As I sat in the Old Assembly Hall of our Parliament, I experienced the South Africa I am proud of. We, members of the civil society proposed actions in solidarity with Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba. People from all walks of life debated in the packed hall. In the end (with the exception of four votes against the proposal) the Cape Town Declaration was overwhelmingly accepted.
The Cape Town Declaration is now the official voice of the South African civil society. It means that there is a formalised civilian voice that articulates clear, action-oriented resolutions.
On 6 February Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation held a public forum to support the campaigns for equal treatment and the right to self-determination of the peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba. This followed Parliament’s decision that solidarity is and should feature as a strong element of South Africa’s internationalism. The purpose was not to debate if action is required, but rather what kind of action is necessary.
We at Kairos Southern Africa spoke on Palestine, and we asked the following:
- We want complete military, diplomatic and financial sanctions against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law, and ends the occupation.
- In the global arena, we want our government to lobby for the financial and other support for the Palestinians for socio-economic development after the end of the occupation.
- We want our government to implement the above two requests and to table these requests at both the African Union and the United Nations.
- We also call on all political parties in South Africa to clearly communicate their stance on the plight of the Palestinian people and to make their views known timeously in the build-up to the 2014 elections.
All these and more resolutions (see the full list in respect of Palestine below) will shape Parliament’s Plan of Action.
Kairos Southern Africa is an ecumenical voice on local and international issues of justice from within the broader Christian community. We are connected to Kairos movements worldwide that are all inspired by the liberation theology tabled in the 1985 South African Kairos document. This includes Kairos Palestine and its declaration of steadfast faith, hope and love from within the suffering of Palestinians.
Four ecumenical accompaniers in the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme actively participated in the discussions. From left to right are: Marthie Momberg, Terry Crawford-Browne, Corbin August and Carol Martin.
It was great to see how people from different political parties and backgrounds interacted with one another. Their support for Cuba, Palestine and Western Sahara was not driven by political, religious or cultural interests, but by our shared humanity. We want to be free, and we grant it also for others.
At one point I sat very close to the spot where former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the mastermind behind apartheid in South Africa, was assassinated on 6 September 1966:
On that afternoon, a parliamentary messenger named Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed Verwoerd in the neck and chest four times before being subdued by other members of the Assembly. Tsafendas eventually escaped the death penalty on the grounds of insanity.
Five years before his death, Verwoerd said:
Israel took Palestine away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years…Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.
It is now almost fifty years later. Kairos Southern Africa argued that South Africans face yet another Kairos moment:
As South Africans, we should understand the urgency and the importance of Palestine’s appeal in the light of our own history. During the darkest hours of South African apartheid, an ecumenical group of South African theologians called the deepening crisis a Kairos moment of truth. They highlighted the danger of using literal, fundamentalist Biblical interpretations to rationalise theologies of oppression and state power.
Such a Kairos moment, one which is decisive in history, may pass us by if we do not act timeously. We are now faced by yet another form of apartheid, this time by Israel. […]
Different political parties attended the proceedings and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) was the only party to distance itself from the Declaration. They voted against it, and so did three members of the public.
This conference was a first of its kind in Parliament. We look forward to the Parliamentary Plan of Action taking the solidarity campaign forward towards a peaceful resolution of the challenges facing the three nations.
Here is the full list of resolutions with regard to Palestine – with the points in no particular order:
Legal obligation under the Rome Statute to set up the special court to deal with war crimes: To expeditiously deal with the Gaza Docket and deal with South Africans serving in the IDF.
HSRC report that found Israeli guilty of Apartheid should be adopted by parliament and government and must be referred to international bodies including ICC, UN and AU.
Legal obligation to stop financial transactions with Israeli settlement companies, banks and companies involved in the settlements.
On the global arena to lobby for the financial and other support of the Palestinians for socio-economic development after the end of the occupation.
Supporting Palestinian students, as a concrete act of solidarity.
Entrance into South Africa for Palestinians must be made easier.
Health system must be supported beyond people capacity – also infrastructure in Gaza, West Bank and refugee camps.
Support the Robben Island Declaration for the freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian Political prisoners.
Support the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions issued by the majority of Palestinians. Complete military, financial and political sanctions against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law and ends its occupation.
Our government to table the above two at both the AU and UN.
All South African political parties to clearly communicate their stance on the plight of the Palestinian people and to make it timeously known in the build-up to 2014 elections.
Witness and solidarity visits should be encouraged, for example the World Council of Churches EAPPI programme.
South Africa should build and strengthen an international diplomatic block in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
For South Africa to campaign for Israel to be suspended from the SWIFT network.
Palestinian reconciliation efforts must be encouraged and supported.
There is much to do.