Long before the ANC’s national elective conference in December last year, the party’s members across the country met in branch general meetings and constitutional structures, making invaluable and robust contributions to the organisational and policy debates of the conference, including on international relations (IR).
Convened under the theme of “Remember Tambo: Towards Unity, Renewal and Radical Socio-economic Transformation”, the national conference at Nasrec was the embodiment of the late Oliver Tambo’s ideal that the ANC remain a people’s parliament.
Delegates came from across South Africa to discuss and adopt policies, and our debates were enhanced by the contributions from our alliance partners, the Mass Democratic Movement, and fraternal partners from across the world, including Western Sahara and Palestine.
So it was shocking, then, to read Peter Fabricius (Why is the ANC singling out Israel?, 1 February issue) quoting claims from Zev Krengel, the deputy president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), that “none or very little attention had been given to other major international atrocities, conflicts and human rights violations” and that there was “no real debate”.
The IR presentation to plenary was one of the longest and most elaborate, covering more than 60 pages. The final declaration of the conference recommitted to the strengthening of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The conference condemned the slave trade in Libya as a crime against humanity and called on the South African government to continue working with the Libyan authorities, the AU and the international community to bring an end to this dehumanising practice.
The rise of right-wing nationalism and the growing trend towards protectionism were also discussed. We reaffirmed our solidarity with the people of Western Sahara and Cuba.
Delegates also endorsed the proposal that we must give practical support to the people of Palestine, and resolved on an immediate and unconditional downgrade of the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office.
Claims that there was “no real debate” about the downgrading are simply dishonest. The clear position of members in the IR commission was that they were fed up with the failure of Israel to respect international law.
In fact, some delegates proposed the implementation of full sanctions on Israel, while others proposed targeted sanctions. To suggest that ANC policies were not adopted in plenary is ignorant.
What transpired in the IR commission was captured and presented by the committee to the plenary, which then debates and resolves on the resolutions. The position of the plenary and the Congress declaration are consistent in this regard.
The claim that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has “captured” the ANC is patronising. For over two decades, the ANC has pleaded with Israelis and worked with them – together with local groups – to ensure that injustices do not continue.
Instead, Israel has continued to violate international law, the occupation continues and the brutality of the Israeli system of oppression has – rightly – been likened to apartheid.
Today, there should be no doubt that Israel is an apartheid state and, in the words of former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, it is fast turning into a fascist one.
Those opposed to the downgrade resolution must remind themselves that the victory over apartheid was gained through widespread international condemnation of the South African regime – despite the fact that there were evil regimes in many other corners of the world at the time.
The world does not have to wait until all other conflicts and brutality around the globe are solved before it can take action against Israel.
Some South Africans argue that the world should not intervene in Israel’s internal affairs. Such an argument ignores the fact that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is an international issue between two nations.
The international community should have intervened a lot more in the past 50 years, and does not intervene enough at present. This is why Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine has grown and thrived.
At a state banquet hosting the now late Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, then-president Nelson Mandela noted the supporting role played by Palestinians in the liberation of the people of South Africa despite not possessing freedom themselves.
This recognition was important, said Madiba, as it showed the immense sacrifices that Palestinians made – even placing the liberation of others above their own.
In that same tribute to President Arafat, Tata Madiba went on to state that “South Africa is proud to be part of the international consensus affirming the right of Palestine to self-determination and statehood.”
Similarly, the ANC is proud to reaffirm its unwavering, steadfast commitment the Palestinian people and their liberation struggle.
Delegates at the ANC national conference have sent Israel a clear message: “Fifty years of ‘temporary’ occupation is too long. The rights of Palestinians must be realised, the occupation must end.” It is time for Israel to listen.
Sanele Nkompela was a voting branch delegate from the Western Cape at the ANC’s national elective conference at Nasrec, in Johannesburg.
This article originally appeared in the 1 March edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.