In South Africa, support for Palestine put to the test by Hamas’ terrorist operation

It was Hamas who made the information public and embarrassed South Africa

In South Africa, support for Palestine put to the test by Hamas’ terrorist operation

It was Hamas who made the information public and embarrassed South Africa. The head of the political office of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Ismaël Haniyeh, revealed that he had a telephone exchange with Naledi Pandor, the head of South African diplomacy, on Tuesday October 17. Surprised, the spokesperson for the presidency, Vincent Magwenya, initially judged this communication impossible to the media News24 which sought to confirm it. Hamas and South Africa have no relations, he maintained. However, the phone call took place at the initiative of the Palestinian political-military movement, as the Ministry of International Relations eventually recognized.

The admission also allowed him to deny any support for the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, which left 1,400 dead in Israel, mainly civilians, contrary to what Hamas claims in its statement authenticated by News24 . This information “is false and aims to damage the ministry and the South African government,” he reacted.

Too late for the South African Jewish Board of Deputy (SAJBD), which brings together most of the country's Jewish organizations, and considers that the damage is done. The minister, who is “taking our country into very dangerous waters,” has chosen her side by speaking with “an Islamist jihadist organization,” he denounces.

“She did her job.”

“Naledi Pandor did nothing wrong! She is doing her job,” defended Fikile Mbalula, the secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party. The conversation with the political leader of Hamas, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused exclusively on the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and the Palestinian territories. “If we want to send things to Gaza, who are we going to talk to? We need to talk to Hamas! And yet she is being insulted from left to right,” said Fikile Mbalula.

The presidency and the ANC have nevertheless distanced themselves from Hamas. “Supporting the Palestinians’ fight against the occupation is not the same as supporting Hamas,” the presidential spokesperson wrote on X (ex-Twitter). “We are not on the side of acts of terror and killings of innocent people. Our allies are the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and the Palestinians,” Mbalula clarified for the ANC.

These details contrast with the content of previous press releases. In the first days of the conflict, neither the ANC nor the Ministry of International Relations nor the presidency mentioned the responsibility of Hamas in the outbreak of the war. All summarized the crisis as an escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict caused by “the continued oppression of the Palestinian people” and the “brutality of Israel’s colonizing apartheid regime.” At the same time, the opposition Democratic Alliance party called on the government to “outright condemn this unilateral attack” by Hamas on Israeli territory.

In the press, the SAJBD expressed its dejection. In a full page in the Sunday Times on October 15, he called out President Cyril Ramaphosa and denounced the government's "hypocrisy and double standards", the silence of the presidency, as well as "the hostility” from the ANC. According to him, all of this amounts to “complicity” with a terrorist action.

The president spoke orally the day this column was published. With a keffiyeh falling over the shoulders of his suit, Cyril Ramaphosa joined ANC executives who called for the liberation of Palestine, while expressing his condolences to the Israeli and Palestinian victims. But, again, he refrained from mentioning Hamas.

“Having principles helps.”

“When horrific atrocities are committed against civilians, they must be unequivocally condemned,” says a foreign diplomat, keeping in mind South Africa's procrastination in calling the conflict in Ukraine “a Russian invasion” or “war” so as not to offend Moscow, its ally. These gropings are specific to “a new geopolitical landscape [which] is emerging”, observes with indulgence the same source, which nevertheless reminds that, in this context, “having principles is useful”.

This telephone conversation with Hamas “creates difficulties for South Africa in its relations with the United States and other European countries […] at a time when these relations have already experienced difficulties this year”, analyzes Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). While the accusations of South African arms deliveries to Russia made by the United States have weakened diplomatic ties between Washington and Pretoria, there is no doubt that this communication with a group considered terrorist by the Americans risks worsening the situation. fracture.

As a semblance of the beginning of readjustment, Pretoria agreed to denounce the crimes of Hamas but to better accuse Israel of “genocide” and “war crimes”. “Just as Hamas' attack on civilians in Israel was heinous, there are no words to fully express the condemnation... of the Israeli bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital,” said a statement from his diplomacy on October 18. Israeli responsibility in this tragedy has since been contested – the American president has firmly denied it – but the civilian losses caused in Gaza by its response offer an opportunity for South Africa to clear itself of accusations of partiality and calling on the international community “to end its indifference.”