South Africa’s ruling party has officially endorsed Palestine’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel, making it the first major non-Muslim political faction to throw its weight behind the nonviolent resistance movement.
The African National Congress issued a resolution in support of the boycott campaign making it a part of its official policy, and specifically called for “all South Africans to support the programmes and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”
A press release issued by activist group BDS South Africa called the move “the most authoritative endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.”
Previous moves to support Palestine’s nonviolent resistance movement from state actors have restricted their backing to the boycott of Israeli settlements, shying away from targeting the Jewish state. In September, the Irish parliament voted to ban Israeli settlement imports. Earlier this month, an Israeli newspaper reported that the EU was looking into boycotting settlement goods, after Israel defied calls to stem construction of the illegal houses.
Another clause of the resolution lashed out at Israel’s mistreatment of Africans, which culminated in the mass deportation of South Sudanese this year: “The ANC abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and request that this matter should be escalated to the African Union.”
The move is the latest in a series of actions by the ANC to pressure Israel into ending the Jewish state’s racist policies, particularly against indigenous Palestinians.
This August, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim advised South Africans not to travel to Israel “because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people.”
Palestine activists have long worked to draw attention to parallels between South Africa’s apartheid period and Palestinian repression under Israel’s ethno-religious-exclusive government system. Palestine’s BDS movement is said to be largely inspired by South Africa’s own boycott movement, which is credited with playing a major role in dismantling apartheid in that country in 1994.
South African Apartheid was declared official policy in 1948, the same year the state of Israel was created and thousands of Palestinians were expelled or put under martial rule.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. The launch followed a historic ruling at the International Court of Justice that Israel’s apartheid wall, which greatly restricts movement in the West Bank and expropriates large swathes of Palestinian land, be demolished.
The BDS movement has garnered support from activists and labor unions worldwide, as well as from a growing list of artists, including Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Santana, Cat Power and the late Gil Scott Heron.
Full BDS South Africa Press release
MEDIA RELEASE: S. Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, reaffirms boycott of Israel resolution
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), at its 53rd National Conference, reaffirmed a resolution supporting the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.
In October 2012, the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference (ISC) declared its full support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign (ISC Declaration, page 2, point 10).
Today, Lindiwe Zulu (member of the ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee and special advisor to President Jacob Zuma) announced at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference plenary session, the ANC’s official endorsement, as captured in Resolution 39 (b), of the ANC’s October International Solidarity Conference (ISC) and all its resolutions, which includes a resolution on BDS. Giving muscle to resolution 39 (b), the ANC has committed to set up a steering committee to implement these ISC resolutions.
In addition, the ANC adopted resolution 35 (g) that specifically called for “all South Africans to support the programmes and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.” In 2005 Palestinian civil society issued a call to the international community for a program and campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to be applied against Israel as a way to pressure Israel to end its violations of international law, respect Palestinian human rights and engage in fair negotiations for a just peace.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa welcomed today’s decision: “This reaffirmation by the ANC’s National Conference, its highest decision making body, is by far the most authoritative endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign. The ANC has now taken its international conference resolutions, and officially made it the policy of the ANC. We look forward to working with the ANC and specifically the ISC steering committee to expedite its implementation.”
Another hard-hitting decision on Israel that was adopted by the ANC was resolution 35 (j): “The ANC abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and request that this matter should be escalated to the African Union”. In June this year Israeli anti-African protests turned into full-fledged race riots. Israeli racism and xenophobia against Africans is shared and even encouraged by Israeli politicians including the Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said: “If we don’t stop their [African immigrants’] entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence…and threatens the social fabric of society.” Israel’s Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, has said that African immigrants “think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.” And the Israeli parliamentarian, Miri Regev, has publicly compared Sudanese people to “a cancer”.
Finally, in a blow to the Israeli lobby, the ANC also adopted resolution 35 (c) stating: “The ANC is unequivocal in its support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel.” In the build up to the ANC’s National Conference the Israeli lobby, including the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, demanded a “balanced” and “nonpartisan” rather than a decisive and solidarity role by the ANC in the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
ISSUED BY MBUYISENI NDLOZI FOR BDS SOUTH AFRICA
When thousands of miners went on strike at South Africa’s largest platinum mine, in Marikana, they were confronting not only the London-based owners, but the South African state, which since 1994 has been dominated by the African National Congress (ANC); COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions; and the South African Communist Party. This week, the full weight of the state was brought down on the Black miners, 34 of whom were massacred by police gunfire. Many of the survivors face charges of murder in the earlier deaths of two policemen and eight other miners.
