Good governance, diversity, community – it’s all in a day’s work for these politicians
Many South Africans present themselves as change-makers in local government. ‘SA Jewish Report’ journalist Saul Kamionsky speaks to a number of candidates to find out why readers should vote for them. This is the first of a two-part series.
Freedom Front Plus
Cape Town: Ward 54 (which includes Camps Bay, Clifton, and Sea Point)
Before entering politics, Paul Jacobson was a community activist, dealing with matters affecting his area – Sea Point through to Camps Bay. He chaired many meetings on behalf of previous councillors, met regularly with the mayor to discuss solutions to issues, and wrote thousands of messages to various city authorities, national government, and the South African Police Services.
“I orchestrated countless community walks, giving dignity to our area,” says Jacobson. “And I embarked on a massive, irate boycott campaign against the city for lack of service delivery. That was my activation, and the community suggested that I take up a more formal position.”
Out of the nine political parties he met, the Freedom Front Plus (FFP) stood out for him.
“The FFP had the same moral principles as me, was a supporter of Israel and Judaism, and would allow me to express myself without restraint. I was also incredibly impressed that the FFP was representative of the ‘Rainbow Nation’.”
In the FFP’s last meeting to elect a candidate for ward 54 for this year’s municipal elections, those present insisted that Jacobson, a local, take up the position.
He believes people should vote for him because he’s passionate about the ward. “I live in and love this area. I grew up in Camps Bay; I went to Sea Point Boys High. My children are still in Camps Bay, and I’ve got history going back to my grandparents here.”
Even his business, which produces naturally-based nutrition and alternative remedies for dogs and cats, is in Sea Point.
“I’m a businessman, not a politician. The advantage of that is you think out of the box, and come up with alternative ideas, initiatives, to deal with the challenges that we have. Being a type-A individual, I get my teeth stuck into a project and don’t let go until it’s completed.”
After breaking his back in a paragliding accident 20 years ago, he lay in a bed for six months without being able to move his body.
“Every single night, I had faith. I prayed to my G-d, I listened to Andrea Bocelli and Pavarotti, and I imagined my toes moving.”
After four months, he got something to move and, after six years, he has got almost everything to move.
He has served in the Israeli military as a paramedic, and spent 11 years of his life living in the most remote areas of the world – from Tibet and northern Spain to Bolivia and China. “For that, you need to have the utmost respect for people’s cultures, and you’ve got to love human beings, and I do.”
Ten years ago, he formed the Humus, Gherkins Support Group. “As a proud Jew, I set this up to counteract the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement, and to encourage our Jewish folk to support Israel by buying Israeli-made products.”
As a Zionist, he takes heart from the FFP standing up for Israel in Parliament recently.
“It’s beautiful that I’ve finally found a wonderful party that will stand up for us Jews, showing our principles are no less worthy than any others, and helping to stop our Jewish people from leaving in hordes.”
What he also finds “absolutely amazing” about the FFP is that many of its officials are advocates, doctors, and academics, and leading up to the elections, it’s ignoring negativity and promoting positivity.
Freedom Front Plus
Johannesburg: Wards 72, 73, and 74
Sidney Anolik was a member of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Congress of the People (COPE) before joining the FFP on 2 January 2016, becoming the lone Jew in the party.
“I was a nice Yiddishe boy walking around with a kippah at their meetings,” the former plumber recalls. “But I got plenty of respect.”
Anolik considers the FFP to be a party that’s moving forward, not backwards. “Plus, it would stand by all its ideals as it wasn’t hungry for votes,” he says.
What also appealed to Anolik was the FFP seeing the minority vote as just as important as the majority vote.
“The FFP protects the rights of minorities, such as Jews, Afrikaners, Portuguese, Italians, and Greeks. By worrying about only affirmative action and BEE [black economic empowerment], you are saying, ‘bugger you minorities’, and the principle of employing the best person for the job is superseded by colour. The FFP works completely differently.”
