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Mandela Palestinian sign
This week in 1994: Democracy 25
17 July 2019, 4:00 PM

 

25 years ago this week, democratic South Africa severed defence ties with Israel.

Then Defence Minister Joe Modise issued a statement – announcing the end of the decades long special relationship with Tel Aviv on 14 July 1994. Modise compared Israel’s Palestine policy with that of the apartheid regime.

Afro-Middle East Centre Executive Director Na’eem Jeenah says government’s decision was guided by the nation’s values.

South Africa advocates for a just and equitable world order that values all human life.

Israel ties with apartheid regime

The ANC government’s move was seen as a natural progression in some quarters as Tel Aviv was in bed with Pretoria at the height of apartheid, snubbing the international community’s concerted effort to put an end to the administration’s discriminatory and brutal policies.

The two countries’ controversial military collaboration began around 1976 and reportedly blossomed into a force to be reckoned with in the international arms trade. Despite a United Nations arms embargo against apartheid South Africa, Israel went ahead and worked together with Prime Minister John Vorster’s administration. They sold military hardware to each other, collaborated in intelligence services and shared nuclear weapons technology, among other things.

South Africa voluntarily ended its nuclear weapons programme in 1989.

ANC’s solidarity with the Palestinian struggle

The governing ANC’s relationship with Palestine is historic and the party has always been vocal about its support for the struggle of the Palestinian people. ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Chief Albert Luthuli, are on record expressing grave concern over the Israel-Palestine issue.

Mandela once referred to the Palestinians struggle as the greatest moral issue of our time, while Luthuli at the opening conference of the ANC in 1953 declared that; “Our interest in freedom is not confined to ourselves only. We are interested in the liberation of all oppressed people in the whole of Africa and in the world as a whole … our active interest in the extension of freedom to all people denied it makes us ally ourselves with freedom forces in the world.”

Watch video of Mandela explaining the ANC’s position on Palestine and Cuba at a meeting in New York in 1990:

The South African government is supporting the Palestinians call for an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Jeenah says despite this however, government’s has over the years been sending mixed messages on the matter. “One on the one hand that was the attitude and on another – diplomatic relations between the two countries (SA and Israel) remained strong from 1994 through the 2000. Trade relations were static and began to increase from around 2003 when Israel and South Africa signed a trade agreement and it has been growing since then.”

However, Jeenah adds that the governing party seems to have since realised its mistake, a move evident with its 2017 decision to downgrade the Israeli embassy into a liaison office.

Watch discussion on current relationship between Israel and South Africa:

The office is currently operating without a political mandate, a trade and development cooperation one. Consular services are, however, still in place.

Time to shine again

Jeenah says while President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration has its work cut out to restore government’s credibility – South Africa’s refusal for its foreign policy to be influenced by Israel’s staunch ally and the world’s superpower, the United States, on the Middle East conflict is commendable.

The Afro Middle East Expert believes South Africa’s international image had been illustrious until at least the past decade.

Watch related video on the withdrawal of the SA ambassador from Israel:

President Cyril Ramaphosa answering questions on the downgrading resolution of the ANC:

SA and CDC Group flag
This week in 1994: Democracy 25
10 July 2019, 2:57 PM

 

This week marks 25 years since South Africa signed an agreement with the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC).

The deal was sealed on 11 July 1994 – a little more than a month after South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.

Pretoria had withdrawn its membership from the group after becoming a Republic. It was also amid backlash from some Commonwealth countries over the country’s discriminatory policies.

Owned by the UK’s Department of International Development, the development financial institution was partially privatised in 2004 and renamed the CDC Group PLC.

It is the UK’s version of the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC), but operates on a global scale.  The CDC helps companies grow in challenging business environments with the aim of creating jobs.

South Africa is among the top 10 countries the CDC has financial interests in. The financier injects money in health, manufacturing, construction and education sectors, among others.

The Executive Director for economic research non-profit organisation, Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies Saul Levin says the 1994 agreement with the global development fund marked the welcoming of South Africa back into the Commonwealth fold.

The former chief director in the Economic Development Department says it also granted South African firms access to global markets.

The CDC has invested almost R4.5 billion in the country over the past 25 years – helping create more than 60 000 jobs.

Levin says after the UK has left the European Union (EU), it could use mechanisms like the institutional vendor to improve its relationship with developing countries.

