Howard Sackstein : “South Africa was “crying genocide” before any real military action in Gaza, had even begun.”

South Africa: from the ANC to the ICJ

How can we understand South Africa’s determination to accuse Israel of genocide before the International Court of Justice?[1] Howard Sackstein, a founding member of the Jewish Anti-Apartheid Movement, looks back in this text at the country’s deteriorating political and economic context, the ANC’s bankruptcies and the way it is trying to restore its image and fill its coffers by acting as a mouthpiece for global anti-Zionism. Against the backdrop of these political maneuvers, the uncertain future of the South African Jewish community looms large.


International Court of Justice, February 2024

There was palpable jubilation in South Africa a month ago, reminiscent of when the country won the Rugby World Cup in France, just a few months before. 

Adorned in Palestinian Keffiyehs, the national executive committee of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) sat triumphantly watching a big television screen, cheering and applauding as the judgement of the International Court of Justice, was delivered in the Hague. Sitting next to South Africa’s President was the Palestinian deputy ambassador to the country.

Although the South African government failed to achieve almost all of its objectives in its case targeting Israel, the ANC regime victoriously celebrated, claiming that it had restored its tarnished reputation as the bastion of freedom and human rights in the world. It had succeeded, it had forever tarnished Israel’s image with the canard of “genocide”.

There may be no other country in the world so richly endowered with natural beauty, pristine white beaches, abundant animal wildlife and natural resources extracted from the depths of the earth, as South Africa.  The country shimmers with deposits of gold, diamonds and platinum. Tourists flock to the powdery sands of Cape Town’s coast and holiday in the unexpected luxury and opulence of the African bush. For many, South Africa is one of G-d’s true gifts to the world.

Plagued by a history of Portuguese, Dutch, French and British colonization, a generation of apartheid segregation, inequality, and a liberation struggle that lasted into the 1990’s, South Africa has suffered a turbulent, bloody past. The scars of apartheid run deep in the nation’s soul.

South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, a convert to Islam, proclaimed that “the real issue is the people of Palestine who are being killed every day and the people of Palestine who are sleeping in the cold, the people of Palestine who are denied food, water and energy. That is the critical issue that all of us should focus upon”. In South Africa itself, 77 people are murdered each day, 27 272 murders in 2023 alone, making the country the murder capital of the world. 9.9 million South Africans have no formal housing, and 8 million people live in dilapidated corrugated metal shacks. 11.8 million South Africans have no reliable water supply and 33% of the country has no basic sanitation. In 2023 the country was plunged into darkness for 6 800 hours as the government battled, and failed, to keep the lights on.

For all of its elation and celebration, South Africa is just not a happy place! For the ANC, the focus is Palestine, not the appalling conditions under which South Africans still live.

Recently, as South Africa’s football team played Palestine, Naledi Pandor, standing alongside the President, chanted the genocidal call for the destruction of Israel, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. There is no other non-Muslim country which spews such vile anti-Israel rhetoric as South Africa. Muslims constitute a mere 1.6% of the population.

When Nelson Mandela emerged from prison into freedom in 1990, the world celebrated the crumbling of apartheid and the first democratically elected government, sworn into office in 1994.

South Africa immediately became the poster child for freedom and democracy. Mandela set the tone by building a ‘Rainbow Nation’ assuring all of its citizens that, “We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white”.

Yet thirty years after its transition to democracy, South Africa teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state. The country is enveloped by wide scale lawlessness, criminality, a construction mafia, crippling government corruption and debilitating maladministration. Unemployment hovers around 41.2% and the rand currency has devalued 50% under the rule of the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa is a mess!

Nelson Mandela, 1994, wikicommons

Johannesburg, once branded as a “world class African city”, is today a rubbish strewn, potholed shadow of its former self. The Islamic fundamentalist mayor of Johannesburg is fixated upon renaming the road which houses the American consulate, after the Palestinian terrorist, Leila Khaled, who attacked and blew up an American TWA flight.

For the ANC, the focus is Palestine, not the appalling conditions under which South Africans still live.

