On Palestine, in South Africa the truth has a tongue
This week I felt truly proud to be a South African. Our Minister for International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu told me in a one-on-one interview that human rights remains the basis of our foreign policy, and is what will drive us when we intervene on issues.
Finally our foreign policy is returning to what Madiba envisaged, where human rights are “the light that guides our foreign policy".
I have renewed hope that South Africa will once again become the moral compass in the world – which is exactly what Sisulu wants – she said so specifically in her budget speech on Wednesday.
To those pundits who have already called her remarks “empty”, I would say to them that this week Sisulu put her words into action in a decisive and brave way. South Africa was one of only three countries to recall their ambassadors from Israel, and stand up to Israel in the face of its brutal massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. The other two were Turkey and Ireland. This was not an easy decision to make, as the pressure from lobby groups is immense, but it was a stand taken on principle, that South Africa will not allow Israel to flagrantly violate human rights with impunity.
This bravery likely comes from the fact that Sisulu was one of those in the trenches, part of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in exile in Swaziland, risking her life at a time when ANC cadres where being bombed and kidnapped from Swaziland in the 1980s. She understands what liberation struggle is all about, and in those years she expected governments of principle to stand up to the apartheid regime and take tough decisions to isolate the apartheid regime in the face of its onslaught on the liberation movements. For the South African government to do any differently now would be hypocrisy. Sisulu is a reflection of the revolutionary internationalism that is alive and well in the ANC.
Just as India’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri said, “There comes a time in the life of every nation when it stands at the crossroads of history and must choose which way to go.” Our government has chosen which way it wants to go – and it has chosen to stand on the right side of history.
The government has started the process of implementing the resolutions taken by the 54th ANC National Conference, and there is little doubt that the government will implement the ANC resolutions in full.
In recent months I have taught my children about the significance of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, where 69 unarmed demonstrators against the apartheid regime where slaughtered, many of them shot in the back. It was a bloodbath so similar to what we saw in Gaza this week. I have explained to them how this massacre represented a turning point in South African history, which led to the formation of MK, as the ANC realised that peaceful demonstrations were only being met with slaughter.
The irony this week was that the slaughter of almost as many unarmed Palestinians in Gaza, protesting against 70 years of brutal occupation, has only renewed the commitment of Palestinians to peaceful rolling protests, Gandhian style. The question is how many more Palestinians will go to their graves, and how many more children will they bury before they return to armed struggle?
Many right-wing Israelis love to perpetuate the narrative that the demonstrating Palestinians are nothing but terrorists, all Hamas supporters who want to drive the Israelis out and establish a Palestinian state from the river to the sea.
That sounds so familiar. I remember growing up under apartheid and hearing racist white South Africans saying that the people demonstrating against apartheid were nothing but terrorists, ANC supporters who wanted to drive white South Africans into the sea.
Actually Hamas is not a terrorist group, it is only labelled so by Israel and the United States, just as the US labelled the ANC a terrorist group and not a liberation movement. According to the UN, Hamas has every right to resist occupation, and that is what it has been doing by sending useless rockets into Israel that rarely even land on their intended targets.
Hamas may have previously had a charter which wanted all of historic Palestine back for the Palestinians, but as of May 1 last year, Hamas released a new document whereby it accepts a two-state solution along the 1967 borders, thereby giving up their claim to 78% of historic Palestine.
Since the protests against Israeli occupation began seven weeks ago, Israeli forces have killed over 111 demonstrators and seriously injured 12,733. Not one member of the Israeli security forces has been killed and only one slighted wounded. We are standing up and calling a spade a spade, as in South Africa the truth has a tongue.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.