It is said that the two most misused words in the entire English vocabulary are love and friendship. South Africans, Africans and almost every human on the face of the planet loved President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and extols his name in the remotest parts of the world. We collectively revere his sacrifice, celebrate his leadership, and honour his sage-like wisdom. There are moments though that I catch my breath in amazement at those who profess to love him, yet espouse values and act quite the contrary.
Such a moment occurred a few days before the United Nations unveiled a statue in my grandfather’s honour. When the story broke that the South African Ambassador Sisa Ngombane had surreptitiously and “quietly” returned to Israel all hell broke loose. The flood of protests in the public space and on social media undoubtedly jolted our Department of International Relations and Cooperation. A quick retraction followed denying that the recall was over despite a very convivial letter from DIRCO to the State of Israel published in the Israeli media indicating the contrary.
President Mandela is loved and revered by all but I have not experienced such a profuse outpouring of love, reverence and respect than the day I pitched up unannounced at a market place in Al Khalil – Hebron on the occupied West Bank. The very eyes of children and elders alike sparkled with joy. It was undoubtedly Madiba’s principled stand on the Palestinian struggle that had earned him this respect. The man himself had said of his relationship with Comrade Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi that “we are not merely friends but brothers in arms.”
Why was the “no-recall” greeted with so much anger and protest? Nearly 10 months of waiting for the South African government to implement the ANCs 54th NGC resolution calling for the “immediate and unconditional” downgrade of the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv and parliament passing a motion supporting the resolution, no action had been taken. After being the darling of public opinion for making the announcement, DIRCO was seen as acting contrary and a disgrace to the celebrated legacy of the father of our nation and his courageous stand.
Since the passing of the resolution in December 2017, there has been unrelenting pressure from civil society structures such as BDS that has seen unprecedented mass protests nationally in support of the downgrade and widespread condemnation of the continued killing spree by the brutal Apartheid Israel regime over the past few months.
We believe that the return of the South African Ambassador is ill-considered, counter intuitive and sends the wrong message to our people. Whilst we are celebrating the unveiling of busts and statues in his honour, how about living his legacy and fighting for the causes he fought for; upholding the values that he espoused? There can be no greater insult to the man who proclaimed for all the world to hear that the “Palestinian struggle is the greatest moral issue of our time” than to turn our backs on those who stood with us and supported our struggle during the darkest days of Apartheid.
Whilst we are encouraged by DIRCOs clarification that “The conditions that prompted the recall of our Ambassador to Israel for consultations in Pretoria have not changed” and continue to applaud the decisive leadership of Minister Sisulu in this respect, it is high time that South Africa implements the downgrade resolution unconditionally and with immediate effect. We are on record stating that we believe that the only moral response to Apartheid Israel’s continued acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing in occupied Palestine is a total shutdown of diplomatic relations and a complete trade and cultural boycott.
As long as the brutal Apartheid Israeli regime continues its murder of innocent women and children, the arrest of thousands of political prisoners, the denial of the right of return of 6 million refugees and the daily expansion of illegal Apartheid Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, we have no business in rewarding Apartheid Israel with returning our Ambassador and normalising relations.
We salute the United Nations for recognising the momentous contribution of President Nelson Mandela to world peace, human rights and conflict resolution. Let the monumental statue at the UN Headquarters be a daily reminder to world leaders that the causes that he championed such as self-determination for the peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara and Kashmir remain as yet mere resolutions and lip-service whilst the oppression and suffering persists daily.
We must in this year in which we commemorate the Nelson Mandela Centennial Celebrations (1918-2018) ensure that the world remains ever present to the cries and pain of the people of Syria, Myanmar, and Yemen, and remember Madiba’s words that ‘as long as there is one human being suffering anywhere in the world, our struggle is far from over.”
Mandla Mandela is an MP and Member of the Pan African Parliament (PAP).