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Ramaphosa calls for engagement on Israel – and help with SA’s revival

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“We must be vigilant against all forms of intolerance including anti-Semitism,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa in a landmark address to the South African Jewish community on 12 September at the Gardens Shul in Cape Town. “We must respond to it with the same resolve as we do against any act or statement that seeks to demean any faith, gender, or ethnic group.”
by TALI FEINBERG | Sep 20, 2018

He later said, “We must recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbours... South Africa stands ready to help and participate in the peace process.” It was just one of many points he made to allay the concerns of the South African Jewish community.

Ramaphosa spoke at the invitation of Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, who said in his introduction, “Your victory is a rejection of the ghastly attempt at state capture for the personal enrichment of a select few.”

Goldstein did not mince his words in describing the South African Jewish community’s commitment both to this country and the Jewish State. “We love and cherish the state of Israel – it is part of who we are. We cannot be separated from it,” he said.

He pointed out that it was in South Africa’s best interests to form strong ties with “the only free, democratic country in the entire Middle East, and to partner with the robust economy and technology of Israel to create jobs here. It is indeed in the interests of peace, and Palestinian national aspirations, for South Africa to retain an involvement... to downgrade [the South African Embassy in Israel] is to become irrelevant,”, to which the president nodded in understanding.

Equally, “We are loyal partners in the noble and holy endeavour to uplift, transform, renew, and reinvigorate South Africa,” said the chief rabbi. “I would like to pledge our partnership with you in building this country.

Goldstein said that many members of the community had borne the brunt of the slow South African economy, and were under tremendous financial pressure. “As your partners, Mr President, we turn to you to direct the South African economy to a new cycle of growth.”

Ramaphosa began by acknowledging that, “The significant contribution by the Jewish community to the development of our society is admired by many South Africans. Our history is punctuated with examples – both celebrated an unknown – who fought against injustice. They led from the front. Today, Jewish South Africans continue to play vital roles across a broad spectrum of human endeavour.”

He emphasised that, “Our national call to action today is jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs. As government, we are hard at work to create an environment in which enterprise can thrive and provide opportunities... We have embarked on an ambitious but necessary programme to stimulate both domestic and international investment of $100 billion (R1.4 trillion) over the next five years. The investment is necessary if we are to expand our productive capacity as a country and generate faster and inclusive growth.”

The president said that his government aimed to build a new generation of entrepreneurial South Africans who were able to establish businesses for themselves and employment for others. “The Jewish community is ideally placed to contribute to this effort, because many high-standing entrepreneurs in our country who are Jewish have contributed immensely to the creation of great companies.”.

Ramaphosa emphasised, “We have taken significant measures to end the scourge of corruption. The state capture commission is the spearhead of a range of interventions that will investigate the depth of criminality that has impoverished our society and economy. There must be accountability for those that have done wrong against the people of South Africa.”

Regarding the land-reform debate, the president said, “It has inspired a lot of hope by a lot of South Africans, but it has also instilled a lot of fear among a number of South Africans who are current owners of property. We would like the land-reform process to unfold within the framework of our Constitution, and to be underpinned by the rule of law, and that it should be implemented in ways that broaden economic opportunity and social cohesion among all South Africans.”

Looking back at South Africa’s transition to democracy, he said there were four issues that were particularly difficult: language, education, the right to strike, and land. “We were able to find solutions for all, but the land question was a historic wound, and continued to fester. It needs further attention, and to be dressed, sutured, and healed permanently, through a parliamentary process that will provide clarity and certainty for landless South Africans, land owners, and investors alike.

“We must continue to play a constructive role in the quest for peace in the Middle East,” Ramaphosa said. “The decision that was taken by the governing party about the embassy status is a decision that I’m sure has disturbed many Jewish people in our country. It is a conference decision, but let us continue engaging. Let us not walk away from each other. Yes, you all have affinity and a commitment and a loyalty and a continued bond with the state of Israel. As South Africans, we recognise, acknowledge and applaud you for that because that is your destiny. But you are South Africans as well, at the same time. That is what we must recognise.”

Commenting on the speech, political analyst Daniel Silke said, “President Ramaphosa is a highly credible messenger, and his comments will resonate well within the community. However, in terms of substance, the remarks were somewhat formulaic or generic, and offered little insight into finding the necessary political and economic solutions for the country.

“Ultimately, while his message of consensus building, fighting prejudice, and acknowledging the importance of the community in job creation are positive, the speech reflected the current muddled policy environment in which the ANC operates. Platitudes are always well-meaning – but platitudes are not enough to alter the current troubled state of the economy and polarised political debates. The address – much like the rest of the South African realpolitik at the moment – reflects a state of policy ‘limbo’. It is waiting for the outcome of the 2019 election before, perhaps, finding new and more effective ways to deal with the current state of unease.”

But, Cape Board Chairman Rael Kaimowitz said the South African Jewish Board of Deputies was encouraged by the president’s address, “which showed great statesmanship, fortitude, and sensitivity. His message that anti-Semitism must be rooted out along with all other hate and intolerance ties in with our campaign that there is ‘No Place for Hate’ in the Western Cape and South Africa. It was also timely, given the verdict by the Human Rights Commission in finding Tony Ehrenreich guilty of hate speech in the same week.

“Whilst our community is unsettled by the macro uncertainty in the country around the recession and the land issue, as well as the threatened downgrading of the South African Embassy in Israel, it was heart-warming to hear the president’s recognition of the centrality of Israel to the community, as well as his commitment to a two-state solution, in line with the board’s own policy.”

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