On Tuesday, Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, suspended his Health Minister, Mpho Phalatse, for falsely claiming that the City of Johannesburg was a “friend” of Israel. Phalatse, a Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Health and Social Development for the City of Johannesburg, declared on Sunday: “…the City of Johannesburg is a friend of Israel.”
Phalatse made the comments at the South African Friends of Israel Conference. The event was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. Strategic Affairs Minister, Gilad Erdan, finds South Africa’s support for the Palestinian liberation struggle and its national liberation movements “deeply disturbing” and has focused his Ministry’s efforts and finances on various propaganda initiatives aimed at undermining the South African Palestine solidarity movement and curbing the growing boycott movement against Israel in South Africa.
Johannesburg: a friend of Palestine
Far from being a friend of Israel, Johannesburg stands firmly in solidarity with occupied Palestine. South Africa’s economic hub signed a twinning agreement and a memorandum of co-operation with the occupied Palestinian city of Ramallah. In April 2016 – as an expression of South Africa’s solidarity with the people of Palestine – Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau, unveiled a six-metre high bronze statue of struggle icon Nelson Mandela. The statue, an official gift from the City of Johannesburg, stands at the newly-renamed Nelson Mandela Square in the Al-Tireh neighbourhood of Ramallah.
In suspending Phalatse, Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba, said on Tuesday that he was disappointed that she had attributed her personal beliefs to the City of Johannesburg.
Apart from being suspended as MMC, Phalatse also faces legal action from her own political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). DA provincial leader, John Moody, has referred the matter to the party’s Federal Legal Commission for investigation. Speaking to South African media, DA Member of Parliament and leader of its youth wing, Yusuf Cassim, said that Phalatse’s statements undermined, not only the values of the DA, but of South Africa as a whole.
In welcoming Mashaba’s decision to suspend Phalatse, spokesperson for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, said: “Friendship with Israel is a direct offence to our constitutional values. Israel doesn’t respect the sovereignty of Palestine as well as its right to self-determination. Until they end their military and colonial occupation of Palestine, we can’t be friends!”
The South African branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel also hailed the move to suspend Phalatse.
Israel’s recent massacre of over 100 unarmed protesters in Gaza during the Great Return March has angered the South African public and government. In response, South Africa withdrew its ambassador to Israel. South Africans have frequently compared Israel’s occupation of Palestine to apartheid practices in pre-1994 South Africa.
Africans reject normalisation with Israel
Mpho Phalatse joins a growing list of African politicians who are being held to account for normalising relations with the Israeli regime, and unconditionally supporting Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians.
In May, two senior Angolan diplomats were fired for attending a gala dinner hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to celebrate the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Envoys from other African countries that participated in the event were sharply criticized for betraying Africa’s legacy of anti-colonialism and undermining the Palestinian liberation struggle.
“Kenneth Kaunda would be quite disappointed,” wrote Nigerian trade unionist and human rights activist, Owei Lakemfa, referring to Zambia’s presence.
Tanzanians have also criticised their government’s decision to open an embassy in Israel. “ “Palestinians are dying every day, and yet Tanzania is opening an embassy in Israel without even bothering to condemn the killings. This is contrary to what Mwalimu Nyerere stood for, and he must be turning in his grave,” said Tanzanian MP, Joseph Mbilinyi.
“African states have no right to abandon our Palestinian brothers and sisters simply because they have been promised a bowl of beans by the Zionist government. The freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people is worth more,” wrote Tanzanian advocate, Jenerali Ulimwengu.