When, if ever, is violence justifiable in struggles for political or social change?


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Q: When, if ever, is violence justifiable in struggles for political or social change?
The inspiration for this question comes from a recent homework assignment in my history course at Southern New Hampshire University.

Shoutout to SNHU, the school I transferred to at the start of the new year. So far, glad I made this transition!

The assignment in this module provided four choices of topics to choose from, which can be seen below along with my selection:

South African Apartheid

As you can see, the topic I selected was the South African Apartheid.

Why did I choose this topic?

Because I was ignorant of the history behind the South African Apartheid and the rise of Nelson Mandela and wanted to know more about both.

A generation which ignores history has no past and – no future.

Robert Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazurus Long

I am going to get to the question posed at the top of this post, but before I do, I want to briefly elaborate on the importance of history and this topic in general.

(Skip Straight to My Opinion)

Importance of History, the South African Apartheid, & the Rise of Nelson Mandela

Firstly, I will tell you that growing up, I didn't care too much about history. A reason for this is that growing up in Texas, I didn't believe the history that I was being taught was my own.

I vividly remember one time in 7th grade, as the only black person in my Texas History class, I was selected to read the one paragraph in the book that revealed – the history of slavery.

A very brief history of racism – Workers Solidarity Movement
by Unknown via libcom.org

Yeah, a horrific moment in American history was taught in only a very few short paragraphs and excerpts, and I was asked to read aloud that account to a class full of white students.

What a traumatic & quite embarrassing moment for me!

Despite that moment, I have later in my life come to understand the importance of learning about the past. Because understanding the past helps you to better predict the future – or at least keeps you from repeating past issues.

Secondly, I will tell you that this particular topic of the South African Apartheid is an important moment in history that everyone should know.

In terms of the importance to the country of South Africa, it started the healing phase in this country's history and allowed for forgiveness to the oppressors.

For the rest of the world, we were introduced to the great leader, Nelson Mandela. Now, depending on your views, you and I may have differing opinions about him.

You may see him as a traitor and saboteur for the violent acts he committed against his country.

After all, most of our revered leaders of the past were able to accomplish their mission without the use of violence. Think Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Te Whiti o Rongomai, and others…

Do you see some similarities in these leaders?

Yes, most of these leaders were guided by their spiritual beliefs. Can the same be said about Nelson Mandela? Perhaps he was “less spiritual” than the others?

I mean, he did have his “sins,” which were clearly exposed. Some even used those ideas as proof that he was unlike the others.

His failed marriage where he divorced and married in the same year, his underground and violent sabotage against the Apartheid government facilities, and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment were just a few of the sins they condemn him for.

Yeah, those things would make you question one's goodwill or make you second-guess their spiritual journey. However, those around him said that his father was his spiritual influence as a child and that he privately practiced his spirituality while also progressing his political agenda.

Although it is said that he had spiritual influences while growing up, there wasn't much written or known prior to his imprisonment.

The Spiritual Mandela: Faith and Religion in the Life of Nelson Mandela

Let's continue…

When, if ever, is violence justifiable in struggles for political or social change?

In researching this topic for my school project, I found a source that helped explain not only my own thought process but that of a panel of scholars participating in a Harvard Law School discussion for where this topic originated.

In Honor of Nelson Mandela: When, if ever, is violence justifiable in struggles for political or social change? (video)

The discussion can be found by clicking the above link to go to the website or by viewing the video below.

Nelson Mandela practiced nonviolence for much of his life. It wasn't until the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 that he began to transition to violent acts.

The Sharpeville massacre was an event where police fired into a peaceful crowd of protestors, killing 69 and wounding more than 180.

After this event, the Apartheid government banned black political groups such as the African National Congress (ANC) from participating in protests, essentially forcing them to go underground in order to continue their political activities.

It is only when a mosquito lands on your testicles that you know that there are other nonviolent ways of solving problems. You have to do cost-benefit analysis sometimes when you are dealing with..

Dr. Aminu Gamawa, legal professional, teacher, and policy expert.

Doing some cost-benefit analysis on violence, one has to determine if acting in civil resistance (nonviolence) is the key to preventing further violence.

As it relates to the Apartheid government's oppression of black Africans, no, I don't think so. The government had no intention of ever stopping its campaign to oppress the black Africans.

At some point, you must fight back.

Something to ponder…

If every day you go to school or work, someone smacks you in the face when you walk into the room – for no good reason – and you do nothing about it, they will continue this until they decide to stop.

However, if that person smacks you in the face on day one, and you instinctively smack them back, there is the possibility they may never smack you again.

Now, you have to determine which is better for you. I will tell you…

sometimes, responding to violence with violence may be your only option to negate further violence.

I mean, it certainly beats seeing 69 of your friends gunned down for practicing their free speech, many of them shot in the back while running away from the scene.

That alone is justification for escalated violence. The alternative is the possible extinction of your race, which was the goal of the South African Apartheid.

When, if ever, is violence justifiable in struggles for political or social change?

Barry Canada

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