South Africa’s once thriving Jewish community which numbered in excess of 120 000 souls at its peak, today sits at around one third of that number. Fleeing economic decline, the makings of a gangster state and a viscously anti-Israel government, for many Jews, South Africa no longer feels like a safe place or home.

A survey of final year Jewish high school students showed that 82% did not believe they would be living in South Africa in 10 years and 53% thought that they may need to hide part of their Jewish identity to progress in the country.

Jews first arrived, in what was originally known as the Cape Colony, together with the Dutch settlers who farmed the fertile land of the Cape, as a half-way station for traders of the Dutch East India Company, midway between Holland and India.

Within Cape Town itself, the Jewish community established synagogues and welfare institutions more than 150 years ago. The discovery of diamonds in Kimberly and later gold on the Witwatersrand caused an influx of British Jews prospecting for precious minerals. Jewish mining “Randlords” like Ernest Oppenheimer, Barny Barnato and Lionel Phillips fill the pages of South Africa’s mining history.

But the real influx of Jews arriving in South Africa began in the early 1900’s when Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Lithuania began arriving in the country. To these Jews, fleeing both pogroms and economic exclusion, South Africa would become the “goldena medina” (the golden land).

Their arrival in South Africa was however not welcomed by many in the white Afrikaner establishment with its deep racist roots and nazi sympathies. They regarded these Jews as not being “white” or European enough. The Afrikaner leadership often protested the arrival of Jewish immigrants on the docks of Cape Town, including John Vorster and Hendrik Verwoerd, who both, later became Prime Ministers of apartheid South Africa.

Synagogue, King William Town, 1900, wikicommons

Jewish immigrants moved into the bushveld countryside becoming “smouses” or travelling salespeople and later, using whatever they could scrape together, to educate their children at South Africa’s prestigious universities. A number would become Nobel laureates.

Many of the Jews who landed in the country were socialist “bundists” from Lithuania. They founded and lead South Africa’s trade union movement, forming liberal political parties, dominating the local communist party and fighting against apartheid, South Africa’s policy of separating people by racial classification as “white”, “coloured” (mixed race), “Indian” or “black”.

So entrenched were South African Jews in the liberation struggle that almost all “white” people arrested at the ANC’s military headquarters Liliesleaf Farm, to stand trial with Nelson Mandela, were Jewish.

The community thrived building one of the most identifying vibrant Jewish communities in the world. In excess of 90% of Jewish children go to Jewish Day-Schools, synagogues have proliferated, and the community runs some of the largest welfare and cultural organizations in the southern hemisphere. South African Jews have been the country’s most prolific and successful entrepreneurs, building much of country’s retail sector, reinventing its insurance industry and dominating the property and hospitality markets, as well as pioneering its medical and legal professions.

During the apartheid era, Israel enjoyed a close working relationship with South Africa supplying each other with military and nuclear technology, both being perceived, at the time, as pariah nations. However, in supplying weapons and nuclear know-how to South Africa, Israel was certainly not alone. South African Airforce planes were built on French designs and South Africa’s nuclear capacity was provided almost exclusively by France. Iran and Saudi Arabia provided South Africa with oil, the USA, Britain, Germany, Portugal and their allies all provided financing, weaponry and political support to the country as a bulwark against the expansion of communism in Africa.

The South African Jewish community is proudly Zionist, with deep religious, spiritual and family relationships to Israel. 832 South Africans fought as volunteers in Israel’s war of Independence outnumbered only by Americans in the volunteer Mahal army. More than 50 000 South Africans and their descendants today live in Israel. Ra’anana which houses so many French Jews is affectionately called “Rananafontein” after its South African inhabitants.

The relationship of South African Jews with Israel has not gone done well with the current ANC leadership.

South-African Jews founded and lead the trade union movement, forming liberal political parties, dominating the local communist party and fighting against apartheid.

Three decades of misrule has made the ANC’s grip on power, precarious at best.

As the country lurches towards general elections later this year, the ANC is desperate to regain some of the moral authority that gave it status and prestige in its former years.

Like many of the liberation movements of the 1960’s, ANC cadres were part of the anti-western liberation struggles sponsored by the former Soviet Union. In the trenches of the cold war, the ANC shared ideology, resources and comradery with the Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO) and the Polisario Font. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world changed, the ANC did not.

