As Mzimeni and Julia Tambo were celebrating the sixth day of the arrival of their son, Kaizana, in Kantilla, Bizana, in the shadow of the Engeli mountains in the Eastern Cape, some thousands of kilometers away in England the Balfour declaration was being signed.

The two events could not display a more contradictory tone. In South Africa, a freedom fighter was being born. One who would lead his people into liberation. In the United Kingdom, a foreign secretary was signing away the birthright of a people to their land while killing their determination to statehood. 

Oliver Reginald Tambo, the longest serving leader of the African continent’s oldest liberation movement, was born six days ahead of Arthur Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild, outlining the support of the British king’s government for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Therefore, in this centenary year of the celebration of the birth of Oliver Tambo, we sadly also have to painfully recall the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

While Balfour pointed out that the civil and religious rights of non-Jews living in the territory or Jews living in any other country will not be affected, the sympathy expressed in support of the Jewish state was based on Zionist colonailist aspirations. Rothschild was the leader of the Jewish community in Britain at the time.

The letter, albeit at least another thirty-one years before the Jewish state would be declared in Israel, spelt the death nail for the freedom and prosperity of the people who were living on the land when occupation took place, the Palestinians. The Balfour Declaration was act of political dispossession. 

As a result, in the year that we remember a gallant leaders for freedom and the self-determination of Black people in South Africa, we recall at the same time this travesty of international justice perpetrated against an armless people. Today the cry of struggle for a liberated Palestine is more vociferous louder.

It has become louder because it seems as if there is a normalization within the international community in respect of Palestine. We have become acclimatized to violence in the Middle East while some write it off as a conflict of religions. Yet as Madiba once said, South Africa’s freedom is not complete without Palestinian freedom. We may therefore suggest that the freedom of the Palestinian people is intimately connected with the freedom of the peoples of the world.

Today, a hundred years of the Balfour Declaration and 69 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, the cry of the Palestinians for justice grows and grows. As the international community continues to persist in other regional conflicts such as those fighting insurgents and terrorists, as South Africans, tasked by Madiba, we are to ensure that we take up the baton and keep the question of Palestine on the international agenda.

The discourse on the question of Palestine has somewhat turned into one of peace rather than one of justice. Israelis, and sadly even most governments in the Middle East region, are willing to do everything, except justice, for the sake of peace. The focus on Iran, the emphasis on the crisis in Syria and even highlighting of Daesh points to the attempt to persuade the region and international community that Palestine is no longer a factor.

It would not be incorrect to suggest that the issue of Palestine has been undermined and underplayed since the second term of the Obama administration. In the last decade, Palestine has fast been relegated to the peripheries of the concerns of the international community, when in actual fact it should be at the very heart of the duties of the international community.

The Israeli propaganda machinery is so well oiled today that when one speaks to any Israeli government official or representative they would invariably say the words: “no one longer thinks the Palestinians are an issue”. This Israeli attitude should worry us.

After a 100 years of the Balfour Declaration, sixty-nine years of the State of Israel and fifty years after the 1967 war, the Americans and the British have not been able to resolve the question of Palestine. However now that we enjoy a multi-polar world it is time for a new breed of leaders to tackle this question based on justice.

Hooked into Israeli and Western propaganda we must remind ourselves of the fundamental factors that lie at the heart of the quest for justice. This is a quest that is simple: the right of all Palestinians to return to their homeland, a free and independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Yet the reality after all these years is that Israeli aggression and destruction has been so devastating that many in the international community suggest reevaluating the two state solution.

Even more so, the international community must ensure that the quest of Palestinians, together with all people under political occupation , remains firmly on the international agenda. With a new breed of leadership, the international community must guarantee that vision of a free and independent Palestine be realized.

Fortunately, just as the stakes have been raised against Palestine in the last decade, so too has geopolitics been reconfigured. A decade ago, instruments and partnerships such as BRICS did not exist, today it does and it is a powerful bloc to be reckoned with. As a result, world leadership has gone from been unipolar to multipolar.

In this respect, South Africa, in the shadow of its internationalist icon Oliver Tambo, is well placed within this multipolar configuration to propagate the cause of the Palestinian people. As South Africa prepares to host the BRICS Summit next year, in the seventieth year of the founding of the state of Israel, our country and its leadership must use the opportunity to place Palestine firmly on the international agenda again.

The BRICS Summit held in Sanya, China, earlier this year gives South Africa this opportunity. In Sanya, BRICS leaders no longer confined themselves to issues of trade and economics but broadened their leadership role to address other issues of diplomacy, including security and human development. With this in mind, South Africa would not be out of place to suggest that the issue of Palestine be raised.

The inability of the West to lead on the question of Palestine was witnessed in the days of Oliver Tambo already. Addressing the World Conference for Action Against Apartheid, in Lagos, in 1977, Comrade Tambo said: “…the imperialist countries provide the South African racists with the latest military equipment…part of this imperialist strategy is the consolidation of ties between Zionist Israel and fascist South Africa…” 

Yet the attempt to make the quest of Palestinians irrelevant is not old, as Comrade Tambo continued, “…In the Middle East, the conspiracy is to attempt to destroy the legitimate aspirations and struggle of the Arab peoples and, in particular, the Palestinian people…”

As the ANC government leads South Africa into the second centenary of celebrating the life of Comrade Oliver Tambo, we must adhere to the example of this international icon and continue to pursue the Palestinian cause. We have a duty as former oppressed people to ask the question continuously, in the words a great intellectual giant, Edward Said “Where do you stand on the question of Palestine”.

Moulana Ihsaan Hendricks is the National Director of the Al Quds Foundation, South Africa & Kashif Wicomb is a social activist based in the Western Cape

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