Jaya Josie, advisor, China Africa Center Zhejiang University International Business School (ZIBS), Adjunct Professor, University of the Western Cape and University of Venda
On New Years Day 2024, South Africa lost one of its most internationally celebrated photojournalists, Peter Magubane, who captured through his lens the atrocities and everyday horrors of life under apartheid in South Africa. Peter Magubane was 91 years of age and, he was given an official provincial funeral in Johannesburg, the home of his most iconic pictures.
Many people paid tribute to this great journalist and freedom fighter. From the, President of South Africa, members of his family and his colleagues in the world of media. Magubane recorded the history of the South African struggle from the Treason Trial in the 1950s to the Sharpeville Massacre in 1961 and, and the Soweto Massacre in 1976.
The liberation movement sent a delegation to China and the Bangdung Non-Aligned conference in Indonesia in the 1950s. It was the Sharpeville Massacre in 1961 that led to the ANC decision to form an armed wing, Umkontho we Sizwe (MK), and launch an armed struggle against the vicious apartheid regime.
Peter Magubane’s pictures of the Sharpeville Massacre raised the alarm internationally of the brutality of apartheid. While many of the Non-Aligned countries in world supported the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, China was one of the countries that was not only outraged by the massacre it was also the country that received the first group of MK freedom fighters for training in the armed struggle.
Following the 1976 massacre of school students in Soweto, once again it was Peter Magubane’s picture that brought the horrors of apartheid to the eyes of the international community.
And once again China responded by opening its doors to the young freedom fighters for training. In his media statement in August 2023 President Xi Jinping alluded to the first contacts and bonds of solidarity in the 1950s and 60s and 70s that the ANC had with the Communist Party of China (CCP) and, together with the President of South Africa, called on the countries to continue and build this relationship going forward.
In 2023 President Xi also highlighted the importance of the justice and security, developmental and civilizational initiatives for multilateralism to succeed. The current state of geopolitical tensions in the world from Europe to the Middle East casts an international shadow of gloom and despair as we move into 2024.
Although the funeral for Peter Magubane was indeed a sad event, his life was a testimony to role of individuals who dedicate their lives to recording history and ensure that records remain as part of global civilization for future generations. Like the holocaust and other honorific massacres, the barbarity of apartheid in all its past and current manifestations must be exposed as part of our past that we do not want to see repeated as part of our current and future civilization.
When President Xi proposed the Justice and Security, Developmental and Global Civilizational Initiative in 2023, he did not envisage that humanity will have forgotten the horrors of the recent history and once again embark on staining the initiatives with new horrors and massacres that we witness today.
Despite the Initiatives having been welcomed by the international community because it promotes justice and security, development and respect for the diversity of civilizations and common values of humanity and people-to-people cooperation, we are seeing a repeat of the international horrors that do not show respect for justice and security and common values of humanity.
We also see developmental initiatives being compromised in most obscene images of death of children, women and men and, destruction of basic infrastructure and iconic civilizational monuments that were built thousands of years ago and that symbolizes ancient Palestinian and Middle Eastern civilizations.
China and South Africa have a strong commitment to preserving justice and security in the world and, both have worked tirelessly to give meaning to multilateralism by using the United Nations. In his eulogy at Peter Magubane’s funeral President Ramaphosa paid tribute to a great journalist who not only recorded the atrocities of apartheid South Africa but also reminded the world that journalists are being killed in the Gaza and in Palestine in general.
He reminded the audience that the images of the famous photojournalist exposed the lie of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The President also reflected on South Africa’s case of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians in the Gaza.
He said that South Africa is on the side of humanity and against the injustices suffered by the Palestinians through the illegal occupation and the wholesale massacres in Gaza by Israel forces. At the United Nations China has also come out strongly against Israel’s disproportionate response.
Both countries are committed to justice and security for the Palestinian people and, both countries call for a ceasefire and for all people to live in peace and security in a land where civilizations evolved and should now learn to live in peace and harmony.
There has been the expected backlash against South Africa and China for their positions on Israel’s response in the Gaza. Although South Africa took an unequivocal stand against the Hamas attack on Israel, the country is being accused of siding with Hamas in its case at the ICJ.
South Africa and Israel are both signatories to the ICJ statues against genocide and, according to South Africa, it has every right to proceed with the case. China has also come under attack for opposing Israel’s disproportionate response in the Gaza. A recent article in Foreign Affairs (8 January 2024), an international relations journal, argues that China has an agenda in opposing Israel.
It suggests that as most of the countries in Global South supports the Palestinian people China is trying to win over these countries to its side. The attacks on China and South Africa imply that the countries are exacerbating the conflict rather than supporting peace.
The arguments present China and South Africa as the guilty parties in this conflict and do not address the issues of the illegal occupation of Palestine, the right to Palestinian self-determination and Israel’s disproportionate response.
Furthermore, both China and South Africa have an unflinching commitment to multilateralism and the resolution of international conflicts through the United Nations and other international organs. The initiatives for justice and security, civilization and development can only be sustained in a multipolar world where the principle of multilateralism is of outmost importance.
The argument against China is puerile to say the least, as there is already a growing Global South antipathy towards Israel and the West in general and the Global South does not need China to motivate them. In fact, there is ever growing support in the Global South in favour of South Africa’s case at the ICJ and more Global South countries declared their support for South Africa’s case.
China’s position on the matter has been of no consequence and, in fact, has been mild compared to some of the more radical positions of the countries in the Global South. At the funeral of the internationally renowned Peter Magubane, the President of South Africa, reminded his audience that in the same way the famous photo journalist exposed the injustices of apartheid South Africa, so too will the images that are emerging from the war against Palestinians will expose the new form of Israeli apartheid against the people of Palestine.