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South Africa: Dark Shadows Beneath a Rainbow Nation

South Africa: Dark Shadows Beneath a Rainbow Nation

There was palpable jubilation in South Africa this past Friday, reminiscent of when the country won the Rugby World Cup in France, just a few months before.  

Adorned in Palestinian Keffiyehs, the national executive committee of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) sat triumphantly watching a big television screen, cheering and applauding as the judgement of the International Court of Justice, was delivered in the Hague. 

Although the South African government had failed to achieve almost all of its objectives in its case targeting Israel, the ANC regime victoriously celebrated, claiming that it had restored its tarnished reputation as the bastion of freedom and human rights in the world.

There may be no other country in the world so richly endowered with natural beauty, pristine white beaches, abundant animal wildlife and natural resources extracted from the depths of the earth, as South Africa.  The country shimmers with deposits of gold, diamonds and platinum. Tourists flock to the powdery sands of Cape Town’s coast and holiday in the unexpected luxury and opulence of the African bush. For many, South Africa is one of G-d’s true gifts to the world. 

Plagued by a history of Portuguese, Dutch, French and British colonization, a generation of apartheid segregation, inequality, and a liberation struggle that lasted into the 1990’s, South Africa has suffered a turbulent, bloody past. The scars of apartheid run deep in the nation’s soul.

South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, a convert to Islam, proclaimed that “the real issue is the people of Palestine who are being killed every day and the people of Palestine who are sleeping in the cold, the people of Palestine who are denied food, water and energy. That is the critical issue that all of us should focus upon”. In South Africa itself, 77 people are murdered each day, 27 272 murders in 2023 alone, making the country the murder capital of the world. 9.9 million South Africans have no formal housing, and 8 million people live in dilapidated corrugated metal shacks. 11.8 million South Africans have no reliable water supply and 33% of the country has no basic sanitation. In 2023 the country was plunged into darkness for 6 800 hours as the government battled and failed to keep the lights on. 

For all of its elation and celebration, South Africa is just not a happy place! For the ANC, the focus is Palestine, not the appalling conditions under which South Africans live.

When Nelson Mandela emerged from prison into freedom in 1990, the world celebrated the crumbling of apartheid and the first democratically elected government, sworn into office in 1994. 

South Africa immediately became the poster child for freedom and democracy. Mandela set the tone by building a ‘Rainbow Nation’ assuring all of its citizens that, “We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white”.

Yet thirty years after its transition to democracy, South Africa teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state. The country is enveloped by wide scale lawlessness, criminality, a construction mafia, crippling government corruption and debilitating maladministration. Unemployment hovers around 41.2% and the rand currency has devalued 50% under the rule of the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa is a mess!

Johannesburg, once branded as a “world class African city”, is today a rubbish strewn, potholed shadow of its former self. The Islamic fundamentalist mayor of Johannesburg is fixated upon renaming the road which houses the American consulate, after the Palestinian terrorist, Leila Khaled, who attacked and blew up an American TWA flight. 

South Africa’s once thriving Jewish community which numbered in excess of 120 000 souls at its peak, today sits at around one third of that number. Fleeing economic decline, the makings of a gangster state and a viscously anti-Israel government, for many Jews, South Africa no longer feels like a safe place or home. 

A survey of final year Jewish high school students showed that 82% did not believe they would be living in South Africa in 10 years and 53% thought that they may need to hide part of their Jewish identity to progress in the country.

Three decades of misrule has made the ANC’s grip on power precarious at best. 

As the country lurches towards general elections later this year, the ANC is desperate to regain some of the moral authority that gave it status and prestige in its former years. 

Like many of the liberation movements of the 1960’s, ANC cadres were part of the anti-western liberation struggles sponsored by the former Soviet Union. In the trenches of the cold war, the ANC shared ideology, resources and comradery with the Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO) and the Polisario Font. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world changed, the ANC did not. 

Shortly after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela embraced Yasser Arafat and said, “We identify with the PLO because just like ourselves they are fighting for the right of self-determination…Arafat is a comrade in arms, and we treat him as such…We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Always the pragmatist, Mandela was also very close to South Africa’s Jewish community. His friends at University were Jewish, he served law articles at a Jewish law firm, when no other firm would employ him, and many of his legal team were Jewish too. Mandela stated that, “South Africans of Jewish descent have historically been disproportionately represented among our white compatriots in the liberation struggle’ and “as a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”

As the memory of Mandela has faded, South Africa’s corrupt ruling party has identified more and more with those forces opposing the West. In the most crude formulation of its foreign policy, South Africa supports Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and Iran while opposing Morocco, Israel, Ukraine and where possible, the West. It actively opposes French influence on the African continent.

