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Cyril drops Bantustan bombshell at African Union Summit

  • cyril ramaphosa
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa insisted that Donald Trump’s much-awaited peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reminded him of the “Bantustans” (so-called homelands, fractured territories established for black South Africans by the apartheid regime).
by STEVEN GRUZD | Feb 13, 2020

“As I listened and read about the US [United States] plan, it brought to mind the horrible history of South Africa,” said Ramaphosa on Sunday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as he accepted the 2020 chairmanship of the African Union (AU) at its summit. “The apartheid regime imposed a Bantustan system without consultation … it sounds like this plan hasn’t consulted all the people who matter. It sounds like a Bantustan type of construction.”

These words sparked an angry reaction from South Africa’s Jewish communal leadership.

His remarks, and those of other African leaders, demonstrated that in spite of Israel’s considerable wooing of Africa (including last week’s surprising diplomatic rapprochement with Sudan), Afro-Arab solidarity seems rock solid.

“It’s regrettable that South Africa has chosen to use inflammatory, misleading, and divisive labels that turn it from a potential mediator into a partisan player. This reduces South Africa’s ability to show international leadership on the issue at the AU,” said the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) in a joint statement.

The umbrella organisations said the US plan “should be seen as an opportunity to restart this peace process that has been dormant for too long”, and that for South Africans to play peacemaker, “they, too, need to engage with and have the trust of both parties”.

Among other elements, the US plan reaffirms Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and denies the right of return of Palestinian refugees. It encourages Israel to annex settlements and the Jordan Valley, and offers the Palestinians land in the Negev Desert near the Egyptian border. It proposes tunnels and bridges to link Gaza to the West Bank.

African and Arab states have always been close, and most AU summits include pledges to the Palestinians and high-level Arab representation. However, this time, the stinging criticism focused on Trump’s “deal of the century”.

The first to slam the plan was Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the AU Commission. He said the “US-Israeli plan” had not consulted Palestinians, and was “in violation of UN [United Nations] resolutions and … trampling on the rights of the Palestinian people.” He said far from bringing peace, it would heighten tensions in the region and Africa.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the 22-member League of Arab States, took aim next. After acknowledging deep bonds of friendship between African and Arab states, he applauded AU backing for “the right of the Palestinian people to end Israeli occupation.” He was confident that Africa would “continue to support the Palestinian people to refuse and reject this unfair deal”. He hoped for closer co-operation at the March 2020 Afro-Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Mohammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister of Palestine, standing in for Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), also lauded long-standing links. “Palestine is proud of the support by the AU,” he said, adding, “There isn’t one single ally to the US” on the plan. “Palestine will be torn apart. We will live in Bantustans, with the regime of apartheid that you [African states] struggled against!”

He then shouted, “Palestine is the Holy Land! Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem – a Palestinian city! Mohammed ascended to the sky from Jerusalem! That is where Christians and Muslims live for peace and justice!”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he failed to mention any of the more than six million Jews that just happen to live there too.

Sara Gon, the head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations, speculated that Ramaphosa might have made the apartheid comparison due to the influence of the African National Congress’ allies in Hamas, the PA and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, as well as the strong, public anti-Israel bias of Naledi Pandor, the minister of international relations and cooperation.

“They could have fed it to him. I very much doubt he would have read that much of the plan itself. He is also to some extent falling into line with the many Muslim countries in the AU, and is going with their anti-American line.” She said any plan would probably have been rejected by the Arab world that wants to take over Israel “one way or the other. It’s about supporting friends and leaning hard”.

Dr Glen Segell, research fellow at the University of Haifa, said it’s far from a done deal. “The Trump peace plan requires a detailed mapping process that is taking place. Once completed, the goal is for Israeli and Palestinian representatives to negotiate. The immediate success of Trump’s initiative is the return to negotiation. Now everyone needs to be positive and serious. And listen to each other.”

Segell said that Abbas met former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in New York on Tuesday, and said he was willing to return to the negotiation table. “He rejected a 2008 deal, and now wants to resume where they left off.”

But veteran journalist and anti-apartheid activist Benjamin Pogrund, who now lives in Israel, told the SA Jewish Report, “President Ramaphosa is correct. If it happens, Israel will indeed be party to creating its own version of Bantustans. Subjugation of Palestinians under the ‘deal of the century’ will establish Israel as an apartheid state.”

The SAJBD and SAZF were adamant, saying, “South Africa’s assumption of the chairmanship of the African Union … provides it with a unique opportunity to play a leading role in contributing to conflict resolution, both on our continent and internationally.”

They also felt strongly that Ramaphosa’s comments “serve only to polarise the two parties, which makes resolution more difficult. We reiterate again our belief that South Africa should play a role in bringing both sides together and not further apart as both parties need to be integrally involved in negotiations.”

The Netanyahu government has made much of its outreach to Africa. Israel offers expertise in agriculture, high tech, water, security, solar power and more to Africa. Links are strengthening. The prime minister has flown to Africa four times since 2016, with reciprocal visits by several African leaders. In April 2019, Israel opened an embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Israel and Sudan have begun tentative talks on restoring ties.

It is yet to shatter Afro-Arab unity though. This makes Israel’s quest for AU observer status – once held with the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity – all the more important. Otherwise, it allows the anti-Israel narrative to go unchallenged.

3 Comments

  1. 3 Les Levine 13 Feb
    I have read the retort of our President against the Trump proposal.
    Firstly someone should tell our President that theses were purely proposals,.....easy to critisize.
    Instead of spewing negativity and causing  division, make some positive suggestions.
    Secondly ,our President should concentrate on his own problems at home ,many of which I can list also list with pernicious negativity , but as a Senior citizen of this country I would hope he would be the man we think he should be and take some radical action to improve the ills of this country
  2. 2 Steve Marks 13 Feb
    SA and the most of the AU live in poverty stricken, third world conditions far be it for them to even comment on a conflict that has been in existence since before Africa was dotted with grass huts. SA and Ramaphosa and the ANC have no credibility or intellectual capital or acumen to even weigh in with an opinion. My advice to Cyril and his band of merry idiots is to put their stones down ( like the Palestinians) and recuse themselves from further embarrassment. Israel does not need the amateurs polluting this ANC government. Fix your own backyard Cyril. Leave the Jews to look after themselves. We don’t need you. 
  3. 1 Steve Marks 14 Feb
    SAJBD should be a lot more vocal with regards to this matter. The President and the ANC are undermining Jews in South Africa, Israel and the world. Its disgusting the way the Board panders to the ANC.

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