Underlying the furore over the ad against Hamas placed by SA Friends of Israel in the Sunday Times – it is not yet clear how it will play out in the coming weeks – sits the perennial, painful question: what is the future for Jews in this country? And other white minorities such as Afrikaners whose ethnic identities are partially at odds with dominant political forces.
Will the betrayal SA Jews feel at the ANC’s enthusiasm for terrorist-branded Hamas add more reason for young Jews to throw in the towel on South Africa and emigrate? The Jewish population has already shrunk by half since its peak of 135 000 in the 1970s. Many factors push in this direction, such as the ticking time bomb of poverty in the country. When will it explode – as it must eventually? And things like the corruption estimated by the Institute of Internal Auditors to have cost the country R700 billion over the past two decades, the cronyism and maladministration. And the ‘reverse racism’ many whites feel.
SA Jews are as South African as anyone else, and must insist on this. The most stirring thing would be for them to stand their ground forcefully and demand government sensitivity to their feelings – including their loyalty to Israel.
The dilemma also applies to other white minorities, amidst strident calls by black students, trade unions, and political parties such as Julius Malema’s EFF to ‘decolonise’ universities, and ‘transform’ society and all its institutions. In theory, all this is good for South Africa, but in practise it has come to mean getting rid of whites and making those who remain feel insecure. Racism is, sadly, as malignant a force as it ever was.
Jews and Afrikaners share certain things as white minorities with strong ethnic identities, historical involvement in South Africa’s development, and a sense of being politically embattled today, not just as whites, but regarding their particular place in society. Both groups are highly educated, active in business, the professions and the arts. For Afrikaners, their disquiet is partly about how their language is regarded. For Jews, it is partly about how Israel is regarded. Over the past few decades, many Jews and Afrikaners left the country, seeking security and stability, and taking skills and talents with them. The country is much the poorer for it.
Would white Jews and Afrikaners come back if offered help? It is a touchy subject in the atmosphere of growing racial tensions. To say the country is in a mess and would benefit from their – and others’ – return is to open oneself to accusations of racism. But it is true: The country is in a mess, and needs the skills the emigrants took with them.
But there is hope, despite the rudderless, leaky ship the ANC has become under Jacob Zuma. ANC stalwart Mathews Phosa has stuck his neck out and said South Africa should make it easy for skilled Afrikaner and other whites who left the country to come back. A gutsy thing in today’s political climate; easy fodder for incitement by Malema’s anti-white ilk. Addressing a conference on “Whiteness – Whites‚ Afrikaans‚ Afrikaners” hosted by the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection‚ Phosa said the economy bumbled along at an inferior level, without meeting the country’s needs. South Africa had failed to bring in the expertise available that went with the whites who emigrated, and there was excessive government interference in employment policies and practices.
“Let’s open the doors and welcome those skilled and experienced Afrikaners and other whites that abandoned their beloved country in search of security and stability, and acknowledge their skills in our economy. Let’s make it easy for them to return and to stay‚” Phosa said. Successful nations were built on education‚ skills and harnessing experience.
Many emigrant South African Jews have done well in Australia, Canada, the UK, the US, Israel and elsewhere. If they are to consider returning, they must be convinced they will not feel unwelcome, and money they bring back or earn here will be secure.
That is not yet the case. If the people of honour still left in the ANC – many Struggle veterans are deeply unhappy about the state of the party – want to help, they need to turn the ship of state around urgently and avoid things like the Hamas debacle.
(Geoff Sifrin is a journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. This article was first published in SAJR on November 11, 2015)