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Voices

Celebrating our freedom, past and present

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South Africa’s inaugural fully democratic, multiracial elections commenced on 27 April 1994, and since then, April has come to be regarded as Freedom Month in this country. Reflecting the spirit of the times, the theme of freedom was at the forefront of two public events held by the Board this week.

The first was the Johannesburg launch at Exclusive Books, Rosebank, of Mensches in the Trenches, recently published under the auspices of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. As explained in previous columns, Mensches relates the stories of a wide range of “ordinary” Jewish community members who, largely out of the public eye and generally in practical everyday ways, were involved in various aspects of the anti-apartheid struggle.

The event enabled us to pay tribute to some of those from our community whose names are today all but forgotten but who over many years and in multiple ways rendered outstanding services to the cause of justice in this country. The keynote address by Judge Albie Sachs was one of the highlights of the evening. Sachs, in his own right a distinguished veteran of the liberation struggle, has addressed many Jewish communal gatherings over the decades since the democratic transition, but this was the first time his focus was on the role played by his father, legendary trade unionist Solly Sachs. As ever, the insights he provided were moving and thought-provoking.

Mogale Selebi, another anti-apartheid veteran, spoke about how many of those who assisted and worked with him during those years were Jewish, and how this had motivated him to approach the Board with the idea of a book written on the subject. Mogale was involved in the early stages of producing the book, which was eventually taken on and completed by Jonathan Ancer. As emcee, I had the opportunity of engaging with Jonathan and the other speakers, and it was a memorable evening for all concerned. To listen to Judge Sachs and the other speakers, see our Facebook page.

The second freedom-themed event taking place this week was a Freedom Seder, the first such event to be held in-person since the COVID-19 lock-down. Though the core themes of Passover concern the story of the Jewish people specifically, they have universal resonance, hence Freedom Seders provide an effective vehicle for sharing the lessons and values of our Jewish heritage with our fellow South Africans.

Dr Sydney Mufamadi, a leading anti-apartheid activist who served as a cabinet minister from 1994 to 2008, was the guest speaker. The event was combined with a second launch of our Mensches book, and I was again able to engage in conversation with and pose questions to Ancer and Selebi on its purpose and contents.

In celebrating the attainment of our freedom, we also remember those around the world who continue to be deprived of theirs. As the Russian invasion proceeds into its third month, we think in particular of the people of Ukraine. As reported elsewhere in this issue, the Board this week issued an unusually strong statement criticising Department of International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor for scandalously comparing Russia’s lawless acts of aggression with Israel’s actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

As we prepare to join family and friends in rejoicing in our heritage and passing on those traditions on to the next generation, I wish everyone a chag Pesach kasher v’sameach.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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