Address by Deputy Minister Fransman, on South Africa’s position on Palestine, (Hewat) College of Cape Town (Athlone) on 14 July 2012

Honourable guests
Ladies and Gentlemen;

I greet you with the universal greetings of Peace.

At the outset allow me to express my thanks to all of you for honouring our invitation to participate here this morning. We are holding this briefing in the year of the centenary celebration of the oldest liberation movement in Africa and in the world, the African National Congress founded in 1912. The movement which produced some of the greatest leaders of our struggle, inter alia, Langalibalele Dube, Pixley Ka Seme, Walter Sisulu, OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela and others.

We acknowledge the fact that we are hosting this briefing here in Athlone the home of heroes and heroines of our struggle for freedom and home of great struggle leaders such as, Dulcie Evonne September, Dullah Omar and Imam Abdullah Haroon gallant South African anti-apartheid political activists along with countless others.

We also acknowledge the greater community of the Cape Flats that have sacrificed sons and daughters in the cause of our liberation and who paid the ultimate sacrifice the likes of Robbie Waterwich and Colline Williams who died in an explosion opposite Athlone Magistrates Court, Anton Fransch who single-handedly staged a heroic battle to death with the Apartheid forces not too far from here in Church Street Crawford; Ashley Kriel whose memorial we commemorated last week and who was brutally murdered in Albermarle Street, Hazendal. In the same vein we acknowledge the brave young heroes of the ‘80s who turned Belgravia Rd, Athlone into one of the most fiercest sites of struggle in order that South Africa may be liberated and take its rightful place in the global community of nations and as a vigilant voice of international solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.

On the eve of the sacred month of Ramadan, I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the Muslim community in over 300 years of struggle against colonialism and imperialism, through the decades of Apartheid and into the democratic era as we heighten the struggle for economic freedom and transformation on the one hand and as we strengthen the efforts to raise our voice as a beacon for international solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world and developing nations on the other.

Allow me also to extend on behalf of the South African government our best wishes to Muslims here in the Western Cape, South Africa and the world over a Ramadan Kareem. We take inspiration from your example of sacrifice, discipline and solidarity with the poor and oppressed in the world.

I would like to start my briefing today with the words of the celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish extracted from his poem “Identity Card” –Bitaqat Huwwiya

Write down!
I am an Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth will come after a summer
Will you be angry?

My father.. descends from the family of the plow
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather..was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house is like a watchman's hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title!

Write down!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!

Therefore!
Write down on the top of the first page:
I do not hate people
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Beware..
Beware..
Of my hunger
And my anger!

We meet at a historical juncture exactly 60 years to the day when the First Israeli Nationality Law was passed on the 14 July 1952. According to Article 18 of the Israeli Laws, The Israeli Nationality Law effectively denationalized Palestinians. It granted every "Jew" who immigrated to Israel, or, following the 1971 amendment, even expressed the desire to immigrate to Israel, "immediate" Israeli citizenship without taking any formal steps. It retroactively altered the Palestinian Citizenship Orders, stating that they had to be "repealed with effect from the day of the establishment of the State".

As South Africans we can resonate and identify with Darwish’s words written in 1964 as it echoes our own experience of the Dompas and our struggle for national liberation. As the late Dullah Omar said and I quote: it is “vital to understand that the central issue in the Middle East conflict was that of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.” The opposition is not because the occupying power is Jewish but because it denies Palestinians the right to self-determination," [close quote]

As we near the completion of the second decade of our nascent democracy we are reminded during Mandela Month that President Nelson Mandela considered the Palestinian issue as “the greatest moral issue of our time” and on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on the 4th December 1997 he said “But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” [close quote]

It is from this context that this outreach seeks to connect with you as a community of interest and one to whom the Palestinian cause is close to heart and who understand the saying ‘that if one part of the body feels pain, the entire body experiences fever and ache’.

