We, the dispossessed


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Why bring your bulldozers to my home? In 1966 the apartheid government declared District Six in Cape Town to be a whites only area and began the process of demolishing it and moving the ‘non- white’ residents out of there to the Cape Flats, against ongoing protests. By 1982 some 60,000 people had been moved.  In the picture, residents try to clean up after the demolition. Now, these people and their descendants are lodging claims for what they lost

THERE was a reminder of apartheid’s madness on 11 February. Five hundred former residents and families of District Six in Cape Town – proclaimed a “whites only” area in 1966 and demolished according to the Group Areas Act – gathered at the Castle of Good Hope for a memorial.

It had been a vibrant, multicultural, multiracial community in the city centre where all sorts of people lived peacefully together until being forcibly relocated to places on the Cape Flats. By 1982, more than 60 000 people had been moved.

Another reminder of this country’s tortured history took place on Saturday, when President Cyril Ramaphosa handed over title deeds to the Griqua and Khoi communities of Ebenhaeser on the West Coast. Their century-old claim was the first to be finalised by the government after their removal from farms in the 1920s. The returned land will see local communities partnering with established commercial farmers in wine, livestock and game farming on 53 farms comprising 1 566 hectares of land.

The Land Claims Court dealt with the District Six claims. A total of 2 760 land claims from former residents were lodged and verified by 31 December 1998. Of these, 1 449 people opted for financial compensation while the rest opted to return to District Six. The situation ignited political wrangles, and there were other delays. But between 2004 and 2018, 139 housing units were built within the area for claimants.

These two instances are the tip of the iceberg of what needs to happen for this country to heal. Ramaphosa has cautioned whites, in measured tones, to stop frustrating land reform. However it’s often more perception than reality, since the court has dealt successfully with more claims than most people realise. Reportedly, between 1995 and 2014, 1.8 million people who applied for compensation received money. Out of 80 000 claims, about 77 000 cases were resolved.

Radical people are pushing Ramaphosa into more radical positions regarding land ownership for political expediency. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, and Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama have accumulated political ammunition, and pushed to enable expropriation without compensation, which would be a disaster for the country’s economy. But Malema’s appeal to young black people is obvious, through stories of grandparents and parents being thrown off their land, and left with nothing.

History cannot be undone, but the above gestures are important. The most dangerous time in a country’s life is when citizens are so confused that all they want is a strong leader to bring order. The trouble is, often the leader who arrives wants more than anything to be in charge, and becomes a dictator rather than a saviour.  Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, for example, to say nothing of Hitler. Ultimately, the land issue has to be faced with hard data, and it is up to the major political parties to convince the country of the hard data. District Six can be a touchstone.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

Youngsters who take the political bull by its horns


Take this egg for your face! A 15-year old boy targeted Australian Senator Fraser Anning in response to comments the senator made about Muslim immigrants to New Zealand and Australia

WHEN a teenager smashed an egg over the head of Australian Senator Fraser Anning last week, it was a potent act of protest which will rightly be spoken about; probably imitated, for many years to come. It follows the cliché of an audience throwing eggs at an unpopular politician pontificating in a hall. This particular politician greatly deserved it.

The senator had done what white supremacists do everywhere – attack immigrant Muslim and other migrant communities, as they have also done to Jews in the past. This followed the grisly killing of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand last week by a man described as a white supremacist. The senator did not exactly justify the killings, but clearly considered Muslim immigrants not welcome.

In the case of this egg and the embarrassment, the white senator will forever be the butt of jokes among supporters and foes alike, notwithstanding his aggressive response and slapping of the youngster, and subsequent wrestling of the boy to the ground by his hoods.

But for sure, he and his thuggish ilk will not disappear. Sadly they will be back, on the wave of increasing racism and nationalism in the world, not just in New Zealand and Australia, but more in Europe, exacerbated by unsavoury comments against ethnic minorities from the leader of the world’s most powerful country, President Donald Trump of the United States. Trump promises to “Make America great again!” but his underlying message is racist. Swastikas are appearing in unlikely domestic and public places, from Canada to Hungary. The world needs to move, lest we return to the poisonous racism of the 1930s.

The difference between this egg-in-your-face protest and other more conventional forms was that it was done by such a young person, a teenager too youthful to have had much political exposure. It shows the depth of unhappiness and sense of embattlement of Muslims. His means of protest was so unorthodox and theatrical that it brought immediate smiles to most people, even those who disagreed with the message. The video went viral worldwide.

There is a South African precedent: this Australian youngster’s gesture caught everyone so utterly by surprise, the same as four young women did when they stood up at the front of the audience in August 2016 at an Independent Electoral Commission results announcement ceremony in Pretoria, as President Jacob Zuma addressed the crowd. They held five signs saying “I am 1 in 3”, “#”, “10 years later”, “Khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”. The posters referred to the woman Zuma was accused of raping 10 years previously.