First, Anolik says the FFP doesn’t ask the Jewish community for money. “Let’s prove ourselves to you and if we do, then you can donate to us. This policy was a bit of an eye-opener for me.”
In addition, Anolik stresses that the FFP is a centre-to-right-wing party that believes in self-determination, economic freedom, lowering taxes, and creating jobs.
“We also believe that the taxes coming from households and businesses in each ward should go towards that ward and fixing up the problems there. We believe that rates and taxes mustn’t be paid by pensioners whose property is worth a certain value. We believe also in smaller municipalities. We believe that Joburg should be on its own. Randburg and Sandton should have their own councils like we used to have in the old days before 1999.”
Anolik now serves as the party’s head of minority desk, a position established in 2019 to look after, protect, and help minority groups.
He believes people should vote for him because he’s a “people person” who lives in the community. “I know where there are potholes and where there is blocked sewage. People phone me for help and the same day, their problem is sorted out.”
He also promises to close illegal businesses. “All of us are scared to drive down Louis Botha Avenue because of all the illegal drug houses, whore houses, and shebeens.”
According to Anolik, the FFP hopes the African National Congress (ANC) will get less than 50% of the vote in the upcoming municipal elections. “If that happens, there will be a coalition, and the coalition will depend on us. If we go into a collation, we’re not just going to do what the other party says. We’ll do what’s right.”
Politics aside, Anolik is a nature-lover whose pride and joy is his Facebook page, “Magnificent Animals and Nature from all over the World”. He has spent at least 30 years working with the Jewish community.
“For many years, I provided counselling on alcohol and drugs for the Jewish community, and I serve them before anybody else. At the FFP, we support Israel 100%. We say Israel is an independent country and Jerusalem is the undivided capital. The West Bank belongs to Israel, and Jordan is the capital for Palestinians.”
Only on the PR ballot
Since entering politics as a 14-year-old in 1974, Errol Anstey has held numerous positions in the Progressive Party, the Progressive Federal Party, the Democratic Party (DP), and the DA.
On top of that, he led a significant turnaround of the South African Habonim Dror youth movement during his 20-year spell as manhig (leader) of the movement. The first South African recipient of the World Zionist Organisation’s Herzl Award in 2004, Anstey also volunteered his proportional representation (PR) seat as a DA member to a newcomer for three months in 2016.
Today, he is the deputy chief whip of the DA in the council, and sits on the DA corporate executive. “I didn’t seek the leadership position,” he says. “With this being my last term, I’m hopefully going to be more involved in training and developing new councillors.”
He believes the DA has the right policies and the vision for a South Africa for all. “Wherever we govern, we govern efficiently and properly. We may make mistakes, but we fix them. And when someone is naughty or gets caught out for corruption, we get rid of them fast.”
He says the “funniest thing” is that when the ANC is at its weakest in its history since 1994, white voters are considering splitting the opposition and voting for small start-up parties.
“But the only viable option is to unite under the DA. This was one of the biggest problems in Zimbabwe. [Robert] Mugabe lasted for so long because the opposition kept splitting.”
Anstey urges voters not to lose sight of the bigger picture by changing their vote when small things upset them. “The point is that if the DA does badly on 1 November, South Africa loses, and another 100 000 people immigrate next year.”
He backs this up by using the DA-run Western Cape as an example.
“The largest investment coming into this country goes to the Western Cape. We are the tourist hub, the film industry hub, the call-centre hub, the insurance hub, and most companies are relocating to the Western Cape. We have a continuous migration of the population up north to Cape Town. Our coastal cities are blooming. Property prices are soaring, and Cape Town has become a desirable place to live. We have the lowest unemployment because the DA government works. By running an efficient government, you create employment, and develop towns and cities. It’s all about well-managed municipalities. If the DA can take control of the five major metros in this country, we can turn South Africa around.”