The economic researcher is urging small and medium enterprises not to rest on their laurels and approach the CDC for funding to grow their businesses.

During her three-day tour of sub-Saharan Africa in August 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the country’s 2022 intention of becoming Africa’s top investor.

Speaking in Cape Town, May announced an additional £4bn programme of UK investment in African economies that will pave the way for at least another £4bn  of private sector financing.

“This includes for the first time an ambition for the UK government development finance institution CDC to invest £3.5bn in African nations over the next four years.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed this, expressing hope for Pretoria to get the chunk of the financial boost.

SA, UK ties

The UK is a historical and strategic trade and investment partner for South Africa. While the history between the two countries has not always been rosy – Britain remains one of South Africa’s key trading partner. Their trading history dates back to the late 1950s.

In 2017, 46% of South Africa’s global investment came from Britain.

During a state visit to the UK in 2010, then President Jacob Zuma said the strength of the relationship between the two countries is best captured in London’s Parliament Square, where the statues of anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela and Jan Smuts stand among those of British Prime Ministers.

London also became a home for some of the country’s anti-apartheid activists, including former President Thabo Mbeki, Ruth Slovo and Mac Maharaj, who set up home there and mobilised grass roots support against the brutal apartheid regime.

This week in 1994: Democracy 25
3 July 2019, 4:37 PM

This week marks 25 years since the man credited with taking down the foundation of apartheid was transferred from the Pretoria Central Prison to a mental institution.

Dimitri Tsafendas, a temporary Parliament messenger, killed the so-called architect of state racism Dr Hendrik Verwoerd in cold blood on the floor of the then House of Assembly on 06 September 1966. He had followed him into the debating chamber; where he was due to make a speech.

He pulled out a sheaf knife and plunged it into his heart and lungs four times.

Pandemonium broke and Tsafendas was restrained after being punched in the face.

The Prime Minister died within minutes from his wounds, which some believe could only have been made with training.

In a statement to the police six days after the assassination, Tsafendas admitted to the murder, saying he was disgusted by apartheid.

“I did not care about the consequences for what would happen to me afterwards. I was so disgusted with the racial policy that I went through with my plans to kill the Prime Minister.”

A point he repeated during a documentary on his life 21 years ago.

“Dr Hendrik Verwoerd was an immoral man. I decided to stab him and kill him,” he said.

According to SA History, it was after the gunning down of unarmed peaceful anti-pass law protesters in the 1960 Sharpeville massacre when he decided to take violent action against the apartheid regime.

He had previously wanted to kidnap the man who was once described as having seen Black people as a problem he couldn’t solve.

Truth or conspiracy theory

 In a documentary on his life, Tsafendas’ friend and church mate Patrick O’Ryan paints a story of frustration, heartache and injustice that drove a decent man to such a horrific act.

O’Ryan says Tsafendas once expressed disgust for Verwoerd, saying he’d bash his skull should he ever get hold of him.

However, he says these are the facts he never disclosed to authorities during the inquiry into the killing.

Instead, he says, they went along with the cover-up worm story that investigators asked them to give as an account while testifying to get Tsafendas off the death row.

Tsafendas had, after all, been hospitalised for a tapeworm delusion at Grafton State Hospital, Massachusetts, in 1946, and again in Hamburg, in 1955. After the assassination, at least six psychiatrists confirmed his diagnosis of schizophrenia and/or delusion.

More than what meets the eye

While some still believe the killing was an act of mindlessness – others suspect the murder was well planned. They cite his detachment to the gravity of his deeds as reason enough to believe Tsafendas was trained to kill Verwoerd.

Right wing extremists have suspiciously pointed the missile to then Police Minister John Vorster, whom they believe appeared too calm when the knife was plunged into Verwoerd’s body.

The psychiatrist who treated him and David Pratt, the man who had shot Verwoerd six years before the assassination, is another suspect.

He apparently treated both men in 1959 and was present at the Rand Show during an attempt on Verwoerd’s life in 1960.

Unsung hero?

Writer and former political prisoner Breyten Breytenbach has described Tsafendas and struggle icon Nelson Mandela as two sides of the same coin.

“The one of companions and because of the fact that he could hold on to the belief of the justice that he had done. The one could transform the whole 27 years into a building block for what comes later. The other one left a shadow part of that experience. Deprived of all objectivity and deprived of any form of self-justification,” Breytenbach told filmmaker, Liza Key.

