Tim Flack

The ANC Packed Keffiyehs Away After Election Day.

ANC Flag over a Keffiyeh
ANC Flag over a Keffiyeh

In a twist of post-election irony, the South African political party of Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress (ANC) has quietly retired their keffiyehs, the once-proud symbols of their proclaimed solidarity with Palestine. The South African government, then ruled by the ANC, filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on December 29, 2023. It appears the ANC’s fervent support for the Palestinian cause was as fleeting as a bowl of hummus next to a stack of pita, revealing that their true allegiance lies not with the oppressed, but with the almighty ballot box, and possibly their pockets.

The keffiyeh, a scarf traditionally worn to signify solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, became the ANC’s accessory du jour during the election campaign. Party leaders and candidates donned them at rallies, press conferences, and public events, projecting an image of international solidarity and human rights advocacy. The sight of ANC officials draped in Palestinian flags and keffiyehs was so ubiquitous, it almost seemed like the ANC had morphed into a branch of Hamas. But, as it turns out, the keffiyeh was merely an election prop, as vital to their campaign as any free, free, slogan. With the elections now a thing of the past, these fashion statements have been neatly folded, stored away, binned or used as a drying towel for dishes, perhaps to resurface when there’s money to be made from Palestinian suffering.

Post-elections, the ANC’s once-boisterous declarations of support for Palestine have been replaced by a deafening silence. The keffiyehs are gone, and so is the fervent rhetoric. It’s almost as if the plight of the Palestinians was only worth mentioning as long as it served a political purpose. Now that the votes are counted, the ANC seems to have other, more pressing concerns – like the mundane business of clutching onto power. Critics have noted that the ANC’s strategy of aligning itself with the Palestinian cause was a transparent attempt to curry favour with certain voter demographics, many of whom voted for the DA in the Western Cape. The party’s historical connection to terrorist movements worldwide, including Palestine’s Hamas, PLO, PFLP and Islamic Jihad, was opportunistically amplified to distract from domestic issues such as a disgustingly high crime rate, corruption, unemployment, and failing infrastructure. We wait patiently for Eskom to start load shedding again.

However, this strategy appears to have backfired spectacularly. The ANC lost the general elections, suffering one of their worst defeats in recent history. It won 40 percent of the vote, falling from 57% in 2019., their gamble on using “international solidarity” to bolster domestic support did not pay off. The international community and South Africa’s Jewish population were not impressed with the ANC’s cozying up to Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization. The backlash was swift and severe, with accusations that the ANC was exploiting international conflicts for political gain and alleged Iranian funding, without a genuine commitment to peace or human rights.

In retrospect, the keffiyeh fad highlights the ANC’s propensity for political theatrics. When the scarves came off, it became clear that the party’s so-called solidarity was as thin as the Chinese fabric they so proudly displayed. The voters, it seems, were not entirely fooled by this sartorial subterfuge.

The ANC’s pivot away from Palestine post-elections suggests a return to their default mode: crisis management and damage control. At the inauguration of the president, not a keffiyeh or Palestinian flag was in sight, underscoring the temporary and performative nature of their pre-election support.

As the ANC packs away its keffiyehs, the Palestinian people, and the small minority in South Africa that support them, are left with the uncomfortable realization that their struggle was used as a mere political accessory. The ANC’s temporary embrace of Palestinian solidarity has unravelled, exposing a party more interested in electioneering than in genuine international advocacy. The keffiyehs may have been a stylish touch during the campaign, but in the end, they were just another prop in the ANC’s never-ending political theatre. Like the power comes and goes in South Africa, we wait for them to again see an opportunity to briefly don their tea towels and shout genocidal slogans.

About the Author
The writer is a seasoned communications professional with a diverse background spanning military service, media, public relations, and safety and security. He is a firearms activist and owns the Cape Town-based public relations firm Flack Partners PR.
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