Asked about the DA’s stance on Israel, Anstey says, “There’s no place for the Israel-Palestinian conflict in South African politics. The DA does everything in his power to make sure that’s not a focus. And, unfortunately, people are introducing the Israel-Palestinian conflict into a local government election, which has nothing to do with the conflict, or has any input or influence on that matter. The DA’s policy on Israel is exactly the same as the South African Zionist Federation and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. Every statement issued by the DA on this matter is always in line with those organisations’ statements. That’s a fact. If South African Jews want to protect Israel, the best party to do that would be the DA which has experienced the issues under the ANC.”
Freedom Front Plus
South of Johannesburg: Wards 23 and 54
As an 11-year-old in 1977, Paul Smit started helping a political party without knowing anything about its policies.
“Later, I discovered what its policies were, and I got the hell out of there,” he recalls.
He left the political scene for a while before joining the DP in 1999, becoming a councillor the following year. In 2005, he decided to convert to Judaism after seeing the remnants of the Holocaust while taking part in the March of the Living in Poland.
Smit had started to question certain principles of Christianity in 1981. Having initially struggled to find someone willing to facilitate his conversion, he hopes to finalise it in six months’ time.
Although he proudly served as a ward and PR councillor for the DA (formerly the DP) for many years, he started falling out with the party over its stance towards Israel in 2013.
“That was the beginning of the end for me. I just couldn’t forgive them for what they did. But I still stuck it out at the DA, giving my utmost best even if I didn’t agree with everything.”
In 2016, he left the DA as he wasn’t well. Following a three-year break from politics, he joined the FFP because he saw it as a well-run party which fought for minorities.
In spite of being at the FFP for just more than two years, he has been selected as a councillor for the upcoming municipal elections.
“For a first-timer to actually get into an electable position is unusual because they like to keep you back to see what your capacity is. But I think my 15 years in council was partly responsible for them letting me go through.”
Smit says people should vote for him because during his previous spells as a ward councillor, he was active in pushing for law enforcement on environmental issues and fought for people’s rights to correct billing as well as efficient municipal services.
He recalls an example when a traffic light was needed by a school in his ward. “We put up a five-year fight for it, and we got it. Fighting for the benefit of others has always been a passion of mine. And I hate seeing people struggle, especially the elderly.”
One of the highlights of his career was when he got invited to a conference hosted by a South African disabled organisation after a speech he delivered in council on the lack of compassion towards the disabled and elderly in this country.
Smit has always been passionate about this issue. “Society will be judged by how they treat the elderly and the disabled” is one of his favourite statements in council.
“In South Africa’s case, we’ve failed miserably,” he says.
Nicola Jowell lived in an area with several severe crime incidents in 2008. Since then, she has volunteered for community safety work and is an active community activist.
“People were crying out for more policing, saying ‘The South African Police Service must be more’,” she recalls.
Wanting to help look after her fellow community members, Jowell started a neighbourhood watch with two other women in July 2008.
“We grew into a huge neighbourhood watch, consisting of 1 400 members, active patrols, and an extensive licence plate recognition camera network.”
Through her involvement in the neighbourhood watch, she became a member of the Cape Town Community Police Forum executive committee, and was on its board for 10 years in various capacities.
“All of that community, volunteering, and involvement meant I was dealing with civic issues more and more, and engaging with local ward councillors. I also sat on the board of the Ratepayers Association. So, it was almost a natural progression. I never decided to be a politician at any point. It just sort of morphed that way.”
Around 2011, she joined the DA and attended a few meetings.
“The DA has always been the only option that aligns with my personal values. Since it took over in the Western Cape, we’ve seen a marked difference in the running of this province compared to the rest of the country.”
She became more actively involved in the DA in 2016, joining her local branch and chairing it from that point onwards.
“At the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, I got heavily involved when I stood for ward councillor position in ward 54 during the by-election.”
Her undertaking to the community at that time was to be on the ground and improve service delivery in the ward. “During my term, I’ve done exactly that. I’ve spent time engaging with communities. When there’s an issue, I come out to see and deal with it, bringing city officials to the site. I have been very much hands-on. I’ve focused on communication, which was something the community was crying out for. The good relationships and partnerships I’ve built with the community have galvanised community organisations. I’ve also not been scared to tackle the big issues in an environment where people perceive city councillors as being bound by the status quo.”