Shortly after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela embraced Yasser Arafat and said, “We identify with the PLO because just like ourselves they are fighting for the right of self-determination…Arafat is a comrade in arms, and we treat him as such…We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Always the pragmatist, Mandela was also very close to South Africa’s Jewish community. His friends at University were Jewish, he served law articles at a Jewish law firm, when no other firm would employ him, and many of his legal team, keeping him from the gallows, were Jewish too.

Mandela stated that, “South Africans of Jewish descent have historically been disproportionately represented among our white compatriots in the liberation struggle’ and “as a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”

As the memory of Mandela has faded, South Africa’s corrupt ruling party has identified more and more with those forces opposing the West. In the crudest formulation of its foreign policy, South Africa supports Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and Iran while opposing Morocco, Israel, Ukraine and where possible, the West. It actively opposes French influence on the African continent wherever it can.

In 2023, a crisis erupted when U.S. Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II, accused South Africa of supplying weapons to Russia after its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Referring to a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel which had surreptitiously docked in the Simons Town naval base close to Cape Town, with its transponder beacons deactivated, Brigety said “We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel, and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion.”

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world changed, the ANC did not.

South Africa is a country up for sale, available to the largest bidder.

During the tenure of President Jacob Zuma, South Africa was sold to the Indian Gupta family, in what became known as “state capture”. With the complicity of the President, the state and state owned entities, were stripped bare of their assets by the Gupta family. If you wished to do business with the state, the road to any contract meandered through the Gupta compound. South Africa’s former Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, estimated that R1.5 trillion (Euro 73 billion) was stolen during the Gupta/Zuma era of “state capture”.

Ramaphosa rose to power, promising to clean up corruption and end the era of “state capture”. Ramaphosa, became rich from the largess of some of South Africa’s leading Jewish businesspeople, who placed him in on their company boards, made him chairman of their businesses and funded his CR17 internal party election campaign, paving the way for his presidency.

A commission of inquiry into “state capture” under Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, named and shamed as corrupt many in Ramaphosa’s party and cabinet, yet Ramaphosa failed to act. Under his spineless leadership corruption has become even more endemic.

Cyril Ramaphosa, Lenasia, 2017

Rumors abound, yet no proof has yet surfaced, that Iran has paid the ANC party’s debts and expenses for the upcoming elections as a quid-pro-quo for South Africa acting as Iran’s proxy in bringing the genocide case against Israel at the ICJ.

It would appear that the country has once again been state captured, this time by the theocratic and ruthless Iranian regime with the complicity of Pandor, her family and her Islamist Director General, Zane Dangor. Together they direct South Africa’s foreign policy of promoting Iran, Hamas and the Palestinian cause, without consequence.

Ramaphosa’s failure to condemn the 7 October massacre, his failure to reach out to the families of the two South Africans murdered in the Hamas attack, his failure to act on the two South Africans kidnapped by Hamas and his callous disregard, effectively blaming Israel for deserving the attack, a mere two weeks after the massacre, while wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, will forever be a symbol of his ‘Judas moment’.

South Africa was “crying genocide” before any real military action in Gaza, had even begun.

Hamas was feted in Parliament and celebrated in the ANC’s offices in Johannesburg.

Pandor mislead parliament by claiming that there were no beheadings of babies and that Israel had attacked the al-Ahli Arab Hospital. The opposition Freedom Front Plus party posed the following question to Pandor, “Do I hear you correctly saying that the atrocities that we are speaking about, the beheading of children, that those are fake news that it’s not true. Is that the position of the South African government I want to ask you now”. To which Pandor responded, “No, no, it is evidence that has been provided by a range of non governmental organizations. both in Israel and Palestine. Because we don’t only speak to Palestinians. We speak to peace loving Israelis as well. And we know that there’s a lot of fake news that attempts to cast Palestinians in a bad light and it has been admitted even from the White House spokesperson that that statement that was made at the highest level was actually proven not to be factual”.

Pandor withdrew all South African diplomatic staff from Tel Aviv, and Israel withdrew its Ambassador to Pretoria, in a tit-for-tat exchange.

