Pandor calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Israel’s ‘collective punishment on all Palestinians’
International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor on Tuesday called for an immediate comprehensive ceasefire in Gaza and the release of civilian hostages, describing Israel’s actions as ‘apartheid oppression’. Tensions split the House, even if all agreed that Middle East peace was necessary.
‘We join the world in expressing horror at the war crimes being committed in Palestine through targeting civilians, civilian infrastructure, UN premises and other vulnerable targets. These experiences remind us of our experiences as black South Africans living under apartheid,” International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said when opening her statement in the House on Tuesday about the Israel-Hamas war.
Seven actions were needed immediately, Pandor said, including an immediate comprehensive ceasefire, the full opening of humanitarian corridors so aid and basic services could reach those in need, all parties to exercise restraint from fuelling “this just war”, the release of all civilian hostages, the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East zone, the resumption of a “comprehensive dialogue” between Palestine and Israel, and a United Nations rapid deployment force to monitor the ceasefire and to protect civilians.
“The collective punishment that Israel is exacting on all Palestinians is an affront that has gone on too long.”
Comparing the Israel-Palestine conflict to black South Africans living under apartheid, Pandor effectively contextualised the governing ANC’s expression of support for Palestine by, for example, wearing kufiyahs in Parliament.
It was a notion she returned to in closing the bruising, acerbic debate in which the DA, Freedom Front Plus and African Christian Democratic Party sharply criticised the ANC for hypocrisy, bias and more.
“Our role must be to seek to build a better world that the benefits we enjoy of human rights, of a fantastic Constitution and of having institutions that work for all of us — that privilege is not just for us but must work for everyone,” Pandor said.
“And in any debate, if we are true to ourselves, if we are true to our history, if we are true to what we achieved, we will stand up to say what is being done to the people of Palestine is wrong, is intolerable and we will not pretend to accept it.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
The minister’s line was that no matter the aspersions, the ANC would not stop speaking up for the oppressed — although her statement on the Middle East war segued into the ANC’s longstanding call for a reform of the UN and the international governance system.
She said as “the crime of genocide, unfortunately, looms large” in Palestine, the selective application of international law and governance tools for Gaza was set to repeat previous failures in Rwanda in 1994, when almost a million people were killed, and in Bosnia.
“For international law to be effective it needs to be uniformly applied,” Pandor said.
Messy fault lines
No one in the House disagreed that peace in the Middle East was crucial. But the messy politico-ideological fault lines sparked tensions between the opposition and the ANC, as well as different stances within the opposition benches.
“The ANC is on the wrong side of history,” said Freedom Front Plus Chief Whip Corné Mulder, who pointed out the ANC initially did not condemn the Hamas killing of 1,400 civilians in Israel on 7 October.
Withdrawing the South African ambassador to Israel sent the message that “you are with Russia … you are with Hamas and you are with Iran”, he said in a reference to Pandor’s recent visit to Iran.
While the ACDP took a similar sharp stance, also over South Africa withdrawing its diplomats from Israel, most other opposition parties essentially agreed with Pandor that what was unfolding in Gaza was unacceptable and that a two-state solution was the only way to ensure lasting Middle East peace.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA recalls diplomats in Tel Aviv over ‘untenable’ situation with Israeli ambassador
Describing Israel as a “murderous apartheid regime engaged in systematic eradication of Palestinians”, EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi called for South Africa to cut diplomatic ties with Israel.
“Why are we friends with people who are violating the values of our Constitution? Let’s sever ties with Israel,” Ndlozi said.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said his party stood on the side of peace and negotiations — and a two-state solution would provide the peace and justice the Middle East needed.
“We call on Israel to exercise restraint and commit to a ceasefire and a peace process. We call on Hamas to join the peace process and come to the negotiation table in finding an amicable solution to this conflict.”
Supporting the UN call for an immediate ceasefire, Hlengwa said humanitarian aid had to reach those in need.
A minefield for the DA
For the DA, Tuesday’s debate on Pandor’s statement was walking a minefield.
DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia was recently removed as the party’s public enterprises spokesperson for his statement on social media that “Israel is committing genocide”.
The DA insisted he had transgressed a caucus decision that only its international relations spokesperson, Emma Powell, would speak on this issue. In a statement on social media, Cachalia said, “I will now proceed to perform my legislative and oversight duties from the backbenches and will ensure I serve the party and the nation in continuing what I began.”
Pandor’s statement in the House was preceded by Cachalia’s replacement on the public enterprises committee, as published in Parliament’s record of work, the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports.
Powell, as the duly mandated person to speak on the war, defined it as one of “radicalism which seeks the annihilation of the other side” against rationality that recognises both Israel’s and Palestine’s right to statehood and security.
Unlike many others on the opposition benches, Powell spoke of the need for safe zones for displaced Palestinians — and a humanitarian pause.
“Hamas’ actions on 7 October also betrayed the people of Gaza, unleashing a calamity that is unprecedented in living memory, upon more than two million Palestinians,” Powell said.
“What is equally true, is that the people of Palestine are not defined by Hamas. And the people of Palestine cannot, and must not, be subjected to collective punishment.”
Citing South Africa’s history as proof that peace could be possible even in dark times, the DA MP called on leaders across the political landscape to unite to call for peace on the basis of shared constitutional values.
That Powell and Pandor invoked South Africa’s transition to democracy, but in such different ways — as a “beacon of hope” for peace, and standing up for the oppressed, respectively — underscores the divisions in South Africa.
This comes at a time when South Africa is increasingly drawn into complex global geopolitical and economic dynamics — with a crucial domestic general election on the horizon. DM