Photo source: Kyknoord – CC BY 2.0
Speaking at the International Court of Justice, South African lawyer and writer Thembeka Ngcukaitobi highlighted Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s statement that Israel was “fighting human animals.” The denial of the full and equal humanity of the Palestinians by Israel and its Western supporters is part of a long history of European and then Western monopolization of the claim to be fully human. This is what Aimé Césaire, the great Martinican poet, famously expressed in 1950 when he wrote that the West has never been capable of “living a true humanism, a humanism commensurate with the world” .
In 1973, Steve Biko, the charismatic young leader of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa, who understood his struggle as a “quest for true humanity”, wrote that “the great gift has yet to come from Africa – to give to world a bigger vision.” human face”. Oppressive regimes are never able to tolerate the intersection of principle and courage, and in 1977 Biko met his death, as he had expected, at the hands of the police.
In April this year, South Africa will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the official end of apartheid. Meanwhile, it has failed to deliver on its most basic commitments to millions of its citizens. One in four people do not have enough food, youth unemployment exceeds 60%, public education and health care are in deep crisis, there has never been meaningful land reform, and corruption and violence is endemic. There is an alarming level of state xenophobia against poor and working-class African and Asian migrants. Poor people are often governed by violence and, from the massacre of striking miners in Marikana in 2012 to the numerous assassinations of grassroots activists, popular dissent has often been met with harsh repression.
So many people gave so much to the struggles against colonialism and apartheid that it is almost impossible to measure the commitments and aspirations that animated those struggles against the realities of contemporary South Africa. The struggles for justice, sometimes scattered and ephemeral and sometimes very well organized, continue. It is striking that the statement “We are human beings, not animals!” » was often present during street protests organized by poor people.
It is not surprising that political and social cynicism is pervasive and that for many people progress is now seen only in individual terms. But when South African lawyers made their case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on 11th January, and when the court delivered its decision on January 26, it seemed, for a sudden, golden moment, that Biko’s aspirations had come true. It seemed that the principles forged during the long struggle to liberate South Africa had endured and were now presented as a gift to the world.
Since it became clear that former South African President Jacob Zuma led a repressive kleptocracy, the position of the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid, has declined sharply. at home and abroad. This has given rise to inordinate arrogance on the part of the white lobby in South African public life, which insists on the moral superiority of the West and effectively demands that the country be run as a proxy state of the West. This lobby, which has strong political connections in the US, UK and Israel, refuses to accept that the ANC’s rejection of Western domination can be principled. One of its leading figures, Frans Cronje, recently insisted, without providing any evidence, that the ANC had been paid by Iran to bring cases against Israel at the ICJ. This conspiracy theory functions to make principled action appear corrupt.
But of course the ANC has a long history of solidarity with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and fighting for national liberation in countries like Ireland and Western Sahara. After his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela made it clear to the West that his solidarity with Palestine and Cuba was non-negotiable. Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president, defied the West by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the Western-backed 2004 coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s elected president.
The ANC’s failure to respond to the aspirations of its own people and its turn towards repression cannot be denied. But its long history of solidarity with anti-colonial struggles developed principles that have not died out. Just as Mandela’s support for Palestine and Cuba and Mbeki’s solidarity with Aristide and the right of the Haitian people to elect their leaders were genuine, the party’s current support for Palestine, led by its Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor , is also.
The shared and sometimes electric elation in South Africa on January 11 and 26 was driven both by the deep sense of solidarity that most South Africans feel with the Palestinians, as well as the euphoric recognition that the political principles of the past have not been totally squandered. There was a sense of hope that something might change for Palestine, that there would be an opening towards the possibility of a more just world order and that it would become possible to restore some sense of principle in life domestic policy.
Following the ICJ ruling, South Africa will face a backlash from the West, and its academic, NGO, media and political network is well funded and organized in the country. This requires strong and clear support for the position he has taken in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Progressives in other countries will need to mobilize this support and, where possible, encourage their own governments to stand with South Africa on this issue.
But this solidarity must be based on the courageous and principled action taken by the South African state on behalf of Palestine, and not on an uncritical solidarity that erases the ongoing struggle for, in the words of Biko , “give South Africa the greatest gift possible – a greater gift”. human face.