Last year, Jowell managed to halt changes to public transport parking rules which she believed would increase traffic and have a negative effect on the built environment in Sea Point.
“This is an indication that I’m not afraid of shying away from the hard issues as well as tackling on-the-ground issues.”
One of her highlights has been to improve the lives of the homeless in her ward. “We now have 15 dedicated field workers engaging with the homeless on a day-to-day basis. That’s something that no other ward in the city has.”
The ideals of one South Africa for all, fair opportunity, and diversity are important to Jowell. “I believe we should be building a society where everybody has equal access to what the person next to them has.”
Johannesburg: Ward 23 (which comprises Bassonia, Glenanda, Glenvista, Mayfield, Mulbarton, Rispark, and South View).
Tyrell Meyers became interested in politics around the age of 12. He remembers that closely following the 1994 elections made him want to understand and learn more.
About 15 years ago, he joined the DA as he knew he could make more of a difference with the support of a strong party.
By the age of 20, he had been elected as a PR councillor.
In 2017, he was elected as chairperson of the Oversight Committee for Transport. He helped to ensure that the M2 highway rehabilitation was completed on time and within budget in 2019.
Together with a South African non-profit organisation, he started early childhood development centres in two locations in Johannesburg.
Meyers stood for ward 124 in the 2016 local government elections, coming in as a PR councillor.
In the upcoming municipal elections, he’s the DA’s candidate for ward 23.
“I think I’ve got the support of my ward in the upcoming election,” he says. “I’m quite confident I’ll secure it with quite a large majority.”
He says people should vote for him because he’s a dedicated public servant with a proven track record.
He gives an example of how he dealt with a burst pipe in Johannesburg.
“Johannesburg Water should come in and replace the pipe, but one has to phone them, saying, ‘Don’t forget to replace the pipe.’ That’s something I shouldn’t need to be doing. But as councillors, you’re actually left with no choice but to step in, take ownership, and be proactive to get them to do the job. That’s something I do very well, and I’m passionate about it. I’ve done well in ward 23 in the time I have been there.”
He has managed to get roads redone, potholes filled, streetlights fixed, trees growing, and facilitated other visible service delivery. “Residents can attest to that,” Meyers says.
One of the highlights of his career in politics has been his time serving as chairperson of the Johannesburg south constituency, which looks after all the wards in the area – namely, wards 23, 54, 55, 56, 57, 124, and 125.
“We’ve made it quite an inclusive constituency which is also more dynamic, driven, active and proactive in its approach. We actually prepare for things far in advance instead of waiting for an election. We’ve brought a lot of teamwork.”
Meyers’ motto has always been about building an inclusive constituency that’s centred on teamwork.
“We’ve got a mix of councillors who come from different backgrounds. We’ve got black and white councillors, we’ve got Muslim and Jewish councillors, we’ve got gay and straight ones. We’ve got all these different types of public representatives and activists. And I believe we’re setting the tone for an ideal diverse South Africa that provides opportunity, freedom, and diversity for all.”
See next week’s ‘SA Jewish Report’ for more…
Community urged to be cautious as wave gathers speed
The Omicron variant is hitting the Johannesburg and Cape Town Jewish communities, with numbers rising rapidly but very few hospitalisations. Those hospitalised – at this point – are mainly unvaccinated.
However, many organisations have taken precautions to stem the tide to avoid a repeat – or worse – of what happened before. The machanot and Rage festival were this week cancelled, among many other private simchas.
The number of new infections in the community have increased rapidly over the past two weeks, says Darren Kahn, the executive general manager of Hatzolah Medical Rescue. There have been 272 new cases recorded this week, with 387 active cases in the community.
“To date, thankfully, there has only been one hospitalisation and we have two long-term patients on oxygen from the third wave,” he says.
“The current numbers are fast approaching our original planned numbers, and the wave is just beginning. The Hatzolah team is working around the clock to ensure the community is well cared for.”
