South African Cabinet minister started a 24-hour hunger strike at 6pm on Sunday in solidarity with the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners. Picture: Nasser Nasser/AP

Johannesburg – A number of South African cabinet ministers went on hunger strike on Sunday night at 6pm. It is the first time in contemporary South African history that a significant portion of the country's cabinet is going on hunger strike to show solidarity with a cause they fervently believe in. 

The symbolic act is in support of the 1,100 Palestinian political prisoners who are on Day 29 of a hunger strike that began on April 17th, in protest against detention without trial, solitary confinment, abuse by prison officials, denial of access to lawyers and families, and inadequate medical care. The prisoners have only been consuming salt and water, and many are now in a seriously compromised state of health.

'What the Palestinian political prisoners are going through reminds me of our own struggle against apartheid, as we used hunger strikes as one of the instruments to fight the system,' Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told Independent Media. 'I am concerned about the prisoners going without food for so many days as it will be affecting their internal organs, and could lead to death. When I was a student in 1981 we used to count the days Bobby Sands was on hunger strike in prison in Northern Ireland, and he eventually died,' Motsoaledi said.

Among those members of Cabinet who are set to join the hunger strike are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Aaron Motsoaledi, Ayanda Dlodlo, Naledi Pandor, Rob Davies, Ebrahim Patel, Nomaindia Mfeketo, Buti Manamela, Enver Surty, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Fatima Chohan, John Jeffery and Bongani Mkgoni.

Winnie Mandela, who has oft been called 'Mother of the Nation,' told Independent Media that her wish is that 'We sit and think of all those mothers who are going on a solidarity hunger strike for their sons in Israeli jails, who have struggled for so long for the liberation of Palestine.'

At the age of 86, Robben Island veteran Laloo Chiba is determined to participate in the hunger strike. 'I am convinced that those who support the Palestinian struggle will be willing to sacrifice their meals for 24 hours to boost the morale of our comrades in Palestine who have been without food for almost a month,' Laloo Chiba has told the nation.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has responded to the current hunger strike saying, “I take the approach of Margaret Thatcher,” in reference to the former British prime minister who notoriously allowed Irish hunger strikers to die in prison. Some Israeli citizens have responded by holding a braai outside one of the Israeli prisons to taunt the hunger striking political prisoners. The Israelis said that the prisoners “will enjoy breathing in the smoke and suffer from the smell of the meat, and [we will] show them that we will not give in to their whims.”

'When we launched the first hunger strike on Robben Island in 1966 it was the most vicious period for political prisoners in Robben Island's history. But never did our tormentors punish us by putting us in solitary confinement during the hunger strike as the Israelis have done to many Palestinians. We were never taunted with food in any of the hunger strikes we carried out during my 18 years on the Island,' struggle veteran Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim has said.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has added her voice to the cause by pledging to join the hunger strike, as has ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Deputy SG Jessie Duarte, President of COSATU Sidumo Dlamini, Allan Kolski Horwitz of SA Jews for a Free Palestine, and media personality Hajra Omarjee among many others. The ANC, EFF, SACP, and UDM are supporting the hunger strike.

There are currently 6500 political prisoners currently being detained in Israeli jails, over 500 of them held in administrative detention, which is equivalent to South Africa's detention without trial. At least 300 children are being held, some as young as 13, and in the past year alone, Israel has arrested more than 400 Palestinians for social media posts.

Independent Media