Over the last several weeks, South Africa’s vexatious relationship with Israel again found itself in the headlines. The point, or rather person, of contention? The beautiful and newly crowned Miss South Africa 2021, Lalela Mswane.
Lalela was caught in the eye of a political, social and culture storm for refusing to boycott the Miss Universe pageant to be held in Eilat, Israel on 12 December 2021. The ANC-led government is the most prominent entity to have added its voice to the calls for boycott, drawing the displeasure of many in the pro-Israel space.
It must be noted that the ANC garnered a mere of 46% of the electorate vote in South Africa’s recent local government elections, the lowest count since it came into power following the end of apartheid 27 years ago. This is striking evidence of South Africans’ dissatisfaction with the ruling party. Flagrant corruption, rolling power blackouts, poor delivery of the most basic of services – water, education and healthcare topping the list – and a record formal unemployment rate of 34.4%, are the fruits of the ANC’s leadership. Despite this recent indictment, the ANC-led government still thought itself worthy enough to withdraw its support of Lalela as she competes against 78 other contestants for the coveted crown of Miss Universe.
In a statement issued by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, the ANC-led government stated that, as “the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, [it] could not in good conscience associate itself with the atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians”.
Oh, the illusions of grandiosity. This is the same department under whose umbrella South Africa’s international sporting efforts are, bar a few exceptions, an absolute embarrassment. It is the same department that earned the ire of South Africans when it was communicated that 2021 Tokyo Olympian medalists would not receive incentive bonuses for their performances. But I digress.
All the main polls conducted in South Africa since this drama unfolded exposed the ANC’s phantasm of representing what South Africans believe. The results showed that ordinary South Africans believed Lelala should attend the Miss Universe pageant and supported her right to do so. Just as South African radio personality DJ Warras succinctly articulated, “Miss SA and organisers must not be bullied into taking sides in 100-year conflicts. She has earned her crown and has a right to live her dream and compete for Miss Universe! This nonsense that we have to take sides in conflicts that have nothing to do with us”.
Courageously, Lelala chose to ignore the bullies and travelled to Israel on 27 November to participate in the pageant. The question that now needs answering is, should her continued participation be seen as illegitimate because she does not enjoy the support of the South African government? Asked differently, should South Africans be concerned that she does not have the endorsement of a government that achieves record low votes at every election, and has been and continues to be silent in the face of varying atrocities? I submit that our answer should be a resounding “no!”. We dare not forget the ANC’s failure to condemn the human rights abuses that took place in Zimbabwe under the rule of former President Robert Mugabe. Or what of the ANC’s deafening silence on the genocide of Christians in Nigeria, or of the plight of the over 1.5 million Africans in slavery in at least five African countries today?
What should we make of the ANC’s decision to join the chorus of anti-Israel voices over a beauty pageant? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The ANC long ago resigned itself as a moral, meaningful and relevant player on the international stage on issues of human rights and peace.
The idea that the ANC, together with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Palestinian Solidarity Alliance and Africa4Palestine, all organisations who are part of the “boycott apartheid Israel” Whatsapp group, is concerned with the well-being of the Palestinian people is a myth. Where was this group in 2019 when Mohammed Safi (then 27 years old) lost his eyesight while being held in prison by Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza? Mohammed’s crime was to participate with thousands of Palestinians in protests themed “We Want to Live!”. These demonstrations called for Palestinian leadership to end the economic crisis in the Gaza – a direct result of the corrupt, repressive, and brutal dictatorship of Hamas. Instead of hearing the cries of the Palestinian people, condemning Hamas and demanding change, the ANC has given this terrorist organisation red carpet treatment on multiple occasions.
Where were the demonstrations by this group in 2021 when Hamas sentenced two men to death for allegedly collaborating with Israel, or when the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank sentenced a Palestinian man to prison for 15 years for attempting to sell land to Jews? The group was on mute. Where was the outrage a few months ago when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who having being elected in 2005 is currently serving the 16th year of a four year presidential term, called off the elections in the West Bank thereby again denying the Palestinian people their right to vote? Again, silence and inaction on behalf of the Palestinian people.
The ANC, EFF, Palestinian Solidarity Alliance, Africa for Palestine and the like must be called what they repeatedly show themselves to be when it comes to Israel and by implication, the Jewish people – Jew haters. Plain and simple.
There is no apartheid in Israel. There is no genocide or ethnic cleansing against any people in Israel. Israel is not a colonizer, settler state nor has she ever been one. Those who agree with these lies about Israel without having done their own, independent research into the layered complexities that define the Middle East conflict are allowing themselves to be used as pawns in a game that is not about the liberation of the Palestinian people but rather the destruction of the only Jewish state in the world.
The bullying of Miss South Africa is nothing new. The dust has only recently settled from former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng who was taken to task by the same Whatsapp group for stating that he, in accordance with the tenants of his faith, loved Israel and prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. Miss South Africa must be applauded for remaining resolute despite the attention-seeking bullies who threw a tantrum because a young black woman would dare to stand for herself and use her voice on an international platform to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.
Those of us familiar with the behavior of Africa4Palestine and its allies know not to think that their bullying antics will disappear now that Miss South Africa is in Israel. We can ill-afford to find ourselves caught off-guard when the next antisemitic eruption occurs.
But, that is an article for another day.