Vaal man combating Holocaust denialism with year-long #WeRemember campaign
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Clive Mashishi has dedicated 2021 to fighting Holocaust denialism in the Vaal area, in southern Gauteng, starting this week. It’s the second time he's done this. The first time was last January, when he commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi German concentration camp.
He had six banners made which were put up in Evaton and Sebokeng, including one across the R57 bridge to Sasolburg. Three of them were emblazoned with #WeRemember, the international call to action. The other three were more specific about what should be remembered. Not one of them stayed up longer than a fortnight.
This week, he’s preparing to launch a year-long campaign, starting with nightly film shows of the Boy in Striped Pyjamas in informal settlements, off a trailer-mounted cinema screen drawn by a bakkie.
“People will be able to stay in their houses and watch it from there,” he explains. The foundation that bears his name will also be ramping up its awareness campaign. There’ll be more banners going up too this week, while an advertising campaign on the local Hope FM community radio station has already begun.
His motivation for this latest campaign, he says, was the rise in anti-Semitism he said he observed in the Vaal area during lockdown, especially the distribution via WhatsApp as well as physical copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the hoax texts that claim to be proof of the Jewish takeover of the world and which spawned the Jewish hatred in Europe at the end of the 19th century, culminating in the Nazi genocide 70 years later.
This time, the Protocols were being used to blame the pandemic and the lockdown on a Jewish plot to collapse the economy and take over the world. Last year, after his initial campaign, which also included social media elements with people posting selfies of themselves holding up #WeRemember posters they’d made themselves, he was invited to be a delegate to the virtual World Jewish Congress.
“I have lived my whole life in Vaal, I know Jewish people. I know Afrikaners. Zone 7 in Sebokeng, where I grew up is called Israel. My father called me Clive after his Jewish boss. My grandmother worked her entire life for a Jewish woman,” he says, “what we are told in townships by politicians isn’t my experience or the experience of many others who grew up with me.”
Mashisi first read the Protocols of Zion himself in 2013. After finishing school in 2006, he’d joined his uncle’s construction business before taking a job helping to build the Kusile power plant in Mpumalanga, where he became involved in politics, ultimately becoming a union shop steward.
He realised though that what he really wanted to do, was work in his own community. He tried politics, joining the ANC and then the DA when it began trying to woo township support, before finding a home for a short time in the EFF, where he became a local organiser. It was then that he read the Protocols for himself. It sparked the beginning of his personal disillusion with South African politics.
“I had grown up being told all about socialism and communism and how capitalism was bad, how white people and especially the Jewish communities were rich people wanting to take all the wealth for themselves.
“I realised that we had grown up with the wrong narrative, especially here in the Vaal.” He credits his mentor, Arkins Mothale, for his change in outlook, especially since Mashishi lost his father just before he finished Grade 12. “He saw that I was always asking questions. He taught me about politics and hope. He told me to sit and wait to find out who I was.”
The reason for the #WeRemember campaign this year is steeped in the findings he made during lockdown when he was running a soup kitchen and distributing food parcels with the 15 volunteers that work with him.
“I would ask people what they knew about the Holocaust and the Jewish community. Many don’t know about it at all. Those who have heard about it, think it is a lie to win sympathy.
Sunday (March 21) is Human Rights Day in South Africa, commemorating the Sharpeville Massacre, which occurred only 20km away. The Vaal region suffered a litany of human rights atrocities in the 1980s during the death throes of the apartheid regime, including the Boipatong and Nangalembe massacres. Two-and-a-half weeks’ later is Yom Hashoah, or International Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 7.
Mashishi wants to do whatever he can to prevent any massacre or genocide ever occurring again, especially not what happened in Rwanda in 1994 – the year South Africa became a non-racial democracy.
“My aim is not to make people love Jews or the Jewish community, but just to make sure they know the full story when they make up their minds. They need to know about this community in the South African context and what they have done for all of us.”