Oliver Tambo celebrated; Israel "more inhuman" than apartheid South Africa, ANC conference told
by Adri Nieuwhof
The African National Congress (ANC) is broadening its support of the
Palestinian-led BDS movement. (BDS South Africa.)
In October, the African National Congress celebrated the legacy of its
one-time leader Oliver Tambo, who helped set up a successful international
anti-apartheid movement. Palestine was a hot topic at several events honoring
Tambo, nine years after his death.
One such event was held at Wits University in Johannesburg. Ebrahim Ebrahim,
the ANC’s head of international relations, told participants that Oliver Tambo
“would travel the world engaging with students, unions, churches and other
formations convincing them to divest and end their support for apartheid South
Ebrahim added: “However, the international anti-apartheid movement and
sanctions campaign was also shouldered, taken on and defended by thousands of
ordinary citizens from numerous countries around the world. Today, there is a
similar international civil society solidarity campaign in support of the
Palestinians against Israeli policies and practices of occupation and
aggression. The ANC fully supports this international movement to pressure
Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution”
(“Celebrating Oliver R Tambo: messages of support from the African National
Congress,” BDS South Africa, 26 October 2012).
Ribbon Mosholi, the ANC’s international relations manager, had experienced
Israeli aggression in 2010, when she led a South African delegation to the West
Bank. The delegation was attacked with tear gas and sound bombs, and shoved
around by Israeli police in Ramallah (“South African delegation to Palestine
attacked by Israeli police,” Congress of South African Trade Unions, 10 December
“We must respond”
In her speech, Mosholi reminded a packed hall that “the Palestinians face a
far more violent and inhuman situation. Palestinians have asked for our
solidarity and we must respond.” She referred to the call made in 2005 by
numerous Palestinian organizations for a global campaign of boycott, divestment
and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Referring to the core message of the BDS movement, she said the aim is
toward: “Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and
dismantling the apartheid wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the
Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting
and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and
properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194: these are not unreasonable
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi from BDS South Africa at the international solidarity
conference in Pretoria. (BDS South Africa.)
The main tribute to Tambo involved the staging of an international solidarity
conference in Pretoria. Its final declaration condemned the continued occupation
of Palestinian territories by the Israeli government and called for a
Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its
capital. The participants called on the UN Security Council to show leadership
in halting the expansion of Israeli settlements and the harassment of
Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. The conference also expressed its full
support for the BDS campaign (“Tshwane Declaration,” African National Congress,
28 October 2012 [PDF]).
The conference was supported by the Congress of South African Trade Unions
and the South African Communist Party, with a number of representatives from the
Palestine Liberation Organization in attendance.
Significantly, the PLO went a step further than its official policy of
advocating a boycott of goods produced on Israeli settlements. Hashem Dajani, a
PLO representative, strongly supported the wider BDS call.
Asked about his thoughts about the progress of BDS activism, Ebrahim Ebrahim
told The Electronic Intifada that “as the government of South Africa we have not
advocated officially for a boycott of Israeli goods or sanctions against Israel.
However, we have discouraged high profile visits to Israel unless it involves
the peace process. And our government proposed that goods from settlements
should be labeled correctly.
“BDS is a very powerful instrument in the hands of solidarity groups. We
think this should come from civil society. It is like the anti-apartheid
movement, governments had to take action as a consequence of their pressure.”
Ebrahim suggested that trade unions can refuse to handle goods going to or
coming from Israel, while civil society can pressure shops and supermarkets that
sell Israeli products. Students at universities and churches have a role to
play, he continued, mentioning recent divestment initiatives by US churches from
companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation.
“There should also be a move of activism for sanctions against Israel.
Economic, academic and cultural sanctions are important. One of the biggest
successes [in our anti-apartheid struggle] was the sports boycott; and South
Africa was kicked out of the the rugby federation,” he added.
“Once civil society gets active it will be easier for governments to respond.
They can say that our constituency demands it [action] from us. BDS will
definitely make a difference in the fight for liberation of the Palestinians.”
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.