The National Union of Mineworkers, whose representation the strikers rejected, and the Communist Party head in the region claim the strikers are at fault, that they have committed the sin of choosing an alternative union to argue their case for higher wages and, therefore, deserve severe punishment. They are “anarchists,” say these two allies of the South African state, and guilty of fomenting “dual unionism” – which is now, apparently, a capital crime. With a straight face, the Communist Party had the gall to call on all South African workers to “remain united in the fight against exploitation under capitalism.”
That is precisely what the Marikana miners were doing – the struggle they gave their lives for. However, since the peaceful transition to state power to the ANC and its very junior partners, the COSATU unions and the Communist Party, in 1994, the South African state has had different priorities. The “revolution” was put on indefinite hold, so that a new Black capitalist class could be created, largely from the ranks of well-connected members of the ruling party and even union leaders. It is only logical that, if the priority of the state is to nurture Black capitalists, then it must maintain and defend capitalism. This is the central contradiction of the South African arrangement, and the massacre at Marikana is its inevitable result.
The 1994 agreement between Nelson Mandela’s ANC and the white South African regime was a pact with the devil, which could only be tolerated by the masses of the country’s poor because it was seen as averting a bloodbath, and because it was assumed to be temporary. But, 18 years later, the arrangement has calcified into a bizarre protectorate for foreign white capital and the small class of Blacks that have attached themselves to the global rich. Apologists for the African National Congress regime will prattle on about the “complexity” of the issue, but the central truth is that South Africa did not complete its revolution.
The fundamental contradictions of the rule of the many by the few, remain in place – only now, another layer of repression has been added: a Black aristocracy that has soaked itself in the blood of the miners of Marikana.
South Africa remains the continent’s best hope for a fundamental break with colonialism in its new forms. But, as in all anti-colonial struggles, the biggest casualties will occur in the clash between those who truly desire liberation, and those who are intent on an accommodation with the old master.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- South African miners’ families back Julius Malema’s call for nationalisation (guardian.co.uk)
Increased police brutality and the prospect of conservative politicians using public money to sue and bankrupt organizations they ideologically oppose – these are the likely outcomes of last week’s Constitutional Court judgment against protest organisers.
In a judgment which upheld a repressive clause in the apartheid-era 1993 Regulation of Gatherings Act, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled that members of the public who suffer damages from protestors have the right to recoup their losses from whoever hosted the protest – whether the damages were caused by members of the organisation, or not.
There is no onus on the person suing the organisation to prove that the damages were caused by members of the protesting organisation – the mere fact that the damage happened during the march is enough in the way of proof for anyone to be able to claim damages from the organisers.
In May 2006, after a security guards’ strike by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) turned violent, then Cape Town mayor Helen Zille decided to sue for damages on behalf of individuals who had suffered losses from the strike.
Ever since then, the DA has been trying to get Parliament to pass their private members’ bill aimed at “holding unions liable for strike damages”. The Constitutional Court has now done their job for them, supported by ANC police minister Nathi Mthethwa who also weighed in on the side of the DA.
However, the judgment has a far broader reach. The head of the Freedom of Expression Institute’s law clinic, Mbalenhle Cele pointed out “assemblies, with all their potential for disruption, are often the only way for individuals to give voice to their grievances, and to do so effectively.” This is primarily because politicians only listen to the language of disruption. While unions normally follow the correct channels and apply for permission to hold marches, making their leaders easily identifiable as organisers, social movements and communities often protest spontaneously or together with other small organisation. If a small non-profit organisation or a refugee rights group happens to support one of these protests, will they be held responsible for damages as the easily identifiable party?
Unions survive off their members’ subscription fees and while some have made shady forays into the murky world of union investment companies, many unions have little reserve funds, using the bulk of member fees to cover legal costs and maintain basic offices. The DA’s hostility to organised labour and protestors in general is no secret.
The conservative opposition party has been unable to mount any effective propaganda campaign against the unions, which continue to organise high numbers of workers. Having failed to find a working class audience willing to adopt failed free market ideas, it is unsurprising that the DA would resort to finding means to financially cripple the unions – effectively the only way of silencing them.
The process of financially crippling the unions can now be accelerated by anyone with an interest in doing this – the DA, big business, some factions of the ANC and the intelligence services. Any of these groups can land unions with a R2 million damages bill simply by inserting undercover agents into a march with an instruction to cause damage to property. This is not a far-fetched notion – it has happened before and indeed, with a judgment like this already working in their favour, anti-union groups would be foolish not to use dirty tricks to finish the unions off altogether. The DA, big business, some factions of the ANC and the intelligence services are all aware that in marches of over five thousand workers, it would be difficult for participants to identify non-union members in their ranks, especially since the trade unions have a tradition of inviting supporters ranging from family members, neighbours, churchgoers, priests, and assorted leftists to their marches.
