Africa Insights: South Africa’s Striking Divide 

Africa Insights: South Africa’s Striking Divide 
South African activists and Muslim worshippers shout slogans against Israel during a pro-Palestinian march to Parliament in Cape Town on Oct. 13, 2023. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images)

Africa Insights is a podcast special from New Lines magazine exploring Africa’s unique stories from an African perspective.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine continues to send reverberations across the globe. In Africa, South Africa stands out as the leading voice, strongly supporting Palestine despite facing criticism from factions in its own Jewish community, opposition parties and faith-based parties.

Historically, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, often likening it to the apartheid era, which was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination against the black majority and other nonwhite ethnic groups in South Africa.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has further split an already divided country still grappling with racial and ideological divisions.

“We can’t just look at Palestine and Israel without an appreciation of the South African context. So, when Jewish members of the synagogues which are largely if not exclusively white filter their hegemonic presence of a Zionist state in Israel, they filter this through their white consciousness,” the Rev. Michael Weeder, dean at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, tells New Lines’ Kwangu Liwewe.

The Jewish community in South Africa, which to a large extent supported the anti-apartheid movement, is divided over the conflict, with some reflecting on what the struggle in South Africa was able to achieve for minority groups.

“The community is extremely split. There probably is some understanding in the broader Jewish community that South Africa was able to address the issue of African majority and cede power and become a democracy,” says Jonathan Shapiro, a South African political cartoonist.

On the political front, the ANC-led government’s stance has been criticized for its tepid response to the Oct. 7 attacks. Ten days after the attack, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor held a call with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, which ignited fury among supporters of Israel within the country.

“From the ANC government there’s been sort of a fairly lukewarm condemnation of Hamas,” Shapiro says. The biggest difficulty amongst progressive and more radical Jews is how to approach what Hamas did on Oct. 7. There are Jews who won’t sign certain petitions, who won’t take a position as strongly opposed to what Israel is doing because they feel that there’s too little condemnation.”

Africa Insights is hosted by Kwangu Liwewe and produced by Patrick Hagan.

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