In 2023, a crisis erupted when U.S. Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II, accused South Africa of supplying weapons to Russia after its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Referring to a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel which had surreptitiously docked in the Simons Town naval base close to Cape Town, with its transponder beacons deactivated, Brigety said “We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel, and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion.” 

Rumors abound, yet no proof has yet surfaced, that the Iranians have funded both South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice as well as the enormous debt of the ANC party and its expenses for the upcoming elections. 

South Africa’s current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, became rich from the largess of some of South Africa’s leading Jewish businesspeople, who placed him in on their company boards, made him chairman of their businesses and funded his CR17 internal party election campaign.

Ramaphosa’s failure to condemn the 7 October massacre, his failure to reach out to the families of the two South Africans murdered in the Hamas attack, his failure to act on the two South Africans kidnapped by Hamas and his callous disregard, effectively blaming Israel for deserving the attack, a mere two weeks after the massacre, while wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, will forever be a symbol of his ‘Judas moment’. South Africa was “crying genocide” before any real military action in Gaza had even begun.

Ramaphosa’s spineless leadership has allowed Pandor and her Islamist director general, Zane Dangor, to direct foreign policy without consequence. 

Pandor mislead parliament by claiming that there were no beheadings of babies and that Israel had attacked the al-Ahli Arab Hospital. The opposition Freedom Front Plus party posed the following question to Pandor, “Do I hear you correctly saying that the atrocities that we are speaking about, the beheading of children, that those are fake news that it’s not true. Is that the position of the South African government I want to ask you now”. To which Pandor responded, “No, no, it is evidence that has been provided by a range of non governmental organizations. both in Israel and Palestine. Because we don’t only speak to Palestinians. We speak to peace loving Israelis as well. And we know that there’s a lot of fake news that attempts to cast Palestinians in a bad light and it has been admitted even from the White House spokesperson that that statement that was made at the highest level was actually proven not to be factual”. 

Pandor withdrew all South African diplomatic staff from Tel Aviv, and Israel withdrew its Ambassador to Pretoria, in a tit-for-tat exchange. 

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Hamas issued a statement claiming that Pandor telephoned them to congratulate them on the success of their “Al-Aqsa Flood” attack on Israel. Pandor claimed that she was merely offering humanitarian assistance but refused to release the “call out” transcript of the conversation. 

In December 2023, a mere two months after the 7 October massacre, Hamas once again visited South Africa, was feted in Parliament and celebrated in the ANC’s offices in Johannesburg.

The BDS movement (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) shares offices with Hamas in the Bo Kaap region of Cape Town, a short walking distance from South Africa’s parliament. South African Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, insists Hamas is not a terrorist organization.

Much has been written to try explain why South Africa, with all of its failures in leadership and governance, decided to spend significant amounts of its scarce resources to take Israel to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, becoming, what Israeli government spokesperson, Eylon Levy, described as “an advocate for the devil”. There may be five potential reasons.

  1. South Africa’s deep ideological commitment to the Palestinian cause, 
  2. South Africa’s deep disdain for the West and its allies, 
  3. South Africa’s attempt to regain the status of champion of human rights in the world,
  4. The ANC attempting to divert attention away from its own significant failures at home, and
  5. In all likelihood, South Africa acting as a proxy for either Iran or Qatar as it attempts to pay its debts and fill its coffers before this year’s general elections. 

South Africa is a sovereign state. It can of course do whatever it wishes. But actions have consequences. The West is becoming increasingly disenchanted by South Africa’s antics. 

Last year, South Africa’s invitation to the G7 Summit did not materialize. South Africa’s participation in the Unites States, African Growth and Opportunity Act, which grants duty free access to the US market, looks increasingly precarious together with the approximately 250 000 jobs it created. 

Concern is being raised over the future wellbeing of Jews at the bottom of the African continent. One of South Africa’s most prominent jurists was denied a place on the Constitutional Court because of his membership of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the official mouthpiece of South African Jewry.

In recent weeks, the 19 year old Jewish captain of the South African under 19 cricket team, David Teeger, had his captaincy revoked because of his support for Israel.

These events have placed South Africa’s Jewish community in a precarious position, evaluating whether South Africa can continue to host a strongly identifying Zionist Jewish community.

Having been the victims of apartheid and racial discrimination for so long, the ANC is blinded to the racism and Jew hatred it perpetuates. The victim has become the perpetrator and South Africa’s Jewish community hangs by a thread. 

Howard Sackstein is Chairman of the South African Jewish Report Newspaper, founder of the Jewish anti apartheid movement and former Executive Director of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission. Follow him on X @howardsackstein and Instagram @howie_sackstein

Photo by Den Harrson on Unsplash