Friday, June 03, 2005

Burma as South Africa: A wrong comparison

Quote of the Day:

No nation gets their freedom through telegrammed statements of moral support, pro-democracy newspaper op-eds or editorials, or early parliamentary motions.

-from Compiler's Remark, Apartheid South Africa and Burma Under Military: A Wrong Comparison

Apartheid South Africa and Burma Under Military Rule:
A Wrong Comparison
Free Burma Coalition

For those of us who helped draw the parallel between South Africa'santi-apartheid movement and our pro-democracy movement, between South Africa under apartheid and Burma/Myanmar under successive military governments, between ANC's leadership and activities and NLD's leadership and activities, we conveniently ignored major differences.

First, we chose - at a heavy cost to our own efforts for change - the country to compare Burma with, which is located in a radically different set ofgeo-political and economic conditions.

Second, the ANC was categorically different from the NLD, both in its leadership capabilities, its strategic framework which did not rule out political violence as part of its overal work, organizational strength, the level of mass participation - at all costs to the participants, and the wisdom and calibre of South African exiles who operated from Western and NorthernEurope.
Self-made, Nelson Mandela was ANC's Leader of its Military Wing. He was tried on charges of treason against the apartheid state.

Third, both UK and USA were leading opponents of international sanctions against the apartheid regime in Pretoria. And Ronald Reagan gave a speech at US Congress in late 1980's deriding sanctions against Pretoria as "immoral."

Fourth, all South Africa's neighbors allowed the ANC to operate on their soils, helped with the ANC smuggling arms into the country, helped set up militarytraining camps, and perhaps equally important, all black Africans - as well as blacks all over the world, specifically in Europe and North America, identified with the ANC's anti-apartheid struggle. They peceived the ANC's fight as their epic struggle against white domination and exploitation.

Fifth and finally, the ANC, under extremely repressive regime, was capable ofbuilding its new generations up, and created a multi-tiered leadership, bothwithin the country and among the exiles. As a result, even when Mandela was locked up and as used initially as the rallying icon, his equally capable comrades in exile and within the country were able to execute numerouspolitical activities, both violent and non-violent,successfully. It was indeeda revolutionary movement, self-reliant, enjoying pan-African solidarity, EVE IN THE FACE OF OPPOSITION FROM SOME GREAT DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENTS IN THE THEN WESTERN BLOC. The ANC had the stomach - and strength - to have claimed responsibilities for its violent acts.

No nation gets their freedom through telegrammed statements of moral support, pro-democracy newspaper op-eds or editorials, or early parliamentary motions.

So, next time when we compare the ANC's struggle and our own, let's not remember only selectively what the apple-boycotting Westerners did in support of anti-apartheid and imprisoned Mandela back in that revolutionar society. Let's not get enamored with Bishop Tutu's nicely coined phrases as to how his people go their freedom, that is, sanctions and through language of love and peace or non-violence.

Here is a dose of reality as to what the ANC was like and what it was prepared to do to accomplish its revolutionary aims 20 years ago:

20 May 1983: Car bomb in South Africa kills 16


I was in Pretoria at the time. The ANC (or rather their military wing "Umkhonto We Sizwe", often known simply as "MK") achieved little through their sporadic attacks on quasi-military targets, rarely more than two or three times a year. The infiltrators were often ill-disciplined and simply chose whatever targets of opportunity there happened to be. Conditions in ANC training camps in neighbouring territories were rough and difficult. In the end, there was no military solution to apartheid, but a political one in which so many people played a part. Comparisons with Burma, as you say, are meaningless. There was democracy in South Africa, but it was for the whites only.

Derek Tonkin, Former British Ambassador, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam



There should be a sixth major point of difference in the comparison betweenthe South African and Burmese scenes. This point may be termed Accountability, or rather, Sense of accountability.

We must remember that the White minority responsible for the apartheidpolicy must have felt some guilt all along simply because it was the Whites who actually robbed the land from the autochthons, the Africans. The SPDC generals, on the other hand, are convinced that they legitimately inherit their own motherland from the larcenous British colonialists, and they are the ones who know how to run their country without the interference of Western-influenced (read democratic) NLD and the internal as well as external opposition groups, including the ethnic resistance organizations. About the SPDC blokes, sans a modicum of guilt, plus the mental set up already well entrenched, anyone or any outfit trying to oppose them is going to be fighting an uphill battle, just about an impossible one without some happenstance, if not an outright miracle, more likely through a Power quite beyond human comprehension.

BaSaw Khin at