Though Kahn said responders were fearful of a return to the COVID-19-positive numbers experienced only a few months ago, many experts believe this variant will be far milder than any we have had before if you have been vaccinated.
“We all enjoyed a couple of COVID-19-free months, but it’s unfortunately time to start being more careful again. We urge the community to go back to the basics: get vaccinated, wear a mask, keep a social distance, and sanitise. Let’s do this and get through the next wave together.”
To date, Hatzolah has vaccinated more than 30 000 people at its vaccination site.
In Cape Town, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Community Security Organisation (CSO) sent out an alert to the community on the morning of Wednesday, 1 December, with the subject line: “COVID-19 warning: fourth wave is on our doorstep!”
“CSO Cape Town has seen active cases on its COVID-19 Wellness Monitoring Programme surge from 0 on Friday, 26 November, to 28 cases on Tuesday, 30 November. While little is known about this new variant, we do know that its reproductive rate is at the same level as it was at the peak of the previous waves.”
After meeting medical advisors, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein says shuls’ safety protocols haven’t changed. “This is rather just a call to reinforce what we have done so well since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “The message we need to communicate to our community is that there’s no need to panic and that, working together, our shuls will be safe places for them to attend, even at this time.”
Meanwhile, the Ballito Matric Rage festival was cancelled after one day, when 32 attendees and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
But Ronen Klugman, the founder and director of Plett Rage, says that the festival will go ahead from 3 to 7 December, with about 900 people attending. “We’re not cancelling because we’re the last line of defence against this disaster of the new variant. Kids are already arriving – I can see them on the beach – and if we cancel, it will make the situation much worse. They will scatter, and spread all over this town, and there will be no control,” he told the SA Jewish Report.
But with the festival in place, “The only way they can get into events is if they go through our testing centre. We have the responsibility to stick to our robust plan. Everyone is vaccinated, so that’s our first buffer. They have to take a PCR test before they leave. They present their vaccine certificate and PCR test on arrival. Then they go for a rapid antigen test. They get an AR band with a chip that only works for one day. Then they get tested again. If anyone tests positive, we implement contact tracing and take any contacts out of the festival.”
Local virology expert Professor Barry Schoub told Sky News, “All the cases [of the new Omicron variant] so far have been mild to moderate cases, and that’s a good sign.”
Dr Efraim Kramer, a leading international expert in emergency medicine with a specialty in mass gatherings, told the SA Jewish Report, “At the moment, we’re still groping [for information about the new variant] because tests are being done in a laboratory. We’ll find out in the next one to two weeks exactly what its transmissibility is and what kind of clinical profile it has.”
Dr Carron Zinman, a pulmonologist at Netcare Linksfield Hospital, told the SA Jewish Report that there had been differences in the symptoms of people who had presented with the new variant.
“They are saying it’s presenting atypically. In general, people are complaining of loss of taste or loss of smell. The GPs are seeing a lot of extreme fatigue with nothing else. In terms of my patients in hospital, one came in with something unrelated, not knowing she had it. So, it’s behaving differently, and the bloods are looking different as well.”
Zinman believes the Omicron variant is the reason for most of the positive tests at the moment, and thinks the new variant is more contagious.
Kramer agrees with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said on Sunday that South Africans need to learn to live with the virus. “The days of trying to run away from it, trying to evade it, being in lockdown, and those kinds of things are gone,” Kramer says. “It’s here almost to stay, and every time we think it’s gone away, another cousin arrives.
“I don’t think there’s anything mysterious anymore about COVID-19. The president said we were staying at level 1. His statement was exceptionally positive in what he said, and exceptionally positive in what he didn’t say, if you read between the lines. In the meantime, we’ve kept the country on level 1, so we carry on.”
Kramer encourages people to go to shul. “There hasn’t been a single COVID-19 case in 20 months in people going to shul. Probably 99% of the people coming to shul are vaccinated,” he says.
