In 1994, the elections held in South Africa ended apartheid and elected Nelson Mandela as President.
In England, Manchester City Council and its councillors played a prominent role in the anti-apartheid movement. They enacted sports and cultural boycotts, they actively divested any South Africa related assets and investments.
When it came, Manchester, along with the rest of the world, celebrated the end of apartheid.
20 years later, in England 100s of thousands of people have been moved to march and protest. Shocking scenes of death and injury on television over the past few months have showed the world the effect of the Israeli army’s bombing of Palestine. In this latest spike in violence, the mainly Palestinian victims have numbered over 2000 dead and 10,000 injured. The vast majority of these have been civilian.
After a short ceasefire, the bombing of Palestine seems to have resumed.
When not being bombed, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live, in essence, under military occupation. Those Palestinians living in Israel itself live under an apartheid-like regime.
Amnesty International has long recorded the human rights violations being committed as part of their call for the peace and adherence to international law.
Earlier this year, legendary anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke to this.
"I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces," he said in a statement. "Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government."
A long-time supporter of the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) campaign in support of Palestine, he also said
“In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime” and
“To those who wrongly allege unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one's own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and daily denial of basic rights and dignity”.
For Manchester City Council, though it has supported calls for peace – organising humanitarian aid for Gaza, it has also set itself against the pro-Palestine campaigners – working with police to suppress demonstrations.
In Manchester, the campaign for Palestine has been powerful and without rancour against the oppression and violence in Israel.
This is a moment of decision for the City Council and its individual Councillors.
This is its ‘Apartheid moment'.
Again, Desmond Tutu speaking to Haaretz, ''Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor".
Manchester City Council should
- Divest itself of any assets, investments and relations that directly or indirectly supports the Israeli government
Support peaceful action in the city in the campaign for Palestine
Councillors should take a lead and say if they are in support of the campaign for Palestine.
Its easy to look back misty-eyed at the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa.
With so many dead and injured in Palestine, now is the time to act.