BRETT HERRON, secretary-general of the GOOD Party, points out that the DA claims neutrality in the ongoing Gaza genocide because it does not want to alienate its Muslim voter base. He adds, however, that it’s clear which side the DA has chosen
THE reverberations of the bombing of Gaza are being felt around the world, not least in multicultural South Africa. Here, we take events in the Middle East more personally than most because of shared elements in our histories.
South Africa introduced apartheid in 1948, the same year as the State of Israel was established. Israel maintained a close relationship with the apartheid state, including in the development of arms, despite the global campaign to boycott and divest from South Africa.
Both states implemented radical spatial segregation policies through land dispossession and forced removals, curtailing people’s freedom of movement, and disregarding the rights and dignity of those regarded as lesser subjects. Both bristled with military weaponry, but neither could contain the aspirations for freedom of those whom they oppressed.
On October 7 Israel’s security network was breached by Hamas. Hundreds of civilians were brutally murdered, and hundreds more were abducted and taken back to Gaza as hostages. Although the struggle for Palestinians’ freedom from oppression is a just cause, Hamas’ actions did not comply with international law protecting the rights of civilians.
Instead of hitting back at Hamas directly, though, Israel viewed the October 7 disaster as an opportunity to hold all Palestinians – that’s all men, women and children, whether they agree with Hamas or not – collectively responsible. Hamas’ actions provided a rationale for Israel to perpetrate genocide. Instead of having to bother with things like law and justice, here was an opportunity to wipe Palestine from the map.
The term ‘genocide’ was described in the United Nations Charter on Genocide, in 1948, as the perpetration of at least one of five acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
The five acts are: killing members of the group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group, preventing births, and forcibly transferring children out of the group.
People who aren’t moved by the piles of dead Palestinian children, or mothers forced to undergo caesarean sections without anaesthetics, don’t regard Palestinians as fully formed human beings deserving of human empathy. This type of thinking is not confined to Israel, as we are learning.
Last Saturday, November 11, when Cape Town’s massive pro-Palestine march heaved past the City Hall, the GOOD Party was inside, in the throes of its inaugural national conference. We had just concluded discussions about foreign policy when we heard the loudspeakers and dashed outside to show solidarity.
The foreign policy makes specific reference to Palestine. It calls on parties to suspend hostilities and respect international law, particularly the rights and safeties guaranteed to civilians, and commit themselves to dialogue.
It also addresses context and consequences. The conditions created in Palestine by the state of Israel, and its ongoing unlawful occupation of Palestinian land, are triggers for perpetual conflict that must be sustainably resolved. The International Criminal Court must investigate and prosecute breaches of international law under the Rome Statute.
The day after the conference, Sunday November 12, a public demonstration in Sea Point in support of Israel was disrupted. Police and metro police turned up in great numbers, and the situation became quite heated.
Instead of providing leadership, the Democratic Alliance (DA) mayor of Cape Town, and the premier of the Western Cape, responded with disingenuous media statements trying to claim a position of neutrality.
The previous week they had seen their colleague Ghaleb Cachalia dumped by DA leader John Steenhuisen from his shadow cabinet for having the temerity to publicly declare his support for Palestine.
The DA’s so-called neutrality is, of course, not really neutrality. But the party’s in a bind. It can’t come out and say where it truly stands because it doesn’t want to alienate voters of the Muslim faith ahead of next year’s election.
Ethics and morality are not a consideration.
Steenhuisen is out of his depth. Eighteen months ago he told parliament: ‘There is no such thing as a neutral position.’
Addressing a debate about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he invoked the wisdom of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’
Steenhuisen left out the other part of the quote: ‘If an elephant is standing with its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.’
I leave it to readers to join the dots with respect to which side the DA has chosen.
Why is this important? Because it gets to the heart of the values deficiency that has afflicted South African politics. Whereas not too long ago we were regarded as the embodiment of good values and the promise of social justice, our political discourse has become increasingly polarised and confrontational.
Somewhere along the way, our politicians stopped prioritising the formation of a just, cohesive and sustainable post-apartheid state. Instead of narrowing the gaps in people’s quality of life, we today rank among the most unequal countries in the world, with an obscene number of jobless people. But we’ve moved on to prioritising other crises: corruption and Eskom.
Conversations have largely been reduced to a series of binary choices, a multiple choice with just two possible answers – and no space for nuance, or ‘other.
If we’re not ANC then we must be DA; and if we disagree with Israel’s bombardment of Gaza then we must agree with Hamas’s October 7 methods.
The old dishes on the menu when we vote next year are a party under which we have made insufficient progress in our 30-year quest for post-apartheid justice, and the other party whose vision of progress excludes justice. Neither is terribly appetising.
As a nation, we’re better than this.
- Brett Herron is the secretary-general of the GOOD Party.