ANC rides pro-Palestinian cause for political gains
An election manifesto launch is a vital moment in any party’s campaign, yet the African National Congress (ANC) appears to have handed over this pivotal event on 24 February to a group called United for Palestine.
“We decided that this show of solidarity would be part of the launch of the ANC’s election manifesto for the 2024 election,” says one of the group’s representatives in a widely circulated video. The representative and his colleague – swathed in the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh speaking in English with Arabic thrown in – were literally inviting the public to the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban for the launch of the ANC’s manifesto for the 2024 elections. Their public video invitation was almost as if they were running the launch and planning the whole event around what it could do for their cause as opposed to how they could benefit the ANC.
“We’re inviting you for what we believe is the largest in-stadium show of solidarity for the people of Palestine,” the two pro-Palestine activists said. “After all, it’s the ANC that has been the biggest supporter of the Palestinian cause, and they have been a rock for the people of Palestine. That’s something you can’t take away from the ANC.
“So, we decided that this massive show of in-stadium solidarity will coincide with the 2024 ANC election manifesto,” they said. “You get to experience it when 70 000 people chant together, ‘Free, free Palestine – from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’”
United for Palestine has little online presence and appears to be a tiny group. However, the video was posted on the Facebook page of the ANC Kwazulu-Natal (ANC KZN) branch on 18 January. Accompanying the video, the ANC KZN wrote, “On 24 February, more than 70 000 voices at Moses Mabhida Stadium will proclaim, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’.”
This chant, widely accepted as a genocidal call for the annihilation of all Jews in Israel, is in stark contrast to the ANC’s official position on the conflict, which calls for a two-state solution.
“ANC, SACP [South African Communist Party], Cosatu [Congress of South African Trade Unions], and SANCO [South African National Civic Organisation] members will be joined by the Palestinian Solidarity Network, religious leaders across all religious lines, and broader civil society as part of Mayihlome Rally at Mabhida,” the ANC KZN post continued. “President Cyril Ramaphosa will launch the People’s Election Manifesto. On this day, we’ll hold hands showing public disapproval of the ongoing onslaught against innocent children and women of Palestine. Let’s join hands at Moses Mabhida Stadium, and show a united front.”
Notably, 24 February is the two-year anniversary of the launch of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and yet no mention of that atrocity appears to be on the agenda for the event.
On X (formerly Twitter), Mike Barendse posted the video, and wrote, “@MYANC capture! Iran has paid ANC bills, now the Palestinians have taken over the ANC election manifesto launch in Durban. ANC have [sic] foolishly painted themselves into a corner. The tail is now wagging the dog! ANC are [sic] now the Islam party.” The tweet was widely circulated.
However, local political analyst Daniel Silke believes the antics are simply about the ANC desperately chasing votes for the upcoming national election. “The ANC has latched on to this particular issue. Of course, historically, it has been in line with the ANC’s close relations with the Palestinians. These ties have strengthened, and South Africa’s ties with Iran have also strengthened.
“But the ANC latching on to this issue goes beyond the moral injustice perceived in terms of the events in Gaza. The issue is now being brazenly used in electioneering for the ANC – the symbols of the Palestinian state are being used alongside ANC symbols. This is a visual reminder to ANC voters that ‘the ANC is on the side of the oppressed peoples of the world’.
“The ANC, devoid of domestic success, has found a foreign policy issue which has fallen into its lap. We’ve seen the president and the ANC National Executive Committee continue to use the symbols of the Palestinian struggle. This is done to resonate with ANC voters, particularly with potential voters in the Western Cape.
“This is an unusual case of an international-relations issue that’s going to be used in local politics. It will be used in an opportunistic way by the ANC. It’s going to be milked for all it’s worth.”
Local political analyst and head of the African Governance and Diplomacy programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, Steven Gruzd, also thinks the hijacking of the rally for the Palestinian cause is just about votes. “A lot of what the ANC is doing in relation to the Middle East is a vote-capturing exercise,” he says. “Certainly, they want to contest the Western Cape fiercely.”
Regarding the question of whether Iran is funding the ANC and directing its actions and events, Silke says, “There’s no real definitive information on that. However, much greater transparency is required in terms of potential foreign funding not only for the ANC, but for all political parties in South Africa, and particularly the government.
“In a world in which there’s greater polarisation, where there are big players who are trying to set a new alternative global agenda, scrutiny of political parties is more important than ever before, and this applies to all countries,” says Silke. “I certainly would motivate for much greater scrutiny [of the ANC]. The current legislation in terms of the publicity of donors to political parties isn’t sufficient to really understand the potential foreign backing of political parties.”
Deputy shadow minister of trade and industry, Darren Bergman, says, “The ANC has been using the Middle East to exploit the emotions of both Jewish and Muslim voters. This is more about votes and sponsorship than trying to seek long-lasting peace. If the ANC was so sincere in its efforts, it would be trying to broker a peace deal.”
Regarding whether Iran is funding the ANC, Bergman says, “The Iran influence is there, and we’re no doubt a proxy for Iran, but the field is open to speculation until a firm answer is received.”
South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Director Wendy Kahn says, “There’s no doubt that the tragic war in Israel and Gaza will be used as an election tactic. The IEC [Electoral Commission of South Africa’s] codes call for restraint in terms of hate speech and incitement. We believe that using the genocidal ‘From the river to the sea’ at an ANC rally undermines these basic principles. Though we expect this type of dangerous speech from extremists, seeing the ANC leadership using this rhetoric is disturbing.”
South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) National Chairperson Rowan Polovin says, “The ANC, steadfast in its support for Hamas, is exploiting the Hamas-Israel conflict as a strategy for electoral gain, diverting attention from its numerous domestic failures and highlighting the ANC’s disinterest in South Africa’s future. The party misquotes South African icons like Nelson Mandela, who advocated for Israel’s right to exist with secure borders and plans to chant the phrase, ‘From the river to the sea’, which is an incitement for the destruction of Israel.
“Meanwhile, Israel is engaged in a moral and legal war of self-defence against actual genocidaires,” Polovin says. “The SAZF urges the ANC to respect the International Court of Justice’s ruling, and focus on the unconditional, immediate release of hostages.”