Rolene Marks

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, end your silence!

Minister Pandor,

Please permit me a moment to speak to you as a woman who grew up in South Africa during the darkest years of apartheid through to the rebirth of the country into a proud democracy. A democracy many of us as Jews and Zionist stood beside you and fought for because apartheid was a violation of our tenets of respect for human rights.

I am a proud Jewish, Zionist woman who has the privilege of living in Israel, a country whose Declaration of Independence is not dissimilar to the ANC’s Freedom Charter that declares the state “the beneficiary of all its inhabitants.” Inhabitants that include women. South Africa’s constitution enshrines the rights and protection of women.

I write this on 19 June, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. On 7 October, crimes of sexual violence were committed against Israeli women and girls. Former hostages have shared how sexual violence is still committed against some of the remaining hostages – including some of the males. Nowhere in recorded history can the deliberate and inhumane barbarism of 7 October be equaled, including the crimes against humanity of mass rape. The United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence concluded that there was “clear and convincing evidence of Hamas crimes of sexual violence.”

Minister Pandor, you have not only been silent about the rape of Israeli women but in the hours following the atrocities of 7 October, you intimated in a press release that Israel deserved what happened. “The new conflagration has arisen from the continued illegal occupation of Palestine land, continued settlement expansion, desecration of the Al Aqsa Mosque and Christian holy sites, and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people,” said the press release from your office. You followed that with a phone call to Ismail Haniyeh the political chief of Hamas expressing your solidarity and then visited Tehran soon after. Iran is the main sponsor of Hamas who committed these atrocities.

South Africa’s foreign policy under your stewardship has taken a radical turn away from its purported human rights position to one of close collaboration with authoritarian regimes.

These are regimes where human rights are selectively practiced according to the whim and fancy of the individual ruling party, where certain groups and bodies are deemed less worthy of being treated humanely because of their beliefs or traditions or culture or any other decision.

Regrettably South Africa falls directly into this category with regards to the unspeakable atrocities committed by terrorist group Hamas which, unprovoked, attacked Israel on 7 October 2023, committing the most savage and brutal atrocities against Israeli women and girls. This is in violation not only of your party, the African National Congress (ANC) Freedom Charter but South Africa’s noble Constitution.

Minister Pandor, you are not only a political leader, you are a woman. You have daughters. You are part of 50% of humanity and yet you are silent about the rape of Israeli women. Is it because as Jewish women you do not see them as part of the 50%? Are Jewish women not part of the sisterhood? You hold a top position in the South African government, yet you are so consumed with hatred for the nation that suffered the Holocaust and vowed “Never again!” that the words and sentiments of Nelson Mandela have had no effect on you.

Mandela was a man of dignity, of forgiveness, of extending human rights to all, yet you have taken upon yourself the mantle of hatred towards Israel and Jewish women.

Minister Pandor, South Africa a country with among the highest rape statistics in the world. Rape is a scourge and weapon of war acted on also across the African continent, and one notable voice has remained silent – yours.

Rape was used as a weapon of war against Israeli women on 7 October. There has not been one word of concern or comfort for the Israeli – JEWISH – women who were so viciously and obscenely molested, violated, assaulted and debased. Not only was there not one word of comfort or even acknowledgement, you chose to put Israel on trial at the International Court of Justice on a bogus charge of genocide. There was only one party to this conflict guilty of genocide and that was Hamas.

The Women’s Action Committee of South Africa, (WACSA) an independent and non-political group of concerned women of various ages, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds – has circulated a petition condemning rape as a weapon of war across the world.

Would you be prepared to sign it?

Would you use your position in the government to encourage women across the nation to sign it?

Would you have the courage and the responsibility to stand with women everywhere?

Will you refrain because Israeli/Jewish women fall into this hideous category?

Minister Pandor, on this day of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict will you count Israeli women among the family of nations and among the victims of rape as a weapon of war? If you truly believe that you are at the vanguard of global human rights and if you honor both the Freedom Charter of your political part and the Constitution of South Africa, you will do so. To remain silent, is to be complicit.

About the Author
Rolene Marks is a freelance journalist. commentator and broadcaster, appearing on international radio, TV and print. Rolene Marks is based in Israel and serves as World WIZO Head of Public Diplomacy and the South African Zionist Federation spokesperson, both voluntary positions.