Can the South African experience be a guiding force? It could and should
By Ostern Tefo
Several anti-Israel activists, including BDS (Boycott Divest Sanctions) and others, boldly assert that Israel is an Apartheid state, when such allegations could not be further from the truth. Misguidedly, this has led to a South African foreign policy exclusively geared to favour one side – Palestine. As a result of erroneous perceptions, this has created a complex and divisive viewpoint.
Ruling oppressively in Gaza, Hamas has no interest in achieving peace in the sense of parties arriving at a mutually agreeable consensus. This not in its DNA. As long as this remains the case, the predicament of the Palestinian community must be regarded as the product of both Hamas’ rule over Palestinians in Gaza as well as the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Conflicts can be resolved if both parties are willing to do so. The latter is well illustrated by the success of the South African liberation struggle which resulted in a successfully negotiated settlement that birthed democracy and above all, “peace and reconciliation”.
Israel has repeatedly attempted to initiate peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, but each time has been violently rebuffed. It would be inaccurate to compare the struggle for democracy in South Africa to the Palestinian struggle for independence. They are not remotely comparable. To say that “Israel is an Apartheid state” solely in an effort to delegitimize Israel, ends up delegitimizing the definition of Apartheid. It is an abuse of the word and hence an abuse of the people who suffered under Apartheid.
It is critical for a number of reasons that South Africa not only maintains but strengthens its diplomatic relations with Israel. South Africa is on its knees with:
– its rolling blackouts
– the world’s highest unemployment rate
– poor access to healthcare
– grey listing
– a murder rate that is higher than the death toll in Ukraine at present.
All this, when my country, South Africa, could greatly benefit from Israel’s rapidly expanding entrepreneurial economy with its emphasis on hi-tech innovation. South Africa could profit from a number of Israeli solutions which is presently being used to solve problems in much of African.
So, why not South Africa?
Take the South African healthcare system for starters, which is in tatters and compare it to Israel’s superlative National Healthcare System. There is no comparison!
Every resident across Israel, whether in cities or small towns in the countryside is insured for quality healthcare under their National Health Insurance Law. While South African health care accessibility remains poor in rural areas and there are problems retaining physicians in the public system, surely South Africa could learn from the Israeli system.
Then there is Israel’s drip irrigation technology popular in much of Africa. Tailormade for dry terrain or lands plagued by unreliable water resources, the Israeli system allows villages to grow more food with less water, which not only dramatically improves food security but also economic development and financial independence. Israel, a far more desert country than South Africa with much less rainfall, is now water independent. South Africa should welcome the Israelis instead of driving them away!
In terms of “loadshedding”, our all-consuming national catastrophe of widespread national blackouts of electricity supply that began in 2007 and is worse today in 2023, why not speak to the Israelis who have revolutionised solar power and energy?
Instead of the South African parliament dumbly voting this March 2023 to downgrade ties with Israel, it should be doing the opposite. It should be strengthening not destroying ties!
Ultimately, we have to come to terms with the fact that Israel cannot be prejudiced for defending its sovereign policies and the interests of its people, and Palestine must take responsibility for the attacks on Israel carried out by Hamas and other extremists. South Africa’s refusal to maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel motivated solely by the conflict, exposes its bias and prejudice because Palestine also commits a fair share of unprovoked aggressions against Israel.
To preserve the true legacy of the South African experience of reconciliation and share it with others that they too can benefit, South Africa’s foreign policy should be consistent, and above all, its leaders need to display impartiality and non be biased.
Since COVID-19 broke out, the South African economy has continued to contract. In contrast, Israel’s economy is still expanding.
We have much to learn and gain by deepening our relations with Israel. South Africa stands to gain far more from a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with Israel than Israel does and yet, we behave abysmally towards Israel. All to our detriment and suffering of our people.
In essence, one cannot dismantle the fact that the benefits of the association outweigh the costs. Thus, it would be in the best interest of the South African to restore full relations with Israel and encourage partnerships to the mutual benefit of South African and Israelis.
About the writer:
Ostern Tefo has a BA in Political Studies and International relations and is currently studying for his LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand. He serves as a coordinator at ‘Africans for Peace’, a collective of independent students, scholars and activists who bring an African lens to the global debate on peace and stability on the African continent.
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