In her thesis, Dr Zuleiga Adams says Verwoerd’s assassination exposed the fault lines of apartheid governance.

“Tsafendas’ life story had, as we shall see, defied the rules of racial rationalism upon which the apartheid state was based. He had crisscrossed South African and international borders with seeming impunity. His personal genealogy was the very antithesis of a system where racial laws were tightly designed to eliminate frontier zones between white and black. His very presence in South Africa attested to the failure of an immigration regime to keep out ‘half-castes’, ‘communists’, and the ‘mentally disturbed’, as he was variously referred to in official documentation.

The author of a book on Tsafendas, The Man who killed Apartheid, Harris Dousemetzi has petitioned government to correct history books on Tsafendas.

He wants Tsafendas to go down in history as a sane man who had killed Verwoerd with the hope that apartheid would collapse.

Dousemetzi’s call has the blessing of some of the country’s great legal minds, including Human Rights Lawyer George Bizos, former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza as well as retired Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob.

 Life in Prison

A three-day inquiry into the murder was conducted and on 20 October 1966, Tsafendas was declared unfit to stand trial – getting him off the murder charge.

Judge Andries Beyers committed him as a state President’s patient, creating an expectation that he would be held in a mental hospital.

However, instead of keeping him at a psychiatric hospital as expected, it placed him on death row after exploiting a loophole in the law.

He was held for four months on Robben Island and was later placed on death row in the Pretoria Central Prison, in a cell specially designed for him where he was punished daily for his deed for at least 23 years.

The cell was within an earshot of the execution chamber; he could hear prisoners when they were being taken for their last journey of life; hear them breathing; their cries and the silence that follows their hanging.

In the mornings, he used to wake up and see them hanging.

Tsafendas has said warders used to put a strait jacket on him and punched him until he was unconscious.

They also threw out his food, wet his bed with water and sometimes even threw it on the floor and asked him to clean it up.

Tsafendas was transferred to Zonderwater Prison in 1989.

Last days 

On 30 June 1994, Correctional Services Minister Dr Sipho Mzimela announced that he would be moved to Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital, where he spent most of his remaining days on earth.

Government reportedly wanted to release him from custody, but couldn’t find any family or friends who could accommodate him at the time.

Tsafendas died a lonely man, in 1999 from pneumonia.

He was buried in an unmarked grave, something that doesn’t sit well with former ANC Eastern Cape Provincial Member of Parliament, Christian Martins.

Martins believes Tsafendas shouldn’t go down in history as a deranged man, but a man who played a part in liberating Black people from the National Party’s oppressive racial policies.

In 2013, he applied for Tsafendas and Verwoerd’s graves to be declared national heritage sites.

He believes their story is not one to be swept under the carpet, adding that had Verwoerd lived longer the holocaust was going to be a child’s play compared to the devastating impact the policies that he advocated for and had effectively developed could have had.

 Changing the course of history

Tsafendas was 48 years old when he made history, sending the Afrikaner world into mourning and exhilarating those who either disagreed or were on the receiving end of the brutal apartheid laws.

He managed to carry out an act wealthy businessman and farmer, David Pratt had tried six years earlier against a man he called the epitome of apartheid.

Pratt shot Verwoerd twice on the face at close range in 1960 during an event in Johannesburg. He later told authorities that he had not wanted to kill him but had hoped the incident could give him time to re-think his government’s policies.

The assassination attempt happened 19 days after the Sharpeville massacre, a tragedy that reportedly also got Tsafendas hopping mad.

 

‘We should not see each other through the prism of tribe’
2 July 2019, 5:19 PM

Writer and editor Goodenough Mashego is disappointed with government’s snail pace to develop indigenous languages. Mashego says the Mapulana community has hoped in vain, since 1994, for its mother tongue to finally be recognised.

The 46-year-old envisions a South Africa that is like Europe, where all languages are equally recognised.

 

This week in 1994: Democracy 25
26 June 2019, 10:00 AM

 

This week in 1994, South Africa was re-admitted as a member of the United Nations, ending years of international isolation for the country.

The milestone followed the country’s successful first democratic elections, which were held on 27 April 1994; the establishment of a Government of National Unity and the adoption of a non-racial Constitution for the transitional period.

