Pulse Media


The South African Connection

This article was published in Le Monde Diplomatique this month. This is a translation provided by Middle East Online. The original is seemingly only available to whoever is willing to buy the newspaper (me for example!).


As an activist who fought apartheid, and as a communist and a Jew, was sensitive to the Palestinian issue from early on. In February 2004, when he was a minister, he visited Yasser Arafat, surrounded by the Israeli army at his headquarters in the Muqata complex in Ramallah. “Arafat showed me the view from the window saying ‘this is nothing but a Bantustan!’ I replied: ‘No! No Bantustan has been bombed by warplanes, pulverised by tanks… the South African government pumped funds, constructed impressive administrative buildings and even allowed Bantustans airlines so as to make them recognised by the international community’.”


Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, who teaches at the University of Haifa, explained the paradox: “One can detest Jews and love Israelis, because Israelis somehow are not Jews. Israelis are colonial fighters and settlers, just like Afrikaners. They are tough and resilient. They know how to dominate. Jews are different. They are, among other qualities, gentle, non-physical, often passive, intellectual. So one can go on disliking Jews while admiring the Israelis.”

Cooperation began between two states that seemed to have nothing in common. Moshe Sharett, the Israeli foreign minister, made his first visit to South Africa in 1950. In November 1984, when the UN had decided on sanctions against the apartheid regime, South African foreign minister Roelof Frederik “Pik” Botha visited Israel. Yitzhak Rabin was then Israel’s prime minister. Le Monde wrote of the “close ties between the two countries” and noted that Israel was the only country in the world to have relations with the puppet Bantustans, some of which were even twinned with Israeli West Bank settlements.


Ronnie Kasrils believes that, beyond the obvious differences between the two systems -- Israel for example doesn’t need an indigenous workforce and has granted the vote to its Arab minority -- there are pronounced ideological similarities: “The early Dutch pioneers, the Afrikaners, had used Bible and gun as colonisers elsewhere. Like the biblical Israelites, they claimed to be ‘God’s chosen people’ with a mission to civilise.”