: *Over the past 10 years, activists and scholars 
have increasingly assessed the conditions in Palestine through a 
comparative lens with South Africa, drawing parallels 
between the Zionist occupation of Palestine and the apartheid system in 
South Africa. Since its start in 2005, the BDS movement 
<https://bdsmovement.net/> has effectively mobilized the apartheid 
analogy to further the movement for Palestinian rights and modeled its 
tactics after those employed by global anti-apartheid struggle: 
boycotts, corporate disinvestment, and sanctions of Israel.

In addition, the use of international law and human rights law as tools 
for advocacy for justice in Palestine have grown, as part, and alongside 
efforts for BDS. The 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal 
Court, which made apartheid an internationally condemned crime, is one 
example of this.

*Dimensions Beyond Apartheid: *Beyond examining the apartheid framework, 
the delegation discussed other dimensions of South Africa’s history and 
struggle, during both the colonial and Apartheid period and after. We 
explored the South African struggle through the framework of 
settler-colonialism — by which land confiscation and the dispossession 
and elimination of the indigenous people shapes the driving logic of the 
oppressive order.

We also explored the struggle as one against racial colonialism and 
racial capitalism, which operates through the extraction of natural 
resources and the exploitation of native labor.

If we, as Palestinians, are to attempt to envision and implement 
relevant liberation strategies in our own context, we must understand 
these systems, how they have taken form historically in South Africa, 
and the remnants of these legacies today. By visiting sites of struggle 
and meeting with South Africans, we began to see the differences between 
the Palestinian context and South African context, which are vital to 
accounting for in devising our liberation strategy. We specifically 
asked questions about how and why the Zionist colonization does not rely 
on Palestinian labor and how this presents challenges for us as 
Palestinians. In the anti-apartheid struggle, South Africans could 
leverage their labor to make the Apartheid system economically unfeasible.

*Joint Struggle: *In addition to studying similarities and differences 
between the two struggles, our delegation sought to better understand 
the history of Palestinian-South African solidarity, empathy, and joint 
struggle. Both causes had reciprocal forms of support for one another. 
During his rise to leadership in the post-Apartheid government, Nelson 
Mandela made it a point to maintain his commitment and friendship with 
Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), as he 
once had recognized Arafat as a comrade in arms and articulated that the 
Palestinian struggle was similar to the South Africa struggle for they 
both sought to achieve self-determination. These histories of joint 
struggle warranted further attention that our delegates engaged 
immensely in conversations with South African strugglers. Realizing how 
deep senses of loyalty and shared principles bound the two struggles 
with another, we also realized how robust the relationship was between 
Israel and the South African Apartheid government.

*1990’s Negotiations Processes:* Most critical, we wanted to explore the 
success and limitations of South Africa’s negotiations process and the 
establishment and effectiveness of the Truth and Reconciliation 
Commission. We wanted to understand the conditions of possibility that 
led to the negotiations, the material reality it had resulted in, and to 
verify if the negotiations, indeed, had brought about true liberation 
for the people and land in ending the Apartheid regime.

The youth necessarily asked what differences existed between South 
African and Palestinian conditions on the eve of negotiations and how 
the two processes resulted quite differently. We learned that the 
leadership of the African National Congress came to the negotiating 
table, not because of a decisive victory, but because of a shift in the 
international configuration of power with the fall of the Soviet Union, 
coupled with dwindling resources available to the resistance movement.

Both of those reasons are causes for why the PLO also entered the 
negotiations process at around the same time. As Dr. Salim Valley, of 
the Palestine Solidarity Committee, summarized, “We did not have a 
revolution. We had a negotiated settlement.”

However, a few distinctions exist between the two cases including the 
mounting international pressures on the Apartheid regime in South 
Africa, which the Palestinians did not enjoy in the same tenacity at the 
time. Further, it became clear to us that Mandela effectively negotiated 
a release of all the political prisoners and return of all exiled 
leaders before they sat at the official negotiations table.

*Lessons Learned about South Africa*

One of our greatest realizations was the way the apartheid narrative as 
a single-story, eclipses South Africa’s extensive history of racial 
colonialism, settler-colonialism, and racial capitalism. The history 
book start of Apartheid is marked as 1948 when the South African 
National Party (the Afrikaner ethnic nationalist party) came to power in 
government. This largely overlooks that the apartheid system was 
actually a consolidation of laws implemented by British and Dutch 
colonial powers.

These laws were aimed at subjugating the country’s majority Black 
population as a cheap labor reserve: dispossessing them of their land, 
enslaving and exploiting them for production and profit, and sectioning 
them off to certain racial areas (later referred to as /Bantustans/) in 
order to control their movement. This history of colonization dates back 
to 1652 and 1806 when Dutch and British colonialism created the social, 
political, and economic conditions of exploitation that shaped what we 
now refer to as the Apartheid era beginning in 1948.