If people want to go on holiday, they can as long as they take COVID-19 into consideration in everything they do, Kramer says. “The only mandatory aspect of that lifestyle is that people must get vaccinated so that if you do get it, you don’t get it severely. Our community is highly compliant in terms of COVID-19 vaccination. That’s fantastic as it means that life can almost carry on for them.
“If they want to go on holiday, they must go on holiday. If they want to get married, they must get married. We can’t knock people around anymore. We’re going to have a generation of dysfunctional kids if we carry on this way. People must do what they want to, they must just be careful.”
Kramer has criticised the “political panic” around Omicron, saying, “They believe that by closing doors, they’re going to keep it out. What they don’t know is that it’s there already. They just don’t know who’s got it, how many have got it, and how quickly it’s going to spread.”
“Closing borders doesn’t make scientific sense,” Schoub told Bloomberg TV. “What we have to recognise is this measure is politically motivated, which is highly damaging to countries like South Africa that depend on the tourist industry.”
Kramer says unvaccinated people shouldn’t be named and shamed. “We don’t know why people haven’t been vaccinated. It could be because they choose not to, because they’re scared to have it. It could be that they’re allergic to the preservative in the vaccination and they’re not allowed to have it because they’ve been anaphylactic before.” But he warns, “The people that are landing up in intensive care are the ones that aren’t vaccinated.”
Asked if the vaccines we have protect us from the new variant, Zinman says, “All of that needs to be worked out. I think that you have to accept that there’s got to be some protection from the vaccine, because the vaccines to date have shown efficacy against all the variants.”
SA Jewish leadership confront Israeli PM over travellers’ ordeal
Orthodox spiritual leaders in South Africa have expressed their shock and dismay over the treatment of South African travellers turned away from Ben Gurion Airport last Friday night.
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, South African Rabbinical Association Chairperson Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, and the dayanim of the Beth Din of South Africa wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on 30 November expressing their unhappiness.
The group of five travellers from South Africa included two who were going to Israel to comfort the Kay family after the murder of their son and brother, Eli Kay, in a terrorist attack on 21 November.
They were in the air when Israeli authorities decided to ban South African travellers in light of a new COVID-19 variant discovered by South African scientists. On landing in Israel, they were forced onto a flight back to South Africa via Dubai on Shabbat.
“We were shocked and dismayed to hear that a group of Jewish travellers from South Africa, who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport this past Friday, were denied entry into Israel and forcibly returned to their country of origin, and as a result were compelled to desecrate Shabbat,” wrote our religious leaders.
“That this took place in the Jewish state is simply unconscionable,” they wrote. “To further compound the trauma, two of the passengers were making their way to Israel to spend Shabbat with the Kay family, who are mourning the loss of their beloved Eli in last week’s terror attack in Jerusalem. From the reports we received, no attempt was made to accommodate the passengers by allowing them to remain in quarantine over Shabbat.
“To force fellow Jews to desecrate Shabbat is a violation of the Jewish identity and Jewish values of the state,” they wrote. “The manner in which the religious rights of these individuals have been infringed isn’t something one would expect of any country, and certainly not the Jewish state. On behalf of South Africa’s rabbis and the communities we represent, we wish to record our strongest objection to the forced desecration of Shabbat.”
One of these travellers, Ilana Smith, says the incident led to more stress and trauma for the Kay family, who tried to help the travellers in spite of being in mourning. “I was going to Israel only to be there for the Kay family. I was staying nearby, and was going nowhere else. And now the Kay family had this extra stress on their hands – the last thing they needed! Kasriel Kay was phoning the rabbi in Dubai, trying to help us. My family back home went into Shabbos not knowing if I would be stuck in Dubai. There are post-traumatic repercussions from this ordeal.”
Melissa Genende was travelling to Israel from South Africa to see her grandchildren on the same flight as Smith. “We had no knowledge of the flight ban, and weren’t stopped until we arrived in Israel on Friday afternoon. Our passports were taken from us. We were marched underground and came up at the departure gate for the flight going back to Dubai.
