Apartheid Struggle and Resistance from South Africa and Palestine

Raghad Sawalha
Apartheid is an ideology that promoted racial segregation within a society of which South Africa and Palestine fell victims to. It began in 1948 and was built on white supremacy and illegal settler colonization due to British imperialism. In South Africa, diamonds and gold have been detected so the European settlements decided to take that to their advantage with their racial capitalism as they profited off of black people’s labour in mining and because of that greed, more European settlers moved to South Africa. In 1948, the nationalist government rose to power due to the fact that the public voted for them so they had the power to pass their racial segregation laws. As for Palestine, Europeans came up with a concept called Zionism which is a colonial project to take over the land under the excuse of establishing Jewish-only state. However, it is important to note that Zionism and Judaism are not the same; one of them is a religion while the other is a racist ideology. Zionists started migrating until their number was big enough to ethnically cleanse Palestine and that resulted in the displacement of 750,000 people in 1948 whom all thought that they would return back to their homeland. This is unfair to black people and Palestinians as they both went through similar types of oppression and discrimination under the apartheid regime therefore, they did what is right and opposed this regime by protesting, boycotting and resorting to violence however, the results of that were different.
When it came to Palestine, the settler colonials sparked intense racism on the Arabs and massacres have been committed against them in order to establish a Jewish-only nation. This, of course, meant the dispossession and homelessness of Palestinians as the illegal settlers expanded their territories by violently forcing people out (Sayegh, 1965, p. 35). With injustice, came resistance. Non-violent rebellion arose in the form of protests, boycotts, and disobeying laws. Darweish and Rigby demonstrate how Palestinians quietly resisted by standing their ground and refusing to get evicted out of their homes as well as display their agony and frustration through traditional songs and poems to preserve their identity and march on the streets (Darweish & Rigby, 2015, p. 7). Organizations also emerged such as Palestine Liberation Organization in which armed resistance was its sole purpose for years since 1964 till early 1990s where peaceful talks were taking place and eventually, the Oslo accords took place and they shook hands over that deal of coexistence. The Palestinian people’s main aim was the complete liberation of Palestine so Edward Said argues that this peace treaty was a sell-out (Weiner, 1996, p. 505) and many other people were not satisfied so more violence was initiated towards Israel.
Inequality was rampant in South Africa as well since neighbourhoods and roads were segregated which was the result of expulsion of black people out of their homes to achieve this as Peteet explains (Peteet, 2016, p. 252). African National Congress is a famous organization that played an important role in dismantling apartheid and, the first black president Nelson Mandela, was actively taking part in it. Violence and explosives were used to fight oppression and were met with brutality. They also resorted to peaceful resistance in which they disobeyed the laws such as going into white-only areas, holding campaigns against expulsion, rent boycotts, or even organizing school strikes which was held by students and is famously known as the Soweto uprisings. Zune demonstrates that this non-violent resistance has helped gain international support which shed light on apartheid. This pressure from other countries have put an end to the ban of ANC.
These two organizations had similar goals as well which was to get liberated and become a democratic state but, unfortunately, both got banned. Peteet reveals how both governments asserted their dominance to silence those who oppose them by painting them as terrorists and mass arresting activists while using violence (Peteet, 2016, p. 271). South Africa and Palestine recognized each other’s struggle and stood beside one another in solidarity as they made ties between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the African National Congress. This demonstrates how these forms of oppression were adopted from one another. The apartheid days for South Africa might be over but it is still ongoing for Palestine as they face threats on a daily basis.
Land theft, dispossession, demolitions, ethnic cleansing were all imposed on black South Africans and Palestinians as they lost their home and were being displaced for the sake of colonizers which came at the expense of Palestinians and black people. This is where apartheid can be seen clearly for instance, black people were sent to live in Bantustans which was a remote rural area created for them to keep them away from the whites meanwhile, they got forcibly evicted out of their own homes and neighbourhoods as white people took their place and the city of Johannesburg became fully white. There were also signs placed at the entrance of black neighbourhoods warning white people of the presence of the natives living there before their entry. In addition to that, white-only areas developed and denied access to black people as they were not allowed entry so they did not have the complete freedom in movement as white people. Restriction of movement for black people meant that they had to carry passbooks when travelling in order to be let in some white-only areas while white people travelled freely without the need of a permit.
Similarly, Palestinians are going through the same thing except it came in the form of walls and fences surrounding the west bank making it hard to travel between cities and are met with military checkpoints that also demands identity cards whereas Israeli settlers drive in their Jews-only roads without having to be stopped at checkpoints. Palestinians are also deprived of Jerusalem and can only be allowed to enter with a permit which usually gets rejected the majority of the time (see appendix). Walls and fences also surround Gaza to isolate it from whatever is left of Palestine making it the largest open-air prison for fourteen years that imprisons two million people where its entry and exit is extremely hard and troublesome. Apart from all of that, there is the usual harassment and racism towards black people and Palestinians and in case of Palestinians, it is the constant weaponization of antisemitism as a way to victimize themselves and silence them by making them look bad when it is far from that.
Obviously, this mistreatment had to be stopped and both, black people and Palestinians, have attempted to seek liberation from peaceful protests and boycotts to resorting to violence. For starters, national organizations have been introduced to fight the occupation in Palestine such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) where they tried to change the situation by sudden and unexpected explosives attacks, this included airplane hijackings to pressure the west to change their policies regarding Israel and its occupation. These actions had consequences which have resulted in the banning of the organisation. Between 1987-1990, an uprising occurred known as “intifadah” where Palestinians went on strikes and boycotted Israeli goods to put an economic pressure on the colonial state as well as making those Palestinians who worked for Israelis to quit just to harm their businesses however, new Jewish people got employed instead. Some people used their voice and words to put Israelis to shame in case they were able to sympathize with the oppressed however, nothing moved them so they used violence on Israelis resulting in death and fear spread and this went on for three years. Three years later, PLO and Israel decided to get into peaceful