Welcome Remarks by Ms Nomaindiya Mfeketo, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation on the occasion of the Palestinian Forum for Dialogue, Cape Town, 24 July 2016

It is to me a great honour to welcome this gathering of distinguished personalities and committed anti-colonialists.  As President Jacob Zuma declared when President Mahmoud Abbas visited our shores two years ago, Palestinians must regard South Africa as their liberated zone.  This is where they retreat to re-group after a fierce battle.   It is also here that they re-strategise for battles lying ahead.  I, therefore, welcome all our Palestinian friends to their liberated zone.

As South Africans we feel honoured to be chosen to host such an important gathering of Palestinians – an event destined to forever remain as a milestone in the history of the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination and statehood.  This is a gathering of Palestinians to look at their own future from different perspectives.

As South Africans we are here, not to instruct or influence the outcome.  We strongly believe that a solid outcome is a home-cooked one.  Ours is to share our experience and provide advice where it is solicited.  We accept that there are as many opinions about the Palestine/Israel conflict as there are interested people on the subject.  Nevertheless, our experience has taught us that the only effective opinion will come from Palestinians and Israelis.  The rest of the world can only support and encourage them.  This was the point that we emphasised at the Paris Conference on Israel/Palestine last month.

In South Africa we hold the view that the road to peace in the Middle East must start in Israel/Palestine before branching elsewhere.  Of late the world community is focussing on a range of conflicts and problems emanating from the region and elevating them above the Israel/Palestine conflict.  What has happened, tragically, is that whilst they try to solve one problem, another one springs up.  This will continue ad infinitum because we have diverted from the core of the problem in the Middle East, namely, the Israel/Palestine conflict.  We aren’t saying the other conflict spots must be ignored, but that we must never take our eyes away from the original source of the problems in the region.

Since my appointment as the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation two years ago I’ve met scores of politicians and scholars, some of them self-confessed supporters of the Palestinian cause, saying that much as they agreed with us that the Israel/Palestine conflict is the core, countries can, however, maintain normal and thriving relations with the State of Israel without compromising the struggle of the Palestinian people.  We have refused to embrace that position based on our own experience.  You cannot maintain normal and thriving relations in an abnormal environment.

Casting my mind back to the early eighties, I remember that when we declared the decade of the 1980s as the Decade of Liberation, we stressed the point that the unity of the oppressed was sacrosanct.  We then declared 1982, which was the 70th anniversary year of the ANC, as the Year of Unity in Action and the following year as the Year of United Action.  During those two years we worked on the unity of all the oppressed South Africans irrespective of political orientation.  By August 1983 they had organised themselves into what was known as the United Democratic Front (UDF).  Historians can tell you how our mass struggles intensified under its leadership.  Within a year the youth under the UDF had organised itself into the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) and trade unions converged into COSATU, and traditional leaders came together under CONTRALESA.  Once we were united like that no state of emergency could stand on our way to freedom.  Police and prison cells were converted into struggle boardrooms where plans were hatched.  Our struggle became a tsunami. 

This is a message we carry to our Palestinian brothers and sisters today.  No force, no matter how strong, can stand on the way of a united oppressed people.  Different organisations are not a problem, irrespective of their number.  The key is unity in action.  Not unity for the sake of unity but united action of the oppressed.  The deciding factor is not the sophisticated might of the Israeli Army and its MOSSAD but it is the united force of the oppressed.  The countless powerful friends of the State of Israel are the same people that supported and protected the Apartheid regime but they changed tune when the tsunami of our people was sweeping Apartheid away.  Even those, who in 1982 had declared the Apartheid State as a “war-time ally”, were heard in 1986 condemning Apartheid and calling for change.

I therefore, welcome you all to our country and to my home town.  We are just here to express our support.  We are here to urge you to continue the fight.  We are here to encourage you to take on your enemy as a united force of the oppressed.  We have brought in experienced cadres of our movement that carried the liberation torch throughout the 1960s right up to and beyond 27 April 1994.  They are here to assist where you require their assistance.  They will not say anything unless you ask them to say something because they acknowledge that this is a gathering of Palestinians about Palestine.  Non-Palestinians can only speak when they are asked to.

Welcome to your Liberated Zone.  I wish you all the success in your deliberations.  May the two-state solution be realised in our lifetime.

I thank you all.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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