On 23 June, the UN General Assembly approved the credentials of the South African delegation. The question of apartheid was removed from the agenda of the General Assembly and the Security Council on the 27th.

The move meant that South Africa, one of the 51 founding members of the world body, could resume participating in the activities of the General Assembly from which the country was suspended in 1974 for its racist ideology.

Watch the acceptance of the SA delegation’s credentials:

In 2006, the African Union (AU) endorsed South Africa and it was subsequently elected, with an overwhelming majority, to serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2007 to 2008.

The country again served in the UNSC during the 2011 and 2012 period and has now returned for a third term.

Watch President Ramaphosa addressing the UN in 2018:

The current tenure will end in 2020 and is dedicated to promoting the legacy of the late statesman, Nelson Mandela, his commitment to world peace and the African agenda.

 

Watch related video:

UN’s role in the fight against apartheid

The first major UN declaration on apartheid happened on 2 December 1950 when the General Assembly declared that the system is based on doctrines of racial discrimination.

The Sharpville massacre in 1960 raised the ire of the world body, with the Security Council taking its first action against apartheid South Africa. The Council adopted Resolution 134, slating the draconian laws and urged Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd’s government to abandon its oppressive system.

Police had gunned down 69 peaceful protesters on 21 March and seriously injured 180 others. The victims of the brutality were part of a Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) march calling for an end to pass laws, which prohibited Black South Africans from moving around the country without identity documents (IDs).

Three other civilians were killed and 26 others injured in Cape Town on the same day. Police pounced on them for defying a ban of public meetings and gatherings. They had converged at the Langa Flats bus terminus after hearing the news of the massacre, which had spread across the world already.

The Sharpville tragedy marked a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. In retaliation, angry South Africans engaged in strikes and the state began its crackdown on political activity across the country, jailing PAC and ANC members.

On 7 April, both parties were banned and some of the movements’ members skipped the country and went into exile.

PAC leader Narius Moloto says the heavy-handed tactics of the police had not come as a surprise to political leaders of the time as they knew that blood would have to flow for freedom to be attained. He describes the moment as the beginning of victory for South Africa’s Black majority.

Special Committee Against Apartheid

Three years after the tragedy, the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid met for the first time. On 7 August of the same year, the Security Council adopted Resolution 181 leading the calls for sanctions against Verwoed’s administration.

The UNSC called upon all states to cease the sale and shipment of arms, ammunition and military vehicles to South Africa. The arms embargo was made mandatory on 4 November 1977.  Civil society in Europe and the United States had also ramp pressure on their governments to impose economic and cultural sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

After years of supporting the regime, the US government had a change of heart. In 1986, the country passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which saw many multinational companies withdrawing from South Africa. The move put enormous strain on Pretoria’s economy as local revolt by South Africans had intensified. The country was in flames and the economy was on its knees with government struggling with the effects of the internal and the burden of its military commitment in occupying Namibia.

Amid growing turmoil and failed State of Emergency measures in 1989, President P.W. Botha suffered a stroke and was forced to resign seven months later. He had lost control of his ruling National Party, which was unhappy with his failure to stabilise the country.

His successor, FW de Klerk – nearly six months after assuming office – stunned the world and announced sweeping reforms. In his address to Parliament in February 1990, De Klerk lifted a ban on political parties and announced the release of anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela.

Watch related video:

While Mandela, South Africa’s first democratic President, has previously acknowledged the role of the international community in collapsing apartheid, former President F.W. de Klerk hasn’t.

De Klerk has cited the realisation of the futility of ongoing violence and repentance as reasons for putting an end to the brutal policies that left children orphaned; parents childless and trapped millions of South Africans in a cycle of poverty.

“The basis for the fundamental reforms in South Africa was established, not by external pressure, but primarily by  social changes, which economic growth generated. The realisation that far-reaching change had become inevitable  was  primarily influenced, not by political speeches and manifestos, but by the exposure to realities, which  were   brought into millions of  homes  by  television and radio. However, the single most important factor, which became  the driving force towards  a  totally new dispensation in  South Africa, was a fundamental change of  heart. This  change occurred on both sides, which had been involved in conflict over decades,” he said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

De Klerk and Mandela shared the prize for their role in ensuring a peaceful end of apartheid and laying the foundation for a democratic South Africa.

Watch both leaders accepting the award at the Oslo City Hall in Norway:

 

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