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Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

International relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor is fundamentally concerned with one international issue above all others, what she calls “the ongoing flagrant abuse of the human rights of Palestinians” (“SA-Israel relations cannot be business as usual, says Pandor”, January 19).

In her view this places “a moral responsibility on SA to act”.

It is remarkable that Pandor is able to command such exclusive action from the ANC government above a territory smaller than our beloved Kruger National Park, while remaining deafeningly silent to the cries of Ukrainians in 2022 and numerous other serious human rights issues in Africa and around the world. Moreover, she blames Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians, and absolves all responsibility and agency from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. 

The department of international relations & co-operation and SA public should hold Pandor accountable for her statement. Our government certainly does have a moral responsibility to act decisively to assist global communities when it comes to the protection of human rights, especially when they are being abused at a rate only South Africans could begin to comprehend. 

The UN has confirmed that 170 deaths were recorded as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2022. While the loss of innocent lives on any side of a conflict is tragic, the vast majority of those casualties were Palestinian militants. By contrast, according to the office of the high commissioner for human rights, more than 6,900 civilians were killed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. It is estimated that 408 of these fatalities were children.

This is utterly devastating, though we are no strangers to this level of violence in SA, where more than 7,000 citizens were murdered in just the second quarter of the 2022/23 financial year. Tragically, more than 550 of those deaths were children, according to the national crime statistics report released by police minister Bheki Cele in 2022. 

Of course, it is easiest for the government to deflect attention someplace else. SA’s foreign policy appears to be singularly limited to Israel bashing. This position prevents our country from playing any meaningful role in finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The ANC government’s obsession with Israel also precludes us from benefiting from the changing landscape of the Middle East and Africa. The Abraham Accords, where peace and normalisation has been achieved between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Morocco and Sudan in Africa, has in effect ended the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

More countries in the Middle East and Africa could follow suit in 2023. The Negev Forum working group recently concluded groundbreaking meetings between these countries, focusing on food security, water technology, clean energy, tourism, healthcare, education, coexistence and regional security. Does SA want to be left out in the cold, and lose out on the advantages of these strategic partnerships?

Back home, our foreign policy decisions are irrational. ANC international relations committee chair Lindiwe Zulu recently confirmed that the ANC had resolved to simply not take sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. She added that it would also be supporting China in its dispute with Taiwan. But the ANC went further.

Its January 8 anniversary statement called on Western governments to end sanctions on global human rights abusers such as Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. The ANC has a remarkable willingness to be on the wrong side of history just so long as it retains its Cold War friends. 

The ANC could be positioned to act as mediators between warring factions, people and states given its own experience of pain and suffering at the hands of a political authority that abused SA human rights in ways we are only beginning to come to terms with today.

The collective trauma suffered by millions of South Africans should have left us at war with one another for decades — and yet, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela the ANC was able to do something fundamentally extraordinary. It shifted people’s perceptions of one another in a way that enabled us to see we are all South Africans and that this territory is home to everyone residing within its borders.

Different religions, traditions and languages were not barriers to our social cohesion, but rather a celebration of our diverse, yet collectively shared humanity. The ANC under Mandela taught us that we are who we are through other people.

This political leadership changed the trajectory of the conflict present in our country, and as such our country is in a strong position to assist other states with doing the same. But when Pandor turns a blind eye to almost all international human rights violations to discriminate above Israel one cannot help but wonder what has happened to the ANC and its international credibility.  

If the abuse of human rights is the starting point for Pretoria’s commitment to assist foreign states with local causes, where is the SA initiative on Ukraine or many other conflicts closer to home? Will we stand by idly while Russia continues to put hundreds of Ukrainian children in early graves? Why have we not seized the opportunity to become world leaders in changing perceptions and illusions that alienate human beings from one another?  

Our country should seek to apply its foreign policies with uniformity, and show a degree of courage and leadership at the same time. SA holds the presidency of the Brics bloc in 2023 —  will we use this position of leadership to hold Russia and others to account? Or will the ANC government continue to pick and choose its moral responsibilities based on its nostalgic political relevance of yesteryear?  

Polvin is national chair of the SA Zionist Federation.

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