Dear Mr President,
This is my second open letter to you. I am a naturalized South African of Palestinian origin. I earned a PhD from the University of Johannesburg and lectured at the-then Vista University in Soweto and University of Johannesburg. The lessons that I learned from your struggle against apartheid are a torch in my life and an inspiration to all the Palestinian people in their fight for freedom, justice and equality.
It is with a sense of deep dismay and growing anger that I watched and heard the South African Ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, during a press conference to welcome Leigh-Anne Naidoo back to South Africa after she was kidnapped in international waters by the apartheid Israeli state. Ambassador Ngombane seems to have developed a very close relationship with the Israeli state during his four years in Tel Aviv, and, alas, appeared to be a representative of that state, or the long-dead apartheid regime, rather than a representative of your post-apartheid South Africa!
He seemed not to be aware of the meaning of the statement read out on behalf of the South African government which said that the ‘grave situation in Gaza had been compounded by the Israeli blockage and was not likely the consequence of Palestinian actions in the West Bank.’ He instead was adamant in his support of Israel, claiming that the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza was a ‘war’ that broke out as a result of Palestinian actions in the West Bank. This is like saying that the oppressed Black South Africans were responsible for the Sharpville massacre!
When the better-informed South Africans at the press conference objected to his misrepresentation of the facts, he refused to listen and insisted on presenting what is clearly an Israeli narrative of events in Palestine – a narrative that paints Palestinians as terrorists and foreigners in their own land. This is a man who has clearly been brain-washed by his proximity to Israeli power because his behaviour is otherwise unfathomable to Palestinians. How can an African man, who grew up under apartheid, and spent years in Israel not recognise apartheid against Palestinians? A long line of South Africans from Ronnie Kasrils to Desmond Tutu have given detailed accounts of the similarities between apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa, even going so far as saying that what we experience today in Palestine is far worse than what South Africans experienced!
We have since learned that Ambassador Ngombane had not even tried to meet with Leigh-Anne Naidoo while she was illegally held in an Israeli jail. Her brave journey to Palestine to show support to the people of Gaza during this ten year mediaeval blockade that we have endured has strengthened us; a siege that has been condemned by the UN and main-stream Human Rights organizations as a form of collective punishment. It has reminded us that there are people who remember the injustice with which we live and who stand by us as we resist and demand that we get our land back.
Ambassador Ngombane showed us his lack of neutrality and his rejection of both the stand taken by the South African people and your government in being explicit about the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. He is an embarrassment to you, your government, the people of South Africa and the legacy of your struggle for freedom and equality – a moral struggle that inspires us in our own struggle in Palestine.
We ask that you remove Ambassador Ngombane from his position as he does not represent the policies of your government. We ask also that you do not replace him with another ambassador but rather finally–like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia– cut all diplomatic ties with the racist Israeli state. This was your call to countries around the world when you lived under apartheid – and your call was heeded by freedom loving people around the world. We live today under the same yoke of apartheid and call on you to support us as we continue to fight back against the daily dispossession that we endure. End diplomatic relations with Israel – there is no justification for your presence because it says that you support land grabs, ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, racism and apartheid.
Is this the legacy that you want to leave? Is this what you want South Africa to be remembered for?
Choose Leigh-Anne Naidoo’s courage, bravery and commitment to universal values of equality and humanity rather than Ambassador Ngombane’s racism. Choose to stand up and be counted in the struggle against Israeli oppression: today it is actions like the women’s boat and BDS that show us all what solidarity means.
You, comrade Zuma, have the power to do even more: cut diplomatic ties with the only remaining apartheid regime in the world now!
-Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator, analyst and academic from the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestine. He is a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel as well as Policy Advisor at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.