Hamas issued a statement claiming that Pandor telephoned them to congratulate them on the success of their “Al-Aqsa Flood” attack on Israel. Pandor claimed that she was merely offering humanitarian assistance but refused to release the “call out” transcript of the conversation.

In December 2023, a mere two months after the 7 October massacre, Hamas once again visited South Africa. The terrorist organization was feted in Parliament and celebrated in the ANC’s offices in Johannesburg. Rumour has it that Ramaphosa was not even consulted on the visit. For the jihadists in his government, Ramaphosa is merely a “useful idiot” as Iran entrenches itself and its intelligence agencies in South Africa.

The BDS movement (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) shares offices with Hamas in the Bo Kaap region of Cape Town, a short walking distance from South Africa’s parliament. South African Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, insists Hamas is not a terrorist organization.

Lamola also insists that there is no antisemitism in South Africa, despite a 600% rise in incidents in the past 12 months. With Lamola, failing to consult with the victims or Jewish civil rights organizations, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Local and international intelligence sources are increasingly talking about emerging evidence that the ANC’s debts and elections campaign for 2024 have been funded by Iran and illegally funneled into South Africa. 

By South African law, all donations to political parties above R100 000 (Euro 5000) need to be publicly declared and, there are significant restrictions on the funding of political parties from foreign sources.

In December 2022, the ANC’s debt sat at R500m (Euro 24m), a subsequent court case lost them R152m (Euro 7.4m).  All this debt appears to have now vanished with disclosed political funding for 2023 at only R23m (Euro 1.13m). In addition, the ANC appears to have secured the money estimated at R1b (Euro 49m) for its 2024 election campaign.

The flow of illicit money to the ANC is actively being tracked by international intelligence agencies and organizations who specialize in international terror funding.

Much has been written to try explain why South Africa, with all of its failures in leadership and governance, decided to spend significant amounts of its scarce resources to take Israel to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, becoming, what Israeli government spokesperson, Eylon Levy, described as “an advocate for the devil”. There may be five potential reasons.

  1. South Africa’s deep ideological commitment to the Palestinian cause, 
  2. South Africa’s deep disdain for the West and its allies, 
  3. South Africa’s attempt to regain the status of champion of human rights in the world,
  4. The ANC attempting to divert attention away from its own significant failures at home, and
  5. In all likelihood, South Africa acting as a proxy for Iran as it attempts to pay its debts and fill its coffers before this year’s general elections.

South Africa is a sovereign state. It can of course do whatever it wishes. But actions have consequences. The West is becoming increasingly disenchanted by South Africa’s antics.

Last year, South Africa’s invitation to the G7 Summit did not materialize. South Africa’s participation in the Unites States, African Growth and Opportunity Act, which grants duty free access to US market, looks increasingly precarious, together with the approximately 250 000 jobs it created. Last week a bill was introduced into the United States Congress to begin a formal review of the relationship between the two countries.

Concern is being raised over the future wellbeing of Jews at the bottom of the African continent.

One of South Africa’s most prominent jurists was denied a place on the Constitutional Court because of his membership of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the official mouthpiece of South African Jewry.

Recently, the 19 year old Jewish captain of the South African under 19 cricket team, David Teeger, had his captaincy revoked because of his support for Israel.

Last week, members of the Johannesburg City Council questioned why Councilor Daniel Shay should be allowed to wear a tie with a “Jewish star of David” in the council chamber. When Shay attempted to address the council quoting Nelson Mandela, fellow councilors chanted “Free Palestine”.

These events have placed South Africa’s Jewish community in a precarious position, evaluating whether South Africa can continue to host a strongly identifying Zionist Jewish community.

Having been the victims of apartheid and racial discrimination for so long, the ANC is blinded to the racism and Jew hatred it perpetuates. The victim has become the perpetrator and South Africa’s Jewish community hangs by a thread.

Howard Sackstein

Howard Sackstein was one of the founders of the Jewish Anti-Apartheid movement and Executive Director of the Independent Electoral Commission. He led the only ANC delegation to visit Israel and took Nelson Mandela to Brussels for the World Jewish Congress. He is currently president of the South African Jewish Report.

Contact the author

    Article associé

    Support us!

    You can help us

    With the support of:

    Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.