Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

We know apartheid when we see it

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“As a South African who has lived and suffered under apartheid and spent nearly thirty years of my adult life in its jails for resisting it, I can and do humbly claim to know something about the meaning of apartheid.”  Ahmed Kathrada, Cape Town, South Africa.

Graffiti artist in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo: Minhaj Jeenah/BDS South Africa)

Adri Nieuwhof, consultant and human rights advocate, reports on the recent Israeli Apartheid Week in South Africa, for The Electronic Intifada:

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week in South Africa created a stir nationwide.  BDS South Africa and other Palestine solidarity groups teamed up with trade unionists, political parties, student bodies, churches, youth organizations and activists in Gaza to reach a wide audience.

Huge billboards announced Israeli Apartheid Week.  Durban-based GangsOfGraffiti inspired fellow street and graffiti writers to create works with “Free Palestine” as the theme.  On walls in several cities, artwork appeared in support of IAW and boycott activism.  The film Roadmap to Apartheid was screened in cities and towns across the country.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli “Public Diplomacy Ministry” had sent a delegation to South Africa to “battle the apartheid label,” but Israel’s messengers failed to change the perception of many South Africans that Israeli apartheid is very similar to apartheid in South Africa.

Fatima Gabru of the Palestine Solidarity Forum described the Israeli public relations exercise as “a stalling technique so that they [Israel] can continue with what they are doing: throwing Palestinians off their land, building walls, continuing human rights abuses.”

Broad support

The Israeli Apartheid Week events in South Africa were part of a global effort to bring attention to Israel’s apartheid policies.  Last year, Palestinian students called on students around the world to “put BDS at the forefront of your campaigns and join together for Israeli Apartheid Week, the pinnacle of action across universities worldwide.”

Israeli Apartheid Week received broad support across a diverse range of political groups and national organizations in South Africa, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the South African Students’ Congress, the African National Congress, the Young Communist League of South Africa, the South African Council of Churches, Kairos Southern Africa, Kaleidoscope LGBTIA Youth Network and South African Artists Against Apartheid.

The South African Council of Churches called on all South Africans to participate in Israeli Apartheid Week.  In a press statement, SACC reminded church leaders that “Israel remained the single supporter of apartheid when the rest of the world implemented economic sanctions, boycotts and divestment to force change in South Africa.”  The statement added that Israel continues to “share a similarity with the old South Africa in implementing apartheid where all non-Jews of Palestine are discriminated against, displaced of their land and homes, and subjected to refugee camps and a permanent state of violent military rule.”

The South African Students Congress, the biggest student body in South Africa, commented: “Israel is an apartheid state that daily tramples on the rights and dignity of Palestinians.”  SASCO has officially endorsed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. “History has taught us that boycotts were instrumental in the defeat of the murderous and oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa and we believe that boycotting apartheid Israel is key to overthrowing the oppression of Palestinians.”

SASCO branches initiated a range of activities and called on students not to accept scholarships and “opportunities” for cultural exchanges of young and promising black South Africans to study in Israel, just as students rejected the tactics of co-option by the South African apartheid regime.

On an Israeli Apartheid Week speaking tour in Europe, SASCO member and BDS South Africa board member Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told European audiences about the striking parallels between apartheid in South Africa and Israel-Palestine.   He called on Palestine solidarity activists to apply similar BDS tactics to Israel until it respects the rights of the Palestinian people.

From complicity to resistance

Muammed Desai, spokesperson of BDS South Africa and co-organizer of Israeli Apartheid Week, told The Electronic Intifada that he was “thrilled, really impressed, there was such a sense of energy.”

He added: “In Port Elizabeth they packed a room of 300 people.  The mayor of Port Elizabeth, Zanoxolo Wayile, attended the event.  It is unheard of in the Eastern Cape.  Students at Stellenbosch University held a rally on Palestine — it is a step forward.”

In the past, Stellenbosch University was a bastion of support for apartheid in South Africa.  Last year the vice-rector for research acknowledged the university’s “complicity with the injustices of apartheid.”

During IAW at Stellenbosch, students organized a peace march and set up a checkpoint at the main gate of the faculty of theology.  A copy of “The Bethlehem Call” in Afrikaans was handed over to the Beyers Naudé Centre. The Bethlehem Call is an urgent appeal to take action against Israeli apartheid and support BDS activism.

The ANC and Palestine

During Israeli Apartheid Week, ANC officials spoke out against the oppression of the Palestinian people.  The African National Congress played a leading role in overthrowing apartheid in South Africa.

Ebrahim Ebrahim, deputy minister of international relations and an ANC National Executive Committee member, spoke about “Palestine and South Africa: Partners in a struggle for a better world” at an event in Cape Town.

On the occasion of the ANC’s 100th year, two ANC veterans spoke in a panel discussion on the parallels between the ANC’s history and South African solidarity with Palestinians resisting Israeli apartheid.  Speakers included Dennis Goldberg, veteran of the military wing of the ANC, and Ahmed Kathrada, former political prisoner who spent nearly thirty years in detention.

Kathrada told the audience: “As a South African who has lived and suffered under apartheid and spent nearly thirty years of my adult life in its jails for resisting it, I can and do humbly claim to know something about the meaning of apartheid.  You do not get to journey as far and as long as I have with the ANC and leaders such as Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela and not recognize apartheid when you see and experience it.”

At the Russell Tribunal on Palestine session in Cape Town last year, Kathrada said that Palestinians are “experiencing life akin to — and in many respects far worse — than what we had under apartheid in South Africa.”  He called on the ANC to further its support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and self- determination.

“We are saying that if you [Israel] continue along the road of apartheid and we cannot stop you, at the very least you will do so without our consent, our investments, economic and cultural, and without our political agreement.”

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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