Is it time to go?
I sit here staring at my suitcase, contemplating whether it’s time to leave the only home I’ve ever known. I imagine my ancestors, in the frigid cold of Lithuania, a mere 100 years ago, looking at the red flags of a rising tide of Jew hatred and wondering the exact same thing. Everything has an expiry stamp, and South Africa is looking like we’re fast approaching the “best before date”.
A year ago, an American Jewish non-governmental organisation visited South Africa to see whether it should begin planning a mass evacuation for South African Jewry. I laughed it off. I feel a little foolish about that now.
For Jews, this country no longer feels like a safe space or “home”. The government has been captured by radical Islamists and their sympathisers. We have normalised Jew hatred and justified massacres. Our country has lost its soul, and it’s time for our community to start a real and honest discussion about its future.
As a former anti-apartheid activist, the founder of the Jewish anti-apartheid movement, executive director of the Independent Electoral Commission, a cog in the president’s CR17 campaign, and involved in countless social and civic organisations, people have always held me personally responsible for the abundant failures of our government. But I also became the sounding board for many anxious families trying to navigate a very uncertain future.
Over the years, scores of people have asked me whether I believed South Africa held a viable future for them and their children. I always answered with a standard boilerplate reply, “No-one can tell you what to do, it’s a very personal decision, but for me, South Africa is and will always be my home, a place with a Jewish community, more engaged, more vibrant than anywhere else in the world.”
Many of those I counselled decided that South Africa didn’t offer them an attractive future and landed up as strangers in the plasticity of the United States, the tundra of Canada, the misery of London, the bareness of Australia, the obscurity of New Zealand, and more recently, the damp of Amsterdam. Many went back to claim their birth right in Israel, learning how to do their own laundry. True, many also became tax refugees, sipping wine from Franschhoek in their Tel Aviv penthouses, with a view of the Mediterranean.
Today, the South African Jewish community numbers but one third of what it did at its peak. Though our numbers have shrunk, the vibrancy of our community has remained intact.
In the 1970s and 1980s they used to joke, “When the Jews go; it’s time to leave, when the Portuguese go; it’s too late.”
The clock ticked, and stopped on 7 October 2023.
The behaviour of the South African government was nothing short of betrayal. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s failure to condemn the 7 October massacre; his failure to reach out to the families of the two South Africans massacred in the Hamas genocide; his failure to act on the two South Africans kidnapped by Hamas; and his smirk blame of Israel for deserving the attack two weeks after the massacre, while wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, will forever be a symbol of his Judas moment.
In American politics, they talk of a “tortoise on a lamppost”. Sometimes, the tortoise mistakenly believes that it got onto the lamppost by itself.
Ramaphosa’s spineless leadership has allowed his jihadist foreign minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, and her mujahidin director general, Zane Dangor, to direct foreign policy without intervention. Pandor mislead Parliament by claiming that there were no beheadings of babies and that Israel had attacked the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital. With no South African diplomats in Israel and Al Jazeera as her only source of information, Pandor meanders in the dark. Her ignorance, however, is self-inflicted. Her department was invited to view the 47-minute video of Hamas-captured atrocities, and declined to attend.
Hamas informs us that Pandor telephoned it to congratulate it on the success of its “Al-Aqsa Flood” attack on Israel. Pandor claimed that she was merely offering humanitarian assistance, but refused to release the “call-out” transcript of the conversation. As a convert to Islam, Pandor uses her own zealotry to pursue a pro-Hamas agenda to the detriment of South Africa.
In December, Hamas visited South Africa, was feted in our Parliament, and celebrated in the African National Congress’ (ANC’s) offices in Johannesburg. When Ramaphosa finally met the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, he sprinted to issue a statement and later, while meeting the Muslim community, stated that they had issued a statement as “we’re concerned there are distortions”. Given that the president’s statement was issued first, this both makes no logical sense and effectively paints the official representative body of Jews in South Africa as liars.
It’s a clash of civilizations. Jews have traditionally ascribed to the values of Western liberal democracy. In the ANC’s hard-left, revolutionary world view, Western interests must be opposed everywhere – in Ukraine, in Morocco, and in Israel. South Africa believes that it must be the vanguard liberation movement celebrating the imagined successes of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia. Pandor is currently attending the 7th Africa-Cuba Solidarity Conference in White River.
But actions have consequences. The West is becoming increasingly disenchanted by South Africa’s antics. Last year, South Africa’s invitation to the G7 Summit didn’t materialise, and the currency has lost 50% of its value under Ramaphosa. The renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act looks increasingly precarious together with the approximately 250 000 jobs it created. South Africa is increasingly isolated from those countries which could help it the most.
Ramaphosa had a choice to turn South Africa into a Singapore or a Sudan. He chose Sudan.
But the final straw for many has been the sacking of David Teeger as captain of the South Africa Under-19 cricket team. By even Cricket SA’s own account, Teeger did nothing wrong, but his presence as a Jew and Zionist as captain of the junior Proteas became untenable for it in case it would become a flashpoint for violent pro-Palestinian protests.
Effectively, the decision by Cricket SA means that no Jew could ever captain another South African sports team. Lawson Naidoo, the head of Cricket SA has effectively instructed Jewish South African sports people to “get into the closet”. His belief being, if you wish to play for us, hide your identity don’t tell anyone who you are or what you believe in, become the Marranos of South Africa.
Well Lawson got it wrong, we aren’t those Jews. His racist bigotry will forever haunt him.
South Africa today stands on trial, its belief that it can sacrifice its Jewish community on the altar of its own political expediency is laid bare before us.
As a community, we need some urgent dialogue about the red lines that have been crossed and whether South Africa still affords us the opportunity to live as free Jews in a society where we’re equals. Regrettably, it’s the question from which we can no longer hide.
As a community, we’ve contributed far more to South Africa than we’ve received, and if South Africa doesn’t realise that now, it will be too late.
- Howard Sackstein is chairperson of the SA Jewish Report.