“We were threatened that if we didn’t board the plane, the police would be called,” she said. “This in fact did happen while we explained that we didn’t want to fly on Shabbat. At this point, we had no choice but to get on the plane. I’m not fully shomer Shabbos, but I would never travel on a plane on Shabbat. I have travelled many times in my life, and always make a plan that I don’t travel on Shabbat, often with a lot of extra cost.”
She’s angry that all the other people on the plane entered Israel with no problem. “We came from South Africa on the same plane, so why were we not giving any other option? We could have gone into bidud [quarantine] for a few days. We had all been tested, and I had already prepaid for PCR tests at the airport. I understand the panic. What I don’t understand is how they make a decision for five people and let everyone else in the country.”
The group had no opportunity to get food or water while waiting in the airport. “Kosher food was also unavailable to us for the entire two flights. When we landed in Dubai, it was already Shabbos. We had nowhere to wait all night until our flight at 05:00. We managed to find a lounge that would allow us to pay $32 [R513] for four hours. There was no kosher food there. We arrived back in South Africa at 12:00 on Saturday. Our luggage didn’t arrive, and we still have no idea where it is or when will get it back.”
Genende has since been ill from dehydration and travel sickness. “I’m taking this as far as can. I’m hoping that the Israeli government will do something about the staff at the airport. At the very least, I want a new ticket to Israel. I will fight until I get answers and compensation.” Emirates, she says, won’t reimburse her as she has “used” the return flight.
Even though she was able to get home, she says she would have preferred to be stuck in Israel than to have experienced this. She says she and the other South Africans have since been asked to go to the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria to meet the ambassador. She’s waiting “with bated breath” to hear what’s said. She’s had no other communication from anyone in Israel.
Former MK and olim advocate, Dov Lipman, has worked tirelessly with his organisation, Yad L’Olim, to assist olim and their families to deal with travel restrictions throughout the pandemic. In the past few days, he has barely slept as Israel went from one extreme to the other in a matter of hours.
“It’s been a really difficult time for South African Jewry,” he says. “I hear their pain, I hear their cries. The incident last Friday was nothing short of tragic, and I use that word deliberately. It’s a tragedy when someone arrives in Israel legally and is turned away.”
He says the incident has been covered extensively by the Israeli media, “with strong criticism of the government for the way it was handled from all segments of Israel’s population. At the very least, this kind of thing won’t happen again because of the degree of criticism.”
He was involved in trying to assist the South Africans. “I had a hard time enjoying my Shabbat knowing that people were in transit to who knows where. It was very painful. I’m now even more motivated to help olim and their families around the world. I believe all of our efforts will lead to a better situation.”
In response to queries from the SA Jewish Report, the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria released an official statement. “We deeply regret the unfortunate incident that occurred at Ben Gurion Airport on 26 November when a group of South African citizens were deported and had to violate their religious beliefs. The incident took place immediately after the imposition of new strict COVID-19 regulations. The incident is being investigated, and necessary conclusions will be drawn. Needless to say, if the embassy had been informed of these events in time of the occurrence, this unfortunate chain of events could have been prevented.”
Citizens take government to court over Miss SA bullying
Citizens for Integrity (CFI) has accused the government and the minister of sports, arts, and culture of acting unconstitutionally and irrationally in its “bullying” of Miss SA.
The non-governmental organisation has filed papers in the North Gauteng High Court taking the government and Minister Nathi Mthethwa to task for withdrawing its support for the local beauty queen in November, and for calling for her to withdraw from the 70th Miss Universe pageant to be held in Israel in less than two weeks.
In a press statement issued this week, CFI said that as an organisation “aimed at protecting the rights of citizens and the public against abuse, unconstitutional action, and irrational government decisions which affect citizens’ rights”, it took issue with the government and the minister.
It has demanded an apology and an immediate retraction of the statement withdrawing its support for the Miss SA organisation and Miss SA, Lalela Mswane.
Mswane, a University of Pretoria LLB graduate who was born in KwaSokhulu in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, has consistently stood her ground through a steady stream of harassment and vilification by Israel-haters and politicians hell bent on scuppering her once-in-a-life time opportunity to participate on the international stage.
