The people of Palestine and South Africa share a common history

A tattered flag flies over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office two days after President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton announced that the State Department would close the PLO office in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The plight of the people of Palestine is of great importance to South Africans as we have ourselves both experienced the horrific evil oppression of Apartheid and the incredible selfless support and solidarity from the international community.

We are both an important friend to the Palestinians and a strategic ally. Our historical friendship with Palestine was developed by Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat and the then exiled ANC president, Comrade Oliver Tambo. This was later solidified by president Nelson Mandela who was unapologetic in our support of the Palestinian people. Tata Madiba explained:

“The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own. We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others faces. Yet we would be less than human if we did so. It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.”

The struggle of the Palestinian people is not only a David and Goliath fight for freedom, its is also a test of our humanity. The endless displacement and land grabs by Israel remind us of our own past. Sadly Israeli, the Israeli lobby, and countries which support Israel, have no regard of property rights of the Palestinians. We as government have withdrawn our ambassador to Israel, one of several countries to have done so in response to Israel’s increasing violations of international law. We also have numerous MOUs with Palestine and Palestinian cities, in fact, the city of Johannesburg, under the then leadership of Mayor Parks Tau, signed a twinning agreement with the city of Ramallah. However, we have not done enough. To quote, President Mandela: “We are proud of the modest technical assistance that our government is offering Palestine… but the various discussions with our counterparts in Palestine are an indication that we can do more.”

In the year that we celebrate the centenary of Mandela, we should re-commit ourselves to his legacy and his allegiance to the Palestinian people. We should continue to show that South Africa cares about human rights and international law. We cannot stand and watch as the dispossession of Palestinians continues with impunity.

As the South African Government, we will do what we can, and events such as these are important on, firstly, putting pressure on us but also for us to ensure that we are moving with the pulse of our people. When we as government forge MOUs with the Palestinian people or withdraw our ambassador from Israel we are doing this due to the impulse coming from the streets of our country – this event forms part of the that impulse and I would like to celebrate each one of you here today.

Let me also take this opportunity to acknowledge the artists that are increasingly supporting the Palestinian struggle and solidarity movement. There is a growing list of South African entertainers like Kagiso Lediga, Riaad Moosa, Joey Rasdien, Tumi Molekane, Simphiwe Dana, Lebo Mashile, HHP, Nina Hastie and many others who have come out in recent years in support of the Palestinian struggle. They are, in turn, joined by international actors and entertainers including Mark Rufallo, John Cusack, Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Lupe Fiasco, Harry Belafonte, Penélope Cruz, Danny Glover, and others who have either cancelled Israeli gigs, voiced support for Palestinian solidarity initiatives or embarked on other similar initiatives.

On the academic front, in our own country, the University of Johannesburg in 2011 terminated its relations with Israel in protest against Israeli policies of Apartheid. Various student government bodies and SRCs have taken the lead with adopting academic boycott of Israel resolutions. And late last year Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) officially endorsed the BDS academic boycott of Israel.

Our ruling party, the ANC, for its part, at an NEC level, has resolved that “Companies that do business in the Israeli occupied territories, such as Capegate, G4S Security and Caterpillar must not be allowed to business with [the South African] state.”

The ANC’s NEC, our highest decision making body, also resolved to: “join the call for a cultural, academic and education boycott of Israel including travel bans for members and leaders of the ANC, the Alliance, Members of Cabinet, Members of Parliament and Government Officials.”

In addition, the ANC resolved last year, at our most recent congress, to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel.

These measures in South Africa are in tandem with efforts elsewhere across the world. There really does seem to be a turning point on the issue of Palestine-Israel. From within my own portfolio in Government, as Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, I note, together with other colleagues, for example, the growing number of municipalities, cities, counties and councils that have in the last year adopted various resolutions in support of Palestine and the boycott of Israel. These include Ireland’s capital, Dublin, Chile’s southern city of Valdivia, three Italian city councils and more than 30 local municipalities in Spain.

One of the nations that assisted us during the darkest days of Apartheid was the people of Palestine, long before it was fashionable. Our support for the Palestinian cause is thus not a favor but a duty.

The ANC and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) share fraternal bonds, as we struggled against racism, colonialism and oppression. We shared resources, training camps and a joint commitment to ensure each other’s liberation. Mandela commented in 1999: “I sincerely believe that there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)….”

The people of Palestine and the people of South Africa share a common history with President Mandela saying: “The histories of our two peoples, Palestinian and South African, correspond in such painful and poignant ways”.


Andries Nel is the Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the Republic of South Africa