Dear Ms Duarte,
I’ll always remember the winter of 2010 with fondness. The vuvuzelas buzzing on street corners and the bright colours of our flag displayed everywhere from car mirrors to people’s faces had me in a state of constant elation. I still remember how I swelled with pride when I watched Bafana Bafana – our Bafana Bafana – play. It did not matter that they did not make it far into the tournament. They played their hearts out and they did us proud. In fact, they did something far more important than winning the World Cup: they managed to show us as a nation how united we are, only 16 years into democracy.
This, Ms Duarte, is the South Africa I am grateful to call my home: a country where we have been able to take hands and build a better future for everyone, in spite of our differences. We are a shining example to the rest of the world.
I light of this, Ms Duarte, your statement regarding the current situation in Gaza saddens me. Because it is harsh and one-sided, it has the potential to break down and cause division rather than to edify.
Many South Africans have strong ties to either Israel or Palestine. Some ties are based on ethnicity, others on faith, and others simply on a deep conviction of what we feel is right and just. Some sympathise primarily with Israel because of the conviction that the Holocaust has proven that the Jewish people need their own homeland and because of the continuous hostility that Israel and the Jewish people face; others sympathise just as deeply with Palestine because they feel the Palestinians are being oppressed without good reason and that Gaza has been turned into a type of Bantustan.
I am sure, Ms Duarte, that you will agree with me that the matter is not simple. Analysts and columnists have written volumes debating it from various angles. So, for the Deputy Secretary General of our ruling party to issue a statement that condemns Israel’s attacks on the terrorist organisation of Hamas, in response to increasing rocket fire from Gaza, in the strongest terms and even insinuates that Israel’s actions can be compared to those of Nazi Germany, without mentioning a single word about any undesirable actions on Hamas’s part, and to call upon all South Africans to express our agreement with such a statement, is not a very constructive step. Because we have such a mixture of loyalties, sentiments, and convictions in South Africa regarding the situation in the Middle East, it is completely unrealistic to expect of all South Africans to support the Palestinian cause without any consideration whatsoever of the Israeli side. In fact, such a statement has the potential to invoke feelings of anger, frustration, and negativity in South Africans who may be supportive of or sympathetic towards Israel, and to cause division in a society that is already made up out of such a variety of viewpoints, opinions, and beliefs.
The amazing unity that we experienced in 2010 would never have happened if we had not been able to focus on what binds us together as a nation. In that case it was loyalty towards and love for a country we call our own, and support for our national soccer team. With regard to the situation in Gaza, I believe that we are bound together by the hope that the violence will end and a win-win solution will be found – and of course by the fact that our hearts are bleeding for every innocent victim.
So may I suggest, Ms Duarte, that a more appropriate statement would have focused on expressing heartfelt condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one in the violence and on expressing the hope that the conflict will be resolved soon. Such a statement could also urge both sides to take even more steps to prevent the loss of life, especially civilian life. A statement like that would have had not only the potential to motivate both Israel and Hamas to work towards a solution, but also a positive effect on our own society, in that the vast majority of South Africans would have agreed with it wholeheartedly.
Finally, please remember that there is a fine line between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. I believe that this has been illustrated by the anti-Semitic quote shared by Rene Smit a few days ago. Ms Duarte, let us not forget that our country’s sad history includes shutting our borders to European Jews wanting to flee Nazi persecution shortly before the Holocaust began. (The day I became aware of that fact, was the day I lost the last remaining ounce of respect I had had for the old National Party.) Let us also not forget that the Jews are a minority both in our own country and in the world, and that anti-Semitism did not begin with the Holocaust, but has been a constant threat to the Jewish people since ancient times. Ms Duarte, please show us that our democratically elected government completely distances itself from anti-Semitism.
Let us show the world that the democratic South Africa is a nation that knows how to stand together, protect all minorities, and fight against all atrocities. I am confident that we can do this.
Ena du Plessis