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SA leaders oppose embassy downgrade

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MIRAH LANGER

“Our responsibility is to implement the resolution without delay,” ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa told SA Jewish Report, insisting:“The ANC will downgrade.”

Kodwa said the decision was not against all Jewish people, many of whom had been part of the ANC and the struggle against apartheid.

He added that the decision to downgrade the embassy, announced at the governing party’s 54th national elective conference in December, was “not an anti-Israeli decision… [but rather] a resolution to condemn the Israeli state, which is committing atrocities against the people of Ramallah and denying the freedom of the Palestinian people”.

Kodwa’s remarks come in the wake of a recent address by Zwelithini, who, during a meeting with ANC officials – including newly elected party president Cyril Ramaphosa – said the party should not be interfering in the situation with Israel.

The king’s comments were made during a courtesy visit, paid to the Zulu monarch earlier this month by some of the newly elected top six ANC leaders. They paid homage to the king at his Osuthu Royal Palace in Nongoma, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“…Mr President, there are things that I don’t like talking about much, which is to interfere in things we know nothing about,” Zwelithini told Ramaphosa, according to a translation from isiZulu to English that was provided by the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF).

He told Ramaphosa: “I am pleading that we should not find ourselves involved in wars that we know nothing of, because we will find that the people in whose wars we involve ourselves with are the same people who work in ways that can help us with our drought issues.”

Kodwa declined to comment on Zwelithini’s remarks.

Prince Thulani Zulu, spokesperson for the royal household, said the king’s remarks were offered as advice and not meant to be political. “The king is not a politician, but he speaks his mind,” said Zulu. “Whatever he gives to anyone is advice. He is not taking sides with any people.”

Zulu described Zwelithini’s relationship with South African Jewry as “very good”, adding that he had visited the Israeli embassy in Pretoria.

He put the monarch’s interest in Israel down to the agricultural skills its people offered. “They can help us grow our own food in times of drought… They can turn our country into a bread basket,” said Zulu.

He said Zwelithini’s palace was “the home of everyone” and that he was always looking for good ideas from people who visited which could help the nation.

“The king is a farmer – he has looked internationally and in Africa to see where they can till the soil. He will take any assistance from a government where we can get help; he is not politically inclined.”

So, said Zulu, the king’s comments to the ANC went along these lines: “There is something good to take from other people. I would advise you to do the same.”

Asked why Zwelithini met with the ANC if he was not politically involved, Zulu said it was part of a broader open-door policy. “Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema has visited the king; the DA has visited; almost all the political parties have visited,” he said.

“They come to seek blessings as he is the father of everyone – without fear or favour.”

In response, the SAZF issued a statement “imploring the ANC to take note of the call of the Zulu king, who represents a major constituency of the ANC”, said SAZF national chairperson Ben Swartz.

“The ANC should not take a radical position on a conflict, but should rather seek to open channels of dialogue and discussion.”

Swartz also noted recent comments by Nkosi Bishop Phakama Shembe, a key leader of the Shembe Church, who has affirmed the need for South Africa to support Israel.

“Our duty as South Africans is not to choose the path of boycott and disengagement, but to assist in whatever way we can,” Shembe was quoted as saying in the SAZF statement.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to Ramaphosa dated January 10, African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe said he felt “utter disappointment at the announcement of the embassy downgrade”.

“Downgrading the South African embassy will not serve the broader interests of our people here at home, but only the narrow political interests of hateful Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation; organisations that continue to dream about annihilating Israel from the face of the earth,” said the opposition party politician.

In his letter, Meshoe characterised Israel as “a democratic country that has so much to offer to South Africa” and said the move would “disqualify South Africa from playing any mediatory role in any future peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians”.

“To be a credible mediator, one has to be seen to be neutral in any conflict. The haters of Israel should not be allowed to use the ANC to make South Africa look like we are haters of Israel.”

He said the downgrade “will neither be in the interests of South Africans nor of the Palestinians that the ANC is allegedly trying to help”.

In October, Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi characterised the Inkatha Freedom Party, of which he is president, as a “friend of Israel”.

During a visit in August by Israeli ambassador Lior Keinan to the opposition party’s parliamentary caucus, Buthelezi said there was “concern” over the “way in which the ruling party of South Africa and, consequently, our government, has taken sides against Israel”.

“We cannot see that this is either just or beneficial to a resolution,” he added.

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