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Were the ANC justified in targeting & killing civilians in the fight against Apartheid?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/22/2013 Category: Politics
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,585 times Debate No: 34980
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The ANC decided their 12 year non-violent activism (1948-1960) against the oppressive National Party had failed to produce adequate results in bringing about political equality and the end of apartheid. Yet their new policy of violence (with the formation of MK in 1960) failed itself to yield any meaningful results in 30 years. Even with negotiations on the table the ANC remained highly reluctant to abandon this campaign despite its obvious failures. Why was peaceful protest abandoned so quickly? Why with the promise of negotiations was MK not immediately disbanded? More so they were reluctant to combine forces/work with other parties fighting to end apartheid. Instead the ANC sought to remain the dominant anti-apartheid party in South Africa thus making them appear somewhat disingenuous - more interested in gaining power for themselves than in achieving total equality. This separatism undermined the anti-apartheid campaign. It also corrupts their ultimate goal (especially considering the still very racialised state of the country today) and invalidates their use of violence.

In any situation I do not believe civilian populations should be targeted. The ANC used limpet mines, anti-tank mines, IED's, AK's, machetes and the act of necklacing to kill and maim. Black and white alike died indiscriminately. Even informers and defectors from within their ranks were brutally murdered. Their guerilla forces spent most of their time in training camps in Angola where they suffered terribly without proper food or shelter. Many died as a result, some committed suicide. It was completely unnecessary.

I agree with many who speculate apartheid was naturally coming to end. South Africa was one of the last few remaining western societies to become politically liberated and international pressure to do so was growing. Continued non-violence would have caused far less suffering and bolstered international support and pressure rather than the ANC being labelled terrorists as they were by most notably the US and UK. With the economy suffering through sanctions the business elite alone were a massive force in demanding reforms. Violence only complicated the situation and provided propaganda for the National Party to maintain its power-base.

To mention the violence of the apartheid regime - yes it was too highly unjustified and horrific. People suffered and fighting them was clearly justified. Fighting the civilian population however was not. And more to the point the ANC should have risen above the National Party and not sunk into such degraded and inhumane tactics, especially when it was essentially human rights they were fighting for. The oppressed simply became the oppressor. As confirmed by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission the ANC are guilty of gross violation of human rights. Yes the 'cause' was justified, the methods were not.


The principles and the rights of the people the ANC stood for were being assaulted and disregarded. Their government could not have given a crap about them, and doing nothing would not have done any good. They had been oppressed ruthlessly for half a century, and the South African government should have known what was coming, and they deserved everything they got.

Peaceful protest rarely works, and when it does, it take many years for the real change to be seen. Violence is always better, as anyone would much rather go up against someone who will not kill you than someone who is ready to rip your guts out. And anyway, the ANC won in the end through might, and today are the most influential party in south Africa.

It is always right to fight the strong with strength. Would you fight a big bodybuilder with your bare hands? No, you'd fight him with a machete.
Debate Round No. 1


I absolutely agree with attacking the government. It was a highly oppressive regime and acts of sabotage as well as acts of violence against both the government and the military was fully justified. My point is that attacking the civilian population was not. It may have put pressure on the government to act - fine - but that pressure only resulted in increased state violence, and the declaration of several state of emergencies.

Peaceful protest is a slow method but sustained mass strikes and disregard for pass laws etc. had/has more influence than violent acts. This is especially so considering the majority of the population, ie. the black majority but also whites included, were against the government. The key to peaceful methods not being so successful in South Africa I believe was the inter-party separatism and also the ANC's lack of organisational skills. Many of their demonstrations and calls for strikes simply did not achieve their goals because they were not organised sufficiently. Better management would have manifested better results.

With an under educated and oppressed majority violence is simply the easiest option. Not much had to be done to encourage it. Clearly though it didn't achieve anything. They actually had to step back the violence in some cases (especially with regards to using limpet mines) because it gave them such terrible publicity. Economic sanctions, international pressure, and Mandela as an incredible icon of the struggle did far more to promote political equality. In reality the violence only caused the process leading to the 1994 elections to be dragged out.

'Was it justified to target civilians?' No. If attacking government targets did not work, it did not work. Abandon the violence or refine the methods - opting for the easier option by attacking the innocent is wrong. Secondly, peaceful protest was abandoned far too quickly. Had it been better organised it would have had far more success. Something to bear in mind as well is how you would feel in the position of a civilian caught up in a similar struggle. Would you feel contented having your family murdered because the government you didn't vote for and do not support, but nonetheless benefited from was highly oppressive to others? Do you think in the UK and US the civilian bombing by Middle Eastern militants because our governments are at war is justified?

Violence may be a far more emotive device, but it has incredibly negative effects. Yes the ANC won. Would they have been universally seen as terrorists if they had lost? Probably. Should they now be honoured just because they won? No. Their methods were not just. They didn't fight honourably even if their fight was an honourable one. I think people get lost in the fact that they successfully overcame apartheid without knowing the true cost of their actions, and what alternatives they had at their disposal but did not utilise.

As a side note, however much I hold Mandela in high esteem as a great man, he has refused to denounce such people as Gaddafi and the Saudi Royal Family simply because they supported the ANC. To me that says a lot. Gaddafi can easily be equated to the National Party - yet he garnered continued support. Is that fair?


All the times that civilians were killed, the attack was centered around the government. I didn't mention them targeting civilians because I thought it was obvious that they weren't purposely trying to kill civilians, even though they knew it was likely. They never killed any civilians without doing damage to government people or property.

If killing some civilians meant getting a point across and harming the government who had been killing civilians for some time, or at least harming them, Is something that is going to happen in every war. I'm sure it threatened the government more as well and intimidated them.
Debate Round No. 2


Check the statistics of civilian casualties. They weren't just collateral as you might expect, nor a relatively insignificant minority. There were roughly the same number of civilians killed as security personnel. 107 civilians vs 131. Thousands more were injured.

Placing land mines and anti-tank mines on farm land is not a strategic move to attack the government. It simply killed farmers and their families, needlessly.

If you look at the Church Street bombing alone, you can also start to see the awful planning and execution of the bombings. Supposed to be an attack on the South African Airforce HQ they deployed the bomb at rush hour, in a car, outside. Mainly civilians were killed and injured. Even the military personnel they did kill were simply admin, typists and people answering phone calls. Again checking up on the TRC it was declared an illegitimate attack.

Interestingly enough the TRC (Truth & Reconciliation Commission) had far more applications for amnesty by ANC members than by the security forces. With amnesty, the slate was wiped clean and all records of any wrongdoing expunged. As proof of this: a former MK member who was involved in bombing a bar was elected to chief of police for the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. Could not have been done with his record still intact. This also serves as another example of direct civilian attacks - Robert McBride, the former police chief, bombed Mr Magoo's Bar - a beach front bar full of civilians. You don't bomb a popular bar to attack and kill government officials. They were not collateral, they were the target.


VeryHornyCaterpillar3 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
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