Evaluating the Legacy of Nonviolence in South Africa

Peace and Change 31 (2):141-174 (2006)

Gail Presbey
University of Detroit Mercy
This paper engages an important debate going on in the literature regarding the efficacy of nonviolence in confronting unjust regimes. I will focus on the commentators who have claimed that nonviolence, if adhered to more resolutely, would have ended South African apartheid sooner. I will contrast them to Mandela’s account that both violence and nonviolence working in tandem were needed to bring a speedy and just resolution to South Africa’s crisis of racist governance. To consider South Africa an easy case of nonviolence’s success (for example, as shown in A Force More Powerful), evades many important factors. Mandela was familiar with Gandhian nonviolence and explicitly rejected it. The ANC organized an armed faction and engaged in acts of sabotage, and over time widened the scope of violent acts condoned by their organization. South African security forces responded to nonviolent protest with extreme repression, which contradicts claims often made by nonviolent proponents that sticking to nonviolence will lessen the chances of extreme repression. And the suffering of the South African people, while perhaps dwarfed when compared to genocides in other countries, was extensive and profound. One cannot understand some aspects of the difficult aftermath of apartheid’s legacy without taking into account the high level of violence emanating from several parties to the conflict. Nevertheless, in this context of violence, a broad nonviolent campaign had many successes.
Keywords Nonviolence  Nelson Mandela  South Africa  Apartheid  Bill Sutherland  Albert Luthuli  Violence
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Evaluating Violence and (Non)Violence: A Critical, Practical Theology of Social Change.Julie Todd - 2012 - Dissertation, University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology

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