South African Zulu King Warns Government against Downgrading Ties with Israel

January 16, 2018

by: Ilse Posselt

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South African Zulu President Zwelithini

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 | Last month South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) announced its intention to loosen diplomatic ties with Israel and downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office. The decision, the ANC explained, served both as a show of solidarity with the alleged suffering of the Palestinian people and condemnation of the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Although such a move would be to the detriment of South Africans, the announcement hardly came as a surprise. In recent years the relationship between South Africa and Israel has been fraught at best. While the two countries retained diplomatic ties, South Africa has become a leading voice in condemning Israel, accusing the Jewish state of Apartheid practices and endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Yet while the ANC works to distance itself from Israel, the constitutionally-recognized king of South Africa’s largest ethnic group has issued an urgent request to the ruling party to maintain close ties with the Jewish state, citing the importance of South Africa’s relationship with Israel.

King Goodwill Zwelithini, monarch of the roughly 12.5 million members of the country’s Zulu nation, hailed the Jewish state’s dedicated efforts to curb the devastation of drought and the spread of HIV/Aids in South Africa. During an address to the ANC’s top leadership last week, including newly elected party president, Cyril Ramaphosa, he explained that he has enjoyed a close relationship with Israel and South Africa’s Jewish community for nearly a decade, in which Israeli expertise have benefitted South Africans. Moreover, he warned that South Africa should refrain from becoming embroiled in issues of which it has little knowledge.

Referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zwelithini cautioned the leaders against interfering “in things we know nothing about… because we will find that the people that we involve ourselves with… are the same people that work in ways that can help us with our drought issues. They can change that and make our dams our source of life,” the king urged.

Israel’s cutting-edge breakthroughs in water technology are, however, not the only way in which it blesses South Africa, Zwelithini said. In 2009, the Zulu monarch issued a decree introducing medical circumcision for boys to curb the rampant spread of HIV/Aids in the country. In the nine years since, more than 700,000 boys have been circumcised. And Israel, he highlighted, played a leading role in the initiative.

“There are two offices [clinics] that have been built by Jewish organizations [The South African Zionist Federation and South African Friends of Israel] in this Kingdom. They came here because I requested them to come. They built these offices [clinics] the day I announced circumcision on the 6th December 2009,” Zwelithini held.

The South African Zionist Federation applauded the monarch’s statement, adding that it “implores the ANC to take note of the call of the Zulu king, who represents a major constituency of the ANC.”

Zwelithini is not the only South African leader to ask the ANC to retain ties with Israel. Last week, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Reverend Kenneth Meshoe penned an open letter to Ramaphosa, requesting that he reconsiders the prospective downgrade.

“I cannot understand why, when many African countries are now warming up to and improving their relations with Israel… the ANC does the opposite by resolving to downgrade our embassy in Tel Aviv, and thus sour relations with Israel, a democratic country that has so much to offer to South Africa,” the ACDP leader said.

According to Meshoe, South Africa “has many challenges in areas where Israel has specialized technology… Israel is a world leader in innovation and technology that can benefit South Africa.”

Yet despite calls to the contrary, Ramaphosa, who is likely to become South Africa’s president following the 2019 elections, remained adamant and reaffirmed over the weekend that the plans to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel will go ahead.

Posted on January 16, 2018

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 16 January 2018)

Photo Credit: Reinhardth/Wikimedia.org

Photo License: Wikimedia