negotiations for Palestine’s self-determination and recognizing Israel as a state. That was all talk and took them nowhere up until 1993 where they finally decided on coexistence within a two-state solution and shook hands over the Oslo accords. Israel still had the upper hand over Palestine though which did not satisfy the people as it felt like betrayal and a sell-out. Explosives were thrown at citizens of Israel from Gaza and in return, homicides were taking place on Palestinians. This just furthered divisions within Palestinian territories into three different areas across the west bank where each area is governed differently with military control which ultimately allowed Israel to build separation walls, military checkpoints, and segregated roads between these cities and around the Gaza strip restricting movement. Therefore, the Oslo accords allowed Israel to continue its colonization process under the name of this peace treaty as Clarno clarifies “Oslo fragmented the occupied territories and enabled Israel to supplement direct military rule with aspects of indirect rule” (Clarno, 2017, p. 10). Edward also agrees to that as it resulted in injustices rather than peace and diminished Palestinian’s efforts of liberation by breaking their unity (Weiner, 1996, p. 506). This resulted in another uprising (second intifadah) in September 2000. It was fuelled by the visit of the prime minister of Israel into Al Aqsa compound, which is a Palestinian territory, for the first time according to the interview conducted with witnesses (see appendix). This uprising was much more violent than the first one due to armed resistance. Resistance movements have killed Israelis in suicide bombings and in response to that, curfews, evictions, demolitions, and assassinations took place to supress Palestinians and called them terrorists despite them simply fighting a state built at their expense. The second intifadah has ended with both sides quitting the violence and Palestinians continued to live under the racist regime of apartheid.
Non-violent resistance have also become popular as people became frustrated and desperate for their basic human rights to fight off the occupation and seek liberation. Civilians have contributed to the resistance for instance, Palestinians living in Israel organized a peaceful protest and went marching 45 years ago and that day is known as “Land Day” to let it be known that Palestinians are here to stay which actually encouraged other peaceful movements but unfortunately, six people got killed during the march. Other forms of peaceful resistance included writing poems, singing, and dancing traditionally to preserve their culture and identity from erasure. Palestinians are also determined to remain in their homeland and refused to move for illegal settlers even if it came at the expense of their lives; in other words, their existence is resistance in itself.
On the other hand, black people in South Africa also had similar methods in non-violent resistance. Laws have been disobeyed such as black people entering the white-only areas despite them not being allowed to do so. They also refused to put money into the government’s pockets by boycotting and refraining from paying taxes and house rents to fight against the low settings of living of black people where more than half of the black population practised this. In addition to that, there were political and school riots such as the Soweto uprising that took place in 1976 which was started by students to demand for their basic human rights which also included full rights in education.
Despite these protests being peaceful, violence, arrests, and some killings met the protestors to supress them additionally, there was also blackout in the media to silence them so the world was not aware of the crimes that came in with apartheid. General strikes have occurred as well as people did not attend their jobs or go to schools just to demand for their basic human rights that might be met if they harmed the employers. Despite the multiple bombings that occurred due to the armed struggle, the non-violent resistance was more efficient and was the main strategy in the anti-apartheid movement. These tactics were mostly successful since people need to obey the law in order for apartheid to be effective which is something that black people did not do since they disobeyed laws which only made apartheid look ridiculous if it is not actually set in action.
Meanwhile, anti-apartheid organizations and movements have been formed that mainly focused on violent resistance. One of the most well-known organizations was the African National Congress (ANC) of which Nelson Mandela joined and became one of the chief organizers to fight for what is right after living with segregation laws for decades. They resorted to violence to resist too such as charging and directing their hits at estates to spread fear and intimidate their oppressors. However, they also targeted the property of other black people who were supportive of the current government as it felt like betrayal of some sort but because of that, this just made people doubtful of the ANC and the organization got banned. Zunes states that the beginning of this movement did more damage when it came to fighting apartheid which could be considered as a self-sabotage to the anti-apartheid movement. Nelson Mandela then went underground and constantly changed his whereabouts to stay away from the police but unfortunately, he got caught while trying to leave the country illegally which put him in prison for five years. More people involved in the ANC got arrested too and got to serve life sentences in the prison on Robben Island. Meanwhile outside prison, violence never stopped and exiled black South Africans sought allyship from other countries for international support to take down apartheid as well as try to gain the support of white South Africans.
Map 2. South Africa before 1994. By Molly O’Halloran.
As a result of that, people globally have demanded the release of Nelson Mandela by pressuring the government by taking it to the streets and marching for an end to apartheid. However, massacres on ANC supporters have occurred and were the most violent right after his release where 12,000 people have died. Peace talks and negotiations took place that included the democratization of the country since nothing can be done to stop the violence. Nelson Mandela then participated in the elections and his hopes and dreams aligned with the majority of the public’s and so they gave him their votes and won the presidency elections in 1994 becoming the first black president of South Africa and he successfully put an end on apartheid.
Palestine and South Africa share similar experiences when it comes to apartheid and they recognized each other’s struggle as they stood beside one another in solidarity and made ties between each other to strengthen their bond. Although their struggle and resistance were similar, only South Africa was able to rid itself of apartheid. Nowadays, Palestinians are still facing ethnic cleansing such as those massacres happening in Gaza and the constant threat of displacement that residents in East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, face. International and global support is important to pressure the government to step in and cut ties with Israel and stop funding it as well as continuous boycotting of brands that funds it. In the meantime, all Palestinians can do is resist by any means possible as they have the right to do so after decades of loss of homeland and lives and a lifelong trauma. A land where the occupiers ethnically cleanse its indigenous people from, in order to claim it as theirs will never be theirs and people will continue to reject this invasion and apartheid that came with it. Complete liberation, freedom, and self-determination are a necessity for Palestinians to break free from the 73 years of inhumane occupation and apartheid just like how South Africa achieved that.


