Hamas in South Africa: Opening a New Discourse?

By Shafiq Morton – Cape Town

Twenty-four hours after President Jacob Zuma’s historic meeting with Hamas leader, Khalid Mesha’al, to cement formal relations, the people of Cape Town were addressed by Mesha’al at the Dar ul-Islam school campus on Wednesday (21 October).

The rally was attended by David Mahlobo, State Security Minister, Zola Skewiya (former Minister of Social Development), Marius Fransman, ANC head in the Western Cape, and officials from the Cape Town-based Muslim Judicial Council.

With the African National Congress traditionally enjoying warm relations with the PLO during its apartheid exile and its post- apartheid rule, the move to recognize Hamas has been seen as a significant policy move by South Africa’s governing party.

ANC’s Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said, “we are starting a relationship with Hamas…we are happy today we are together, we are formally formalizing our relationship. We’ll exchange delegations, we’ll share experiences and we’ll talk to each other regularly.”

The visit has been condemned by the South African Zionist Federation, which has accused Hamas of being opposed to the principles of the ANC, as embodied in the 1955 Freedom Charter. The federation’s statement suggested that Hamas wished to destroy Israel and sought “to establish an Islamist dictatorship in its place.”

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The ANC – which adopted a directive to identify with the Palestinian struggle in 2012 when it declared its full support for the BDS campaign reaffirmed its commitment to Palestine at its recent National General Council meeting this month.

The Hamas visit comes after behind-the-scenes lobbying by community figures and a diplomatic visit to Gaza by then deputy Foreign Minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, in 2010. Ebrahim – a former anti-apartheid struggle stalwart – met with Hamas minister, Mahmud al-Zahar, in Gaza.

Political observers feel that the ANC, as a formerly banned movement deemed terrorist in its day by the US and the UK, is uniquely placed to share its negotiating skills on the art of getting the best out of a powerful and intransigent foe. As a formerly armed resistance movement, it is said that the ANC would also be able to contribute to the Mid-East imbroglio with substance.

The ANC did host the Palestinian Authority with full state honors in Pretoria late last year where there is an accredited PA ambassador. But sentiment in South Africa has turned to the view that the idea of a two-state solution needs to be revisited. Israel’s creating of facts on the ground through occupation (deemed illegal by the UN) and constructing the apartheid wall (also deemed illegal) has made Oslo unworkable.

Most South Africans, not unfamiliar with apartheid-style territorial fragmentation as in the West Bank, can only see a “Bantustan” landscape and permanent disenfranchisement arising out of the two-state solution.

It is felt that the two-state solution would simply entrench the old status quo of Israeli control of Palestinians, and would leave the West Bank divided into at least twenty cantons and multiple border posts. In other words, Palestinian freedom of movement and economic activity would be forever be policed by Israel in an unequal, if not militarily dominated, relationship.

It is in this light that it is believed the Hamas visit to South Africa is an historic occasion, an occasion that could open the door to a whole new discourse on the Palestinian question.

This has happened much to the chagrin of Israeli shills in the opposition Democratic Alliance and African Christian Democratic Party, whose only response to the Mid-East crisis is the two-state mantra and largely unconditional support of Israel.

Whilst Mesha’al firstly dealt with the predictable issues – such as occupation, the intifada, the praising of Mandela and the ANC and the very real dangers of Israel’s meddling with Al-Aqsa – he did touch on some other topics in his address to the 2,000-strong audience in Cape Town.

Largely under-reported by the media, the second part of his message would have been heard by those who needed to – even though they would very likely deny he said them due to them not fitting the snarling terrorist, let’s annihilate Israel, typecast.

This is because Mesha’al went on to define a vision that communicates a take on the world that decries not only HAMAS’s “right wing”, as it were, but puts to bed the reactionary stereotype.

Islamist movements have been under fire since 2011 and a surge of popularity that soon waned, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt, where voters have become less concerned about Shari’ah-centrism and more about security, competent leadership and bread and butter issues.

Also the rise of ISIS and apocalyptic extremism – usually attributed to Hamas as well by Fox News and Israel – has affected Muslims, Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria.

Addressing the youth, he said that the world had become a confusing place. There was now tremendous confusion between extremism and piety. Don’t mistake extremism for piety, he warned. “Don’t become a victim of confusion.”

Mesha’al also said there was a significant difference between resistance and terror. “We never kill one another on the basis of our differences. As Muslims we just don’t do this.”

He went on to say that South Africans had achieved their rights. Palestinians were proud of South Africans. “Preserve your gains, keep your unity. Unity is road to success. Stand side by side with the ANC that fought for your liberation. Be good citizens in your own country. There is no contradiction in being a good citizen and supporting justice elsewhere. This makes you effective in supporting other struggles,” he said.

To the predominantly Muslim audience Mesha’al said there was no contradiction between being a good Muslim and a good citizen. This was the Prophetic example for Muslims set by Muhammad over 1,400 years ago.

“As Muslims, as South Africans, be of those who lead the way in everything,” he said to applause.

– Shafiq Morton is a journalist and a presenter at Voice of the Cape radio station. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.


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