Friends, we are gathered here this morning because the South African government has introduced public participation programmes for political principals to have direct public engagements as part of promoting participatory democracy. As transparency and accountability are key modes of good governance, public participation programmes seek to reinforce accountability to citizens as we act in the international arena in your name and on your behalf.

It is within this context that our department has embarked on these programmes, targeting non-state actors whom the department regards as having an interest in the execution of South Africa’s foreign policy, especially today in the context of the Palestinian question.

This reminds me of words of the first African Nobel Peace Laureate, late President General of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, when he opened the 42nd Annual Conference of the ANC in 1953 when he said:

“Our interest in freedom is not confined to ourselves only. We are interested in the liberation of all oppressed people in the whole of Africa and in the world as a whole... Our active interest in the extension of freedom to all people denied it makes us ally ourselves with freedom forces in the world."

The Palestinian people are not an exception in this regard. Our policy position on the situation in Palestine can be succinctly captured by the words of our President, in his address to the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly when he said: I quote

South Africa continues to support international efforts to assist the people of Palestine and Israel to find lasting peace. The decades-old struggle by the Palestinian people for a sovereign state of their own has now reached a turning point. The Palestinian Authority, backed by the League of Arab States, has stated its intention to seek UN membership for the State of Palestine. South Africa fully supports this position. It is a decisive step towards achieving lasting peace, economic cooperation and prosperity for the millions of people in the Middle East, and urge that it be viewed favorably”.(closed quote)

Friends, our policy position on the situation in Palestine is undoubtedly informed by our own history of oppression and abuse of human rights and as such, our policy position on the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) as succinctly captured by the above quote can thus be expanded as follows: South Africa has recognised the State of Palestine since 1995. We support international efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

We welcome the unity agreements that were signed between Fatah and Hamas as well as smaller parties in Cairo in April 2011, including and in Doha in February 2012. We stand firmly opposed to the blockade of Gaza, its inaccessibility with respect to humanitarian aid, and the general dire humanitarian situation that this causes. South Africa encourages a just solution with respect to the right of return

During my visit to Palestine in October 2011, along with IBSA counterparts, we participated in the official opening of the IBSA-funded Sport Stadium in Ramallah. This is in line with our belief that sports can play an important role in bringing together divided communities as we have witnessed during apartheid in our segregated townships.

We also believe in the power of cultural diplomacy and as such, the Palestinian Minister of Culture Mr Siham Mohammad Abdel Salam Barghouty accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Culture, Mr Musa Abugharbieh, visited South Africa during February 2012, on which occasion an agreement on cooperation in the field of Arts and Culture was signed with Minister Mashatile.  In March 2012, the Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs visited Palestine.

South Africa contributes financially toward the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA)- the latest contribution for 2012 amounting to US$ 243 457 and has provided diplomatic training to Palestinian officials as part of its capacity building project for the nascent state. If many of you can recall, during our struggle against Apartheid, Anti-Apartheid solidarity groups around the world, formed scholarships and support funds to train our people so that we can have the necessary skills to run our country post freedom as we are doing today.

Friends, economic diplomacy could be one of the most effective weapons of change in the Palestinian situation. Palestinians and their supporters, inspired by the economic boycott of apartheid-era South Africa, have been trying for years to emulate our success in that terrain. Until now their campaign of divestment and boycott has had negligible economic effect, but the voice of our government could be a symbolic boost. However, I am glad to inform you that our Government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry (DTI) has recently, in May 2012, released a Government notice 379 of 2012, as a strategy to apply economic pressure on Israel.

In this regard allow me to quote extensively from the South African Government notice, which was issued in terms of section 24 of the consumer protection Act number 68 of 2008, by the Minister of the DTI.