  • Clarno, A. (2017). “Neoliberla Aparthied: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994” 2-29. 10.7208/chicago/9780226430126.001.0001
  • Marwan Darweish, & Andrew Rigby. (2015). Popular Protest in Palestine: The Uncertain Future of Unarmed Resistance https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11795-5_142-1
  • Peteet, J. (2016). The Work of Comparison: Israel/Palestine and apartheid, 89(1), 247-281. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43955521  
  • Sayegh, F. A. (1965). “Zionist colonialism in Palestine”. 1-78.
  • Timeline – World History Documentaries. (2017). How Mandela Changed South Africa: From Prison To President: Timeline. YouTube. From https://youtu.be/Rk-Lxgp9NWg.
  • Weiner, J. R. (1996). Peace and its discounts: Isreali and palestinian intellectuals who reject the current peace process. 29(2), 501-536. https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/cintl29&i=509
  • Zunes, S. (1999). “The Journal of Modern African Studies”. The Role of Non-Violent Action in the Downfall of Apartheid, 37(1), 137-169. https://www.jstor.org/stable/161471


A series of questions were asked to a few relatives who have more experience as they witnessed the events occurring in Palestine. Not too many questions were asked as everything I needed was found from my other sources.

  • In what ways was the struggle in South Africa and Palestine similar?

They experienced racially injustices from blockades to segregated roads and to forced displacements that left thousands displaced and were all treated terribly simply due to their identity that was seen as something threatening.

  • How was the second uprising (intifadah) like?

It started with the prime minister of Israel visiting Al Aqsa compound which Palestinians did not approve of since it is their territory and was disrespectful to them. This one was much more violent due to armed resistance and many people became martyrs and by the end of it, Palestinians of the West Bank were not allowed into Jerusalem unless they apply for a permit in which the majority of the time gets rejected.

  • How do Palestinians get treated?

There are hundreds of checkpoints across Palestine in which people have to pass by and they are usually being kept there for hours until they are allowed to pass to the other city or village. They are also treated horribly at the Jordan borders as they spend hours there being kept waiting by Israel offensive forces until they can finally enter. They also banned the flag of Palestine to be held as well as any type of merchandise that holds the four colours found on the flag.

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