“When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers,” goes an African adage. No sane person would dare come close, let alone take sides in a battle of the giants. So what possessed the South African government to side with Hamas when it needs the agricultural giant, Israel? It doesn’t make sense to Dabane Zikode, whose name I’ve changed to preserve his dignity. Zikode is my neighbor. He is a graduate but has never had a job because the South African economy is choking.
I was once caught up in a battle of elephants where a young bull in must, started a riot; stomping, trumpeting, rumbling, wreaking havoc. The young females scattered in every direction. I stood there helplessly, expecting to be trampled upon any second. The park rangers, who were equally helpless, added to the commotion by shouting and cursing as if the wild beasts were cute little pets that could be summoned to cuddle up on the sofa. The matriarch came to our rescue. She trumpeted once and that brought order to the herd. The young bull ran away, upset, but we were left in peace. The matriarch was the stateswoman of the bush.
Statesmanship is what is lacking today. There was a time when South Africa was the symbol of forgiveness, tolerance and hope. While it is true that Nelson Mandela had a good relationship with Yasser Arafat, what many people conveniently forget is that the late South African leader tried to understand the situation from both sides. On his visit to Israel, Mandela emphasized the security of the Jewish State, saying, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing (from occupied lands) if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.” On October 7, Hamas did exactly that. They breached every security measure that Israel had put in place, committed massacres, mercilessly took hostages including the sick, elderly and the disabled, and started a war whose tremors reverberate across the world.
Dry seasons bring scarcity, desperation and irrational belligerence in the African bush. The African National Congress (ANC) is caught up in a season of its own making. After decades of corruption, money has finally dried up. Irrational internal fights are at their peak as the leaders divide their own support base along every crevice of race and tribe. The ANC is worried that it may lose the next general election, and so the Hamas War gave it a tool to distract the voters. Attacking Israel at the International Court of Justice is part of its sinister election campaign. It backfired because on social media and on vernacular radio stations, the vast majority of South Africans, many of whom are Christians, are opposed to their government’s demonization of the Holy Land.
The people-to-people relationship between South Africans and Israelis is worth protecting. The lives of 50,000 Jewish people in South Africa cannot be left to the whims of pillaging politicians. Many Jewish South Africans have contributed enormously to the country. Take, for example, the late Mrs. Ginge Zilibowitz from the Union of Jewish Women of South Africa, who lived in a small town called Springs. During apartheid, she gave bursaries to Black youth who were in need. Today they are teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs and more. Her legacy is keeping South Africa alive. It doesn’t end there. Last Christmas a young man, Wandile Kubheka, from the province of KwaZulu-Natal feasted on his harvest of spinach, cabbages and carrots. He planted his own garden after the Israeli company, Innovation Africa, brought water to his village. Kubheka is one of thousands of people who continue to benefit from Israel’s agricultural expertise and technology.
African elephants play a huge role in regenerating the ecosystem. When water is scarce, they dig up dry riverbeds, creating new water holes. Where there are forests, they fell some of the big trees, allowing light to reach the smaller species. Even their dung is good as it replants the seeds all over. Like the African giants, let us regenerate the relationship between Israel and South Africa. Let us fell the poisonous trees of hate and resow the seeds of tolerance, peace and kindness, as embodied by the world’s statesman, Nelson Mandela.