This notice require traders in South Africa, not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OTP) as products of Israel. The Open Shuhada Street org (Open Shuhada) has alleged that products of Ahava such as cosmetic brands, technology and soft drinks are being distributed in South Africa as products that originate in Israel whereas they originate from the OTP. In this regard consumers in South Africa should not be misled into believing that products originating from the OTP are products originating from Israel. The burden for providing where the products originate will lie with traders. The Government of South Africa recognise the State of Israel only within the borders demarcated by the United Nations(UN) in 1948.Such demarcated borders of Israel by the UN do not include Palestinian Territories occupied after 1967”.(close quote)

Although this initiative has been opposed by those who sympathize with Israel here at home and abroad, there are progressive Israeli forces who commended this initiative by our government. One such forces is Israeli scholar Neve Gordon who made the following comments, I quote

“South Africa's recent demand that products originating in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights remove the label "Made in Israel" is extremely significant - much more so than the European Union's decision to deny these products preferential status and subject them to customs duty”.(close quote).

Speaking about how this government initiative will empower the South African civil society, Dr Gordon is quoted as having said that” 

The recent South African decision is very different, even though it also is based on rules of origin. By requiring Israel to change the label of products manufactured beyond the Green Line, South Africa empowers its own civil society, enabling consumers to decide whether or not they want to purchase a given product. This may very well provide the necessary incentive to push Israeli companies in the Occupied Territories to move back to Israel. The South African decision not only undermines the fraudulent practice of labelling products made outside Israel as if they were made in Israel, but more importantly, it empowers consumers by allowing them to shop in a way that accords with their moral convictions. If the United Kingdom and Denmark follow suit, then other countries will also likely join the bandwagon, making it possible for international civil society to help - in concrete ways - put an end to Israel's occupation”. (close quote).

Ladies and Gentleman, since the defeat of apartheid in South Africa was not only driven by states who were sympathetic with our course, but was driven mainly by the organized structures such as the anti-apartheid movements, we need to ask ourselves what role could the South African and international civil  society play in supporting this noble Palestinian course.

In this regard, I am highly inspired by the role played by organizations such Open Shuhad Street, PSG, the MJC, Al Quds Foundation and others.

I also want to share with you an initiative as part of our practical involvement in the Palestinian cause, within the context of the centenary celebration, and in honour of our struggle heroine, Comrade Dulcie September.

She was born here in Athlone, Western Cape, South Africa. At the end of 1983, September was appointed ANC Chief Representative in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

On the morning of 29 March 1988, September was assassinated outside the ANC's Paris office at 28, Rue des Petites-Ecuries, as she was opening the office after collecting the mail. She was shot five times from behind with a 22-calibre silenced rifle. If she was here with us today, she would explain best how important international solidarity is for oppressed and dispossessed people of the world, from her experience with our very own which she fought and died for. In her honour, Municipality of Arcuille in France has established twinning with Athlone through our Embassy in Paris in 2006, which must be implemented and set an example for many of this kind with Palestinian municipalities/local authorities. This will help to promote people-to-people cooperation and economic diplomacy which my department can assist with.

We want to pursue extending the twinning relations between Athlone and Arcuille municipality in France to include a Palestinian local authority, to make a trilateral cooperation. Through our Embassies abroad, we can approach United Nations Decentralised Cooperation Unit dealing with multilateral twinning of local governments to support this proposed initiative.

Finally, I want to conclude with the closing words of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem..”Beware of my hunger...Beware of my anger.” I want to reiterate that we are committed to seeking a peaceful solution to the Palestinian question. However, we cannot remain oblivious to the hunger of the Palestinian people…hunger for peace, hunger for justice and hunger for the land of their birth as there are millions of whom long to return to Palestine.

In conclusion, our government since 1994 has consistently supported the Palestinian cause whilst increasingly putting pressure on Israel towards a just and lasting solution on a number of levels including:

  • multilateral institutions such as the UN
  • economic-
  • Travel ban
  • Operational and practical support through  capacity building to the Palestinians and
  • Intergovernmental Cultural exchange Programme
  • International Aid and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza

Our role as activists in the face of what President Nelson Mandela called the greatest moral issue of our time is to raise our voices and mobilise others to stand united in solidarity with the oppressed masses of Palestine and others in the world. For to echo Che Guevara ‘as long as there is a single human being in the world suffering under the yoke of oppression, our struggle cannot be over!

I thank you.

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