In spite of this, she left for Israel at the weekend in preparation for the pageant, with the full backing and support of the Miss SA organisation and countless fans who have steadfastly continued to support her in her decision to participate.
Following weeks of intimidation by anti-Israel lobbyists, Mswane, dressed in a bright yellow, summery jumpsuit left the country telling her fans, “We will Rise”, and expressing how grateful she was for the opportunity to represent her country.
The Miss SA organisation posted, “We stand united with you @lalela_mswane. You have already made us so proud, and we know you will continue to do so. We love and adore you.”
Willie Hofmeyr, the retired head of the asset forfeiture unit at the National Prosecuting Authority, and also one of the founders and directors of CFI, said this week that it was an “important issue to address”.
“We need to ensure that all citizens in the country are treated equally well and fairly. It appears as if Miss SA has not been treated fairly,” he said.
Sibongile Cele, the deputy chairperson of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League Johannesburg, also insisted that Miss SA’s rights had been infringed upon. “As a committed Christian, I felt it was important to look at her rights as a woman and her rights as Miss SA,” said Cele, who is also a spokesperson for the CFI.
“Her rights shouldn’t be infringed because of politics. The Miss Universe pageant shouldn’t be politicised, and as a citizen of this country, she has the right to compete in the pageant. She shouldn’t be held back, she won the title of Miss SA, and she is our ambassador,” Cele said. She isn’t afraid of a backlash from the ANC saying, “ I am a Christian before I am a member of the ANC, we report to G-d first.”
The CFI said in papers before the court that the government’s decision also “didn’t constitute a legitimate purpose of government” as it didn’t “fall within the legitimate powers and objectives conferred upon the government by the Constitution”.
“The government has not only failed, but has deliberately transgressed its obligation to respect and protect the human rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights,” it said.
Although Mswane is already in Israel, the CFI launched an urgent application in the Gauteng North High Court to be heard on Tuesday, 7 December to have the government’s statement declared unconstitutional, said Cele.
She said the organisation’s attorneys had written to President Cyril Ramaphosa demanding an apology to South Africans “for exceeding the bounds of the government’s authority, and interfering in the rights of citizens”.
“The South African government’s decision to support a boycott of a country with which it has diplomatic relations and withdraw its support for a citizen – who will participate in a non-political cultural event in that country – is also irrational, especially in light of the fact that countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel are allowing their citizens to participate and are furnishing them with due support,” said the CFI.
“That agents of the South African government approached Miss South Africa and attempted to coerce her to withdraw from her legitimate participation in the Miss Universe pageant is unconscionable and disgraceful by all normal standards of governance,” it said.
The decision constituted “a standard of bullying by government” and also induced “a sense of unease” that the government may arbitrarily and unconstitutionally pick on any citizen “regarded with disfavour”.
Meanwhile a smiling and ecstatic Mswane has posted pictures of herself on Instagram in Israel dressed in locally designed outfits.
After a long silence, the 24-year-old took to social media before she left, saying attending Miss Universe was “not only an honour but also a huge responsibility”.
“I am determined to serve our country proudly in the best way I can. I stand today as an empowered woman because of so many before me who fought for our voices to be heard. I feel my duty is to do the same for the women of the past, the women of today, and the women to come.
“There is no greater time to shed light on issues affecting women, to choose courage over comfort, and to be steadfast in my beliefs regarding the advancement of women and our rights.”
Mswane said she viewed her participation in the pageant as a “unique opportunity” hopefully to contribute to the process of dialogue and peace.
“I am deeply thankful to all the amazing people who have supported and uplifted me, and brought me joy and comfort during the lead-up to this moment. I wish to compete with the support of South Africans and do my country proud,” she said.
In spite of the anti-Israel lobby’s attempts to harass contestants into pulling out of the pageant, not one country is boycotting. Several have pulled out due to COVID-19, but none have withdrawn for political reasons. The Israel-haters spread fake news that countries such as Greece and Barbados had withdrawn because they were boycotting Israel, however this was proven false.
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