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Pandor’s box creaks open on SA’s Hamas ties



Several opposition parties have taken on South Africa’s department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) and its minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, probing its relationships with Hamas, Iran, Qatar, and Russia.

The questions dig into the costs of South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ); the funding for the case; the role that South Africa could play in getting Hamas to release the hostages; and why South Africa has gone to the ICJ on Israel but not Russia.

While some questions were dodged or left unanswered, a question from the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the National Assembly on 28 February prompted Pandor to say, “The action of Hamas may very well constitute a war crime and should be investigated.” She said the government stood by its call for a two-state solution, and said, “We should look at what steps we might take to support the call that all hostages held by Hamas must be freed.” But when the DA asked in early March if the minister considered Hamas to be the legitimate government or a terrorist group, she responded that she didn’t see Hamas as a terrorist organisation “in line with the United Nations”.

Meanwhile, the DA is digging deeper into the past, questioning ties between South Africa, Hamas, Iran, Qatar, and Russia, and what they meant for the 7 October attack and afterwards. In early February, the DA asked whether President Cyril Ramaphosa or any member of cabinet had met with or had a telephone discussion with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh or any other Hamas leader between 2022 to the present day. It also asked for full details of the discussion, and any agreements reached.

The DA also asked if there was discussion of any strategy whereby South Africa could assist Hamas, Iran, or any other country in “waging a diplomatic and/or legal offensive against the state of Israel at any time in 2022, 2023, and 2024”, and the relevant details.

In response, Pandor denied contact with or the planning of a diplomatic or legal offensive between South Africa, Hamas, Iran, and Qatar, but confirmed that “Dirco issued a media statement on 17 October 2023 confirming that [Pandor] received a request to call Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to discuss getting humanitarian aid to Palestine.” Later, she said that there were “open lines of communication” with all Palestinian organisations including Fatah and Hamas.

The DA also probed a South African state visit to Qatar in November 2023. This was a large delegation of 10 people, and the minutes of the meetings there haven’t been revealed. In response to the DA’s questions, Pandor revealed the names of those in the delegation – including herself and the president – and the programme of events, but insisted that “the meetings held in the state of Qatar were of a confidential nature and the minutes of the said meetings are classified”.

Emma Powell, the DA shadow minister of international relations and cooperation, asked if any guests travelling aboard aircraft returning to South Africa from any state visit to Qatar in 2023 made any foreign currency declarations on their return from those meetings, and for details of sponsorships, donations, and financial transfers provided for any purposes to the president and his cabinet, or to government officials by any Qatari, Iranian, or Russian organ of state, organisation, or resident. She didn’t receive a response.

She asked the minister to provide the “full costs of South Africa’s litigation at the ICJ with a breakdown of costs per line item, funded by her department”. She asked if the South African government had “received any financial, legal, or communications assistance from any other organisation or state in respect of South Africa’s litigation at the ICJ in respect of the Israel/Gaza war”.

On 28 February, Pandor responded, “I’m sure the honourable Powell wishes that her fantasy that some other government funded the legal case South Africa brought should be true. There’s been no money from any sinister source provided for this case.”

Finally, the DA asked, “In light of the department’s decision to recall diplomats from Tel Aviv and close our foreign mission in Israel, what plans will be made to ensure South Africans from both Israel and Palestine are able to vote on election day from Israel?”

Pandor responded, “Our embassy in Ramallah is pulling out all the stops to provide consular assistance to any South African that remains in the area of conflict, or indeed in Tel Aviv. We’ll do all we can to ensure that South Africans are well-served.” She asked that the DA ask Israel to “stop its onslaught” so that diplomatic missions could resume their work.

Meanwhile, Inkatha Freedom Party Member of Parliament (MP) Mkhuleko Hlengwa asked about the costs of South Africa’s ICJ case, to which Pandor responded that “the costs aren’t prohibitive” as officials were being paid from departmental budgets. “The other legal counsel has provided pro bono services,” she said. She pledged to make public the travel and accommodation costs incurred, and said the government’s legal staff would be paid by the justice or international relations departments where they were employed. “These are resources that are well-spent,” she said.

When the African Christian Democratic Party’s Steve Swart asked if Pandor could use South Africa’s “close ties to Hamas and its Iranian backers” to try to reach a ceasefire which would include the release of the hostages, Pandor said she was “taken aback” that Swart believed South Africa had close ties to Hamas, and insisted it didn’t. South Africa had “normal relations” with Iran, she said.

Questioned by Swart about why the government wasn’t more vocal about Russia ignoring a genocide order of the ICJ, Pandor said the situations couldn’t be compared.

Meanwhile, other parties used the opportunity of the National Assembly plenary on 28 February to push for further action against Israel. The Economic Freedom Fighters called Israel “racist and murderous”, and asked why the Israeli embassy in Pretoria hadn’t been closed. “Cabinet is yet to deliberate and finalise this,” said Pandor.

African National Congress MP Desmond Moela asked how South Africa intended to engage with other nations, “especially those expressing support for the government’s action [at the ICJ] and to ensure that the decisions [of the ICJ] are respected”.

Pandor responded that the government through her department was working to strengthen ties with other countries against Israel’s “intended genocide”. This included exploring joint legal action. “We attempt to persuade countries to the merit of South Africa’s case,” she said.

MP Brett Herron of the Good Party asked what steps South Africa would take if “Israel is found to be in contempt of the ICJ judgment”. Pandor responded that South Africa would “continue to utilise options available to seek action”.

Regarding why he asked such probing questions, Swart told the SA Jewish Report, “We all want peace and regret the loss of lives on both sides, but Pandor’s assumption is that Israel is to blame. We say Hamas is to blame, and should release the hostages immediately.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. yitzchak

    Mar 10, 2024 at 1:26 pm

    Pandor’s box creaky? What about the women who were so viciously raped and murdered?

    Calling all muslims! Give lots of sadaka /charity… only problem is that if it goes up the Red Sea , your allies in Yemen may missile it and it will feed the fishes instead.
    If you give money it will get to the leadership.
    My suggestion is to give money to the Hommentassen foundation in Ashkelon for mishloach matanot to the Gazans or give to Haim’s Pizzeria in ashdod for home delivery in Gaza

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