We also learned about the ways colonialism inflicted gender violence and 
shaped gender roles and familial relations throughout South Africa’s 
history. In the interest of controlling and subjugating cheap labor, the 
Apartheid regime’s policies operated to restrict the movement of Black 
South African men, systematically keeping them away from their families.

Black South African men faced brutalization and degradation by colonial 
and apartheid state forces in mines, labor hostels, and prisons, which 
translated into violent exertion of power over those more vulnerable 
than them through a system of patriarchy: South African women. 
Similarly, the state-imposed various methods of sexual and gendered 
violence upon women’s bodies, which we examined more deeply at the 
women’s jail at Constitutional Hill.

We heard from women in the anti-apartheid struggle about their 
experiences navigating patriarchal movement spaces. The persistence of 
gender violence until today — demonstrated by Johannesburg’s record 
rates of gender violence — is a direct consequence of a colonial legacy 
that has gone without redress as part of the national liberation 
movement. This was a powerful lesson in the indivisibility of social 
liberation and national liberation for us as Palestinians and makes us 
take more seriously this relation as we revitalize our own struggle.

After seeing the conditions in Johannesburg and speaking with local 
community organizations, it became apparent that the 1994 negotiations 
to end Apartheid in South Africa failed to ensure land and wealth 
redistribution. They did not account for the inequities that had been in 
the making through three centuries of colonialism and five decades of de 
jure apartheid. In effect, power remained largely undistributed which is 
why, in the “post-Apartheid” period, Whites maintain their historic 
power in South Africa despite a growing Black political and economic 
elite and a growing Black middle-class.

Though the South African struggle was comprised of varying ideologies, 
most prominently reflected in the Pan-African Congress, the African 
National Congress, and the South African Communist Party, the dominant 
strands within the movement centered ending Apartheid over ending the 
racial capitalist order. Where the apartheid framework acknowledges the 
segregated political, economic, and social conditions of South Africa, 
it also, by default, naturalizes the presence of White settlers.

It works to eradicate a system of racial segregation without paying 
complete attention to racial capitalism and colonial settlement. By 
addressing primarily the system of discrimination in favor of a “Rainbow 
Nation,” the process to end apartheid neglected to address the colonial 
history and capitalist order behind those apartheid laws. The process to 
end Apartheid was driven by a strong commitment to democratic freedoms, 
human rights, and an end to state violence.

However, it did not redress the violence of labor and land dispossession 
and in effect, maintained many of the forms of segregation and 
inequality from the colonial and apartheid periods, similar to the 
ongoing struggles for racial justice in a so-called post-Jim Crow United 
States. We witnessed the ongoing implications of this in the intense 
security and surveillance systems throughout Johannesburg, in the severe 
inequities and contrasts in wealth between Sandton and Alexandra 
Township, and the ongoing movements to reclaim the land.

*What Do These Lessons about South Africa Mean for Palestine?*

Witnessing South Africa’s persistent social, racial, and economic 
inequities, that are remnants of colonialism and Apartheid, we 
problematized the way we, as Palestinians, understand the apartheid 
analysis. While apartheid is a structural component of the Palestinian 
colonial condition, it does not comprehensively define it, nor does it 
prescribe a political solution for us. We recognized the need for our 
struggle to be informed by a de/anti-colonial praxis in order to obtain 
full rights and full justice including a redistribution of land, wealth, 
and power and the actualization of the refugee return to historic 

It is critical to sustaining global Palestine solidarity efforts for BDS 
modeled after the South African experience, and the apartheid analogy 
may be useful for legal advocacy with South Africa, serving as an 
internationally recognized legal precedent. However, it is important not 
to allow the apartheid framework to eclipse a fuller understanding of 
what happened in South Africa nor limit the extent of liberatory 
possibilities for Palestine. For us, understanding the rise of 
neoliberal racial capitalist systems 
developed post-Oslo, and centering these forms of oppression in our 
liberation strategy are also vital.

Through our study and reflection, we resolved that settler-colonialism, 
racial colonialism, apartheid, refugeehood, and military occupation are 
key systems that work together shaping the respective conditions of 
Palestinian people, and therefore our struggle. These dimensions are 
what allow for shared principles with other anti-imperialist, 
de/anti-colonial, and anti-racist causes and movements historically and 

However, we articulate the particularities of the Palestinian condition 
as tied to the ways Zionism has manifested itself. What is sorely needed 
is a return to a more robust definition of Zionism that will allow the 
movement for Palestine to see all the various facets of the Palestinian 
struggle without allowing one framework to overdetermine or limit our 
broader understanding.