The judgment ignores the police track record of deliberately sparking violence during protests. In the judgment, Mogoeng said unions would not be held liable in the event of a policeman discharging his gun “by accident” into a crowd, causing a stampede. However, he made no mention of violent police who regularly go on the attack – deliberately and not accidentally – against protestors. The case of Andries Tatane, slain by police last year, is an example. The well-publicised case of the residents of Hangberg is another example.
When the people of this hillside community in Cape Town’s Hout Bay stood together to protect their long-standing community from gentrification, the police broke their own regulations by firing rubber bullets at close range into the residents’ faces, taking out the eyes of four people, and provoking pandemonium.
It is well-known that peaceful union marches are unlikely to end quietly because police normally attack the tail end of a march, or pick off a group of people on their way home who have become separated from the crowd. At a union march two years ago in Cape Town, police became extremely annoyed after workers burnt tyres across the road – even though there was no damage to property or person. The police later embarked on a chaotic armed, hunt of workers through the taxi rank – with the workers running for their lives and the police in hot pursuit, firing rubber bullets as they ran. The current culture of police brutality is likely to worsen as a result of this judgment.
The judgment also opens the way for politicians to use public money to promote their own political agendas. Mogoeng made much of the need to protect innocent bystanders who did not choose for their property or persons to be damaged. Yet in the SATAWU case, Zille said she herself instructed lawyers to sue the union on behalf of individuals whose cars and other property had been damaged during the march. These individuals received the assistance of the DA because the case dovetailed with the bill the DA was trying to push unsuccessfully through Parliament. Zille has never made a similar offer to pay for lawyers for the blinded residents of Hangberg to sue the police who shot their eyes out, and this was clearly an ideologically skewed use of public funds rather than a genuine defence of ordinary people.
The judgment also opens the way for politicians to attempt to claim damages even where nothing has been damaged. Zille was furious five years ago when 93 Cape metro police protested by travelling in a pre-planned convoy for two hours along the N2 highway, bringing traffic to a standstill. The protest was entirely peaceful yet if it happened today, the city could make an attempt to quantify the time spent by commuters in the traffic jam as money, and sue for these costs.
A similar scenario is already unfolding in Australia where unions are fined for every day of an unprotected strike. Under the guise of saving the public from “havoc and turmoil”, political leaders in New South Wales are currently seeking to fine unions the equivalent of R1.5 million for every day of a wildcat strike – raising the fine from the current R150 000 a day.
In Australia, workers are individually fined if they embark on unprotected strikes. Earlier this year, 13 companies that claimed to have been affected by a seven-day strike at a construction company sued more than 1000 Australian workers for striking. These workers were fined a total of R56 million, suspended for seven years – as long as they didn’t strike again during that time. In this case, private companies were able to argue that the strike had “disrupted work on a site of economic significance to the Australian economy”, the Australian newspaper reported last month.
The Mogoeng judgment in favour of the DA and police minister Nathi Mthethwa has clearly started South Africa down a similarly slippery slope.
Majavu is a writer concentrating on the rights of workers, oppressed people, the environment, anti-militarism and what makes a better world.
Read more articles by Anna Majavu.
The South African government is looking at plans to step up its support for Palestine. The Minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, made the announcement during a press conference in Pretoria last week to announce that a Palestinian delegation, including Mr. Mashatile’s counterpart, Siham Barghouthi, had met with representatives of the government and signed a cultural agreement between South Africa and Palestine. Plans for future cooperation include literature exchanges, exhibitions, language development programmes and heritage preservation initiatives.
In addition to increased cooperation with Palestinians, the South African government is also considering increased sanctions against Israel. “We want to step up our support of the Palestinians and are investigating a number of peaceful ways to upgrade this support,” Mashatile told The New Age Newspaper last week. “We have no problem about supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.”
This will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with South Africa’s ruling African National Congress’s long-held position over Palestine. The ANC has been a supporter of the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and independence for many years, not least, according to Mr. Mashatile, “because we count the people of Palestine among those patriots who stood by us in our struggle for national liberation”. Furthermore, legendary ANC leader Nelson Mandela said in 1997, “Having achieved our freedom we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. Yet we would be less human if we did so.”
The BDS movement succeeded in ridding South Africa of the minority Apartheid government; many prominent South Africans have therefore supported the BDS call against Israel, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former minister and freedom fighter Ronnie Kasrils.
The Palestinian delegation expressed their appreciation for South Africa’s support. “We are grateful for South Africa’s support for our efforts to become full members of the international community,” Siham Barghouthi told the press conference, “and we look to you for guidance in our ongoing struggle.”