South African Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande believes that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is worse than what South Africans had suffered under the apartheid regime.
“I always tell people you cannot understand what the Palestinians go through unless you have been there,” Nzimande said Wednesday night during a panel discussion at the University of Johannesburg.
He recalled being sent by the South African Communist Party (SACP) to the Palestinian territories in 2002.
“Israel uses water as a weapon of war,” Nzimande told a huge audience who attended the event. “They switch it off for days.”
He said Gaza felt like a ghost city when he visited it back then.
The South African delegation, Nzimande recalled, could hear bombs and strikes which was unusual for them.
“We must also condemn the hypocrisy of the United States government,” said the minister, who is also the SACP general secretary.
“The SACP is of the view that we should expel the Israeli ambassador and recall our ambassador back home,” he added.
Nzimande insisted that the conflict in the Middle East is a human rights issue not a religious conflict as often portrayed.
He said they were concerned that some Christian groups in the country were being mobilized on that basis.
Asked by a member of the audience why the South African government remains quiet while some of its citizens serve in the Israeli army, the Minister vowed to raise the issue with his government.
But he also encouraged members of the various Palestinian organizations in the country to seek audience with the government.
“Our own view is, South Africa’s freedom shall remain incomplete until Palestine freedom is achieved,” Nzimande asserted.
The higher education minister congratulated the University of Johannesburg for cutting ties with an Israeli university.
He said he strongly urges other educational institutions to reconsider their ties with institutions in Israel.
The panel discussion was themed “Academic freedom in higher education: Apartheid South Africa and current day Israel as case studies, with a particular focus on the academic boycott.”
Nzimande also called on South African universities to consider starting a center for Middle East studies perhaps in partnership with a Palestinian university.
The higher education minister said he believes the center could help academics and students to broaden their understanding of the Palestinian struggle.
Renowned Israeli academic, historian and activist Ilan Pappe, one of the panelists, believes the Israeli occupation will be defeated like the apartheid regime in South Africa.
“Apartheid South was defeated by the moral consciousness of the people. This is what Israelis know and fear,” he told the audience.
“Moral values of human rights are stronger than F16s,” said Pappe who lives in exile due to his academic work and support of the Palestinian struggle, in particular his championing of the academic boycott of Israel.
He is currently a Professor of History at Exeter University in the UK as well as the Director of the European Centre for Palestine.
Pappe insisted that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel was a non-violent, humane movement against racism in the 21st century.
“We need the governments of Africa, Latin America, and south East Asia,” he said. “We have heard enough of the USA, they have brought destruction.”
The academic told the audience not to confuse the American people with their government.
“There are many Americans, including Jews, who are marching against Israeli atrocities,” said Pappe.