*Our Assessment of our Conditions*

As Palestinian youth coming from different contexts, reflective of the 
Palestinian condition, the delegates realized how rare it was for this 
many diverse experiences to be represented in one space and to be in 
conversation with one another. For most, it was their first time in a 
youth-led space that brought together all these Palestinian experiences. 
This rarity is informed by our geographical fragmentation, limitations 
in mobility across colonial borders, and the lack of institutional 
forums to facilitate these exchanges and gatherings in the aftermath of 
the Oslo Accords. Oslo marked a rupture in the transnational Palestinian 
body politic and national infrastructure, including**institutional 
forums to archive and learn our political organizing history.

As the Palestinian national trajectory sought to prepare for a state on 
only a fraction of historic Palestine, the institutional commitment to 
preparing the new generation for the revolutionary struggle was 
weakened. We acknowledge the acute need to find ways to overcome both 
colonial borders and factional tendencies in our society and to 
revitalize liberatory knowledge-making and access, communal 
accountability, social wellness, and political cooperation across our 

We discussed the way the post-1993 neo-liberalization of Palestine, the 
development of racial capitalism all while under occupation, has had 
severe consequences on Palestinian economy and subsequently resulted in 
a social reordering of Palestinian society. We discussed the normalcy 
and pervasiveness of the reliance on aid institutions, debt-based 
economy, and non-governmental organizational industries; all of which 
play a role in hindering grassroots participation in the Palestinian 
political project.

We identified the need to develop systems and institutions of 
self-reliance and sustainability in our organizational efforts as a way 
to limit the political restrictions of neoliberal debt that was 
introduced to Palestine exponentially after Oslo and to revitalized 
popular revolutionary consciousness and community accountability among 
every day Palestinians struggling against both colonial occupation, 
displacement and a new Palestinian political and economic elite.

Witnessing the conditions in South Africa and knowing our own history of 
internationalism, we recognized the need to foster more reciprocal forms 
of joint struggle with other peoples of the world especially with South 
Africans themselves who continue to sustain their struggle for an end to 
government corruption, for a redistribution of land, wealth and power 
and more. We don’t just want to be recipients of solidarity. We believe 
we are active agents of history-making. We follow the ethics of 
camaraderie and want to extend our solidarity with people and places 
that we have shared interest and shared principles with.

Since the Oslo Accords, we have witnessed the collapse of our national 
liberation struggle and strategy. Hearing from South African 
anti-apartheid strugglers, we learned about the role of civil society 
organizations including unions, popular action committees, and other 
forums that made up a mass movement of South Africans fighting for 
justice and liberation. Learning about the roles of the armed struggle, 
mass popular struggle to make South Africa ungovernable, and the global 
campaigns to make Apartheid costly, we understand that liberation 
movements must be multi-faceted, highly organized and insurgent at all 
levels. Our national liberation movement must also center other forms of 
social and gender liberation.


We honor the historic strugglers of South Africa and the people today 
who are still engaging in political work to complete the South African 
revolution. Their example has provided many invaluable insights into our 
own struggle. The South African peoples’ consistent display of love, 
empathy, and solidarity with Palestinians, even and especially when 
there are violent repercussions for such an extension of support, is 
something we deeply appreciate.

We left South Africa understanding the need to revitalize and 
reconstitute a national liberation project that is informed by 
anti/decolonial frameworks while also rooted in our lived realities. We 
left wanting to combine a serious diagnosis of our conditions with a 
revolutionary theoretical explanation of how we got here and how we can 
get ourselves free. Much work remains to be done, but the conversations 
and the interactions of the delegation have left us with a great deal to 
look forward to, and we commence these next steps inspired by a sense of 
revolutionary optimism.

Moving forward, we plan to continue building on our experience in South 
Africa through working with the delegates on various campaigns and 
initiatives and strengthening our networks. We intend on sharing our 
insights and lessons <https://palestinetosouthafrica.wordpress.com/> 
gained from the delegation through popular education materials and 
community programming.

Now, more than ever, the time is ripe for a revived anti-colonial 
framing of the Palestinian cause, and we believe that the various 
lessons learned and connections made throughout the delegation can help 
bolster such an understanding of our struggle.

/– The Palestinian Youth Movement (“PYM”) is a transnational, 
independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians in Palestine and 
in exile worldwide as a result of the ongoing Zionist colonization and 
occupation of our homeland. Our belonging to Palestine and our 
aspirations for justice and liberation motivate us to assume an active 
role as a young generation in our national struggle for the liberation 
of our homeland and people. Irrespective of our different political, 
cultural and social backgrounds, we strive to revive a tradition of 
pluralistic commitment toward our cause to ensure a better future, 
characterized by freedom and justice on a social and political level, 
for ourselves and subsequent generations./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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