Representatives from South African civil society, trade unions and the ANC Youth League met with President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday at his official residence in Cape Town to discuss the country’s reaction to the situation in occupied Palestine. The 90-minute meeting was convened in response to growing protests by South Africans across the country, including a 150,000-strong protest march in Cape Town held under the banner of the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P); this was the largest protest march to ever be recorded in post-Apartheid South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians and their disgust at Israel’s unlawful and inhumane attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip.
President Zuma heard the call and case for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, as a non-violent form of constructive engagement to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of human rights and international law. The groups taking part also pushed for the recall of the South African ambassador from Tel Aviv and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Pretoria as forms of diplomatic protest.
During the meeting, the president listened carefully to all the views presented by the various organisations, which included the aforementioned NC4P, BDS South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the African National Congress Youth League, People Against Suffering and Oppression (PASSOP), the Young Communist League of South Africa, the University of Cape Town Students’ Representative Council, Minara Chamber of Commerce, Kairos Southern Africa, the Muslim Judicial Council and StopTheJNF, an organisation founded by Jewish South Africans committed to justice and rights for the Palestinian people. Attendees expressed their desire for the government to listen to a growing alternative Jewish voice to the one that is normally heard, which blesses and encourages the Israeli attacks against Gaza. For his part, Zuma explained the role that South Africa is trying to play diplomatically; he acknowledged the demands made by the delegation and did not dismiss them. His willingness to engage was made clear by the fact that this was an initial meeting, with another planned in just over a week.
Those present agreed that the engagement was carried out in a comradely fashion and that the president was willing to work with South African civil society towards finding a long-term solution to achieve peace and liberation for the Palestinian people. Indeed, President Zuma made it clear that South Africa stands by the people of Palestine.
While the talks are taking place, civil society will continued to keep up the pressure on the South African government and businesses which support Israel through mass mobilisation, public protests and the specific advancement of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign.