Southern promises

Published January 15, 2024
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

WHY South Africa? Of all the 195 countries that make up this world, why was it this nation that took Israel to court for its genocide of the Palestinian people?

Unlike the Muslim and Arab countries, South Africa has no real ethnic, cultural or religious affinity with Palestine and — unlike the Arab states — is located over 7,000km from Gaza. Why then did South Africa take on the Zionist state when those much closer — in all senses — to Palestine have chosen to remain silent spectators to mass murder?

The answer lies in history and in the shared experience of brutalisation by a white supremacist settler regime that prides itself on apartheid and bloody repression. Israel was created in 1948, the same year that the apartheid regime came into force in South Africa.

This coincidence aside, both states soon recognised that their status as white settler colonies established at the expense of local populations made them brothers in arms. This unholy dalliance officially began in 1953 when Daniel Malan, the prime minister of apartheid South Africa, conducted an official tour of Israel, which marked the beginning of a very close alliance.

In years to come, the alliance grew stronger with both apartheid nations learning from and supporting each other in repressing their respective native populations. Palestinian population centres were cut off from each other in much the same way as South Africa created ‘Bantustans’, powerless black African statelets meant to ensure the exclusion of blacks from the South African political system.

The similarity was acknowledged and celebrated at the highest levels, with South African PM Hendrick Verwoerd, known as the architect of the Bantustan project, himself saying “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”

And while Israel would loudly condemn apartheid on international forums the reality was that it considered South Africa a kindred nation, with Israeli general Rafael Eitan saying that South African blacks “want to gain control over the white minority just like the Arabs here want to gain control over us… And we, like the white minority in South Africa, must act to prevent them from taking over.”

Keeping these populations in check was also a shared priority and Israel would provide anti-riot vehicles, weapons and training for the forces of white South Africa; in the ‘80s hundreds of Israeli military advisors were stationed in South Africa while Pretoria’s troops were training in Israel.

The Israeli lobby spared no effort to demonise Mandela.

Israel also helped their ideological cousins develop a nuclear programme, with Pretoria finishing at least six nuclear bombs, all of which were later dismantled when South African president F.W. De Klerk abandoned the nuclear programme in an effort to rehabilitate South Africa’s global image.

Speaking of image, Israel often ran interference for South Africa in an effort to insulate their ally from foreign pressure, setting up a ‘Joint Secretariat for Political and Psychological Warfare’ in 1975 to conduct “propaganda and psychological warfare,” as part of a well-funded bilateral campaign to rehabilitate South Africa’s international image.

But every action has a reaction, and as Israel cosied up to apartheid South Africa, the Palestine Liberation Organisation deepened its ties with Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

Just as South Africa’s white supremacist PM was one of the first major heads of state to visit Israel, one of the first leaders Mandela met on his release from jail in 1990 was none other than Yasser Arafat, who also asked Mandela’s advice prior to the Oslo Accords. Mandela him­self remained a lifelong supporter of the Palestinian cause and famously remar­ked that “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Pales­tinians.”

It was no em­­pty slogan; throughout his life, Mandela repeatedly referred to the moral and material support, help and solidarity that the PLO, and the Palestinian populations, historically extended to the freedom struggle of black South Africans.

As a result, the powerful Israeli lobby sp­­a­­red no effort when it came to demonising Mandela and the ANC, with the Israeli-ba­c­k­­ed Anti-Defamation League condemning the ANC as “totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American.”

Israel’s greatest ally and partner in crime, the US, played a malign role as well, with strong evidence indicating that the CIA played a part in tracking Mandela’s movements and leaking that information to the apartheid regime, leading to his 27-year-long incarceration. Mandela himself remained on the USA’s terrorist watchlist till 2008.

Today, we see history come full circle, with the sons and daughters of those who struggled against oppression and injustice in South Africa seeking to free their Palestinian brothers and sisters from the shackles of a murderous regime.

The writer is a journalist.

X: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2024

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