They stood there unmoving in black dresses, holding the placards in front of the podium, backs to Zuma. Nobody listened to him, he was unaware of what was on the posters and was overshadowed by the four women, who were then violently removed by the presidential security. But the crowd was drawn to the young protesters, and to the words on their posters rather than Zuma. They stole the show in the same way the Australian boy stole it from the racist senator.

It’s as if the world’s youth are on the move and won’t take adults’ hypocrisy anymore. At January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist all but stole the show with a howl to the comfortable global elite that “the house is on fire” and condemned the record number of flights by carbon-spewing private jets which ferried rich corporate bigwigs to the event. She was nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Grown-ups are being taught by the children in this topsy-turvy world.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

The thick skin of men in power


How to cock a snoot at the law: Powerful politicians develop devious ways of avoiding accountability for breaking the law; Former South African President Jacob Zuma (above) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are old hands at this

FORMER South African president Jacob Zuma and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu share something in common: No matter how much damning proof of wrongdoing piles up against them, they continue to behave without batting an eyelid. Zuma is out of office, after nearly destroying South Africa and should be in jail, but his cheerful face still appears on African National Congress party billboards and he is seen publically campaigning for the ANC, doing his characteristic dance, with no shame. People who rejoiced at the exposure of his corruption network thought, “We’ve got him!” But he projects himself as the victim of a conspiracy, saying, “I don’t know what I have done!”

Netanyahu’s three graft charges amount to very serious misdemeanours for which he could go to jail. But no crestfallen face has ever been seen from him. Withdrawing from politics to face his charges, which would be the right thing to do in good democracies, is totally unthinkable. That’s not how Israeli politics works and not how he works. Instead, he continues to behave as if he is a brave warrior fighting a sinister barrage of odds: “Without me at the helm to provide security, the country would fall!” is his message. Sadly, most Israelis believe him, as if there are no other capable people in the nation.

He claims a conspiracy against him from the ‘left’ and has made praise of anyone to the left of his politics as equivalent to a swear word: “It is the leftists who are out to get me”.  In a right wing country like Israel, with the left in disarray, this finds fertile ears.

Zuma has never gone to jail, nor will he: the rot of corruption in every aspect of South Africa with his fingerprints on it is so deep that it will take years to examine and tackle, no matter how many commissions of inquiry work at it. By then the country will have moved on with other things to worry about.

It is highly unlikely that Netanyahu will go to jail too, given the political boiling pot which is Israel and the Middle East. The mark of a canny politician is not only what he does while in office, but how he behaves after exposure for lying or stealing. Netanyahu is still firmly in charge of what happens now.

Politics is a slippery business, not a profession which inspires ethical behaviour in Israel, South Africa or elsewhere. Accountability is difficult to impose. In South Africa, with its toxic, racial mix in politics, most potential whistleblowers quickly withdraw when faced with accusations of racism. Fear of the consequences easily turns into turning a blind eye, all the way from the level of the shopkeeper who cooks his books to pay less tax, to the highest politician who rapes his secretary.

Zuma also made headlines in 2005 after accusations that he raped the woman known as Khwezi, earning him his nickname ‘shower head’ after saying he had taken a shower after sex with her. But he still has a huge, loyal following in KwaZulu-Natal province, which threatens President Cyril Ramaphosa’s power to do what is necessary. This despite the estimated R500 billion loss to the country through state capture which flourished under Zuma.

In politics, it is often the most shrewd, not necessarily the most principled politicians who end up having the greatest effect. But it sticks in the throat to see Netanyahu arrogantly strolling the streets of Jerusalem as if all is well, with his face on Likud posters smiling at the people, just like Zuma does in Johannesburg.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 



The Knesset: is it open to racists?

Mideast Israel Palestinians Rahm Emanuel

How far right should Jews go to defend themselves? Itamar Ben Gvir is an attorney and leader of far-right Oztma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, known to the public chiefly for his defense of far-right activists accused of hate crimes against Palestinians and other minorities. His clients have included several youths suspected of burning a Palestinian family alive in their home
(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

A DEMOCRACY cannot be judged by the nature of every party in its government. Its power is its ability to encompass widely different viewpoints. Even in extreme cases such as apartheid South Africa, where democracy only existed among whites, every white South African could not be classified as racist. Now it is Israel’s turn to be tested.

For power’s sake, politicians do foolish things which can be exploited against them. In the western world, the most potent accusation which can be hurled against a society today is that it is racist. Political leaders need to tread very carefully on this territory; whether true or not, the stain of the accusation remains.

Black populist politicians in South Africa who hate Israel would be delighted to get a story from reputable sources questioning whether Israelis are racist. BDS South Africa, which has lost a lot of its punch recently, would revel in this and blow it sky-high.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave them some of this weaponry in deciding to merge two rightwing parties for the upcoming Israeli elections, the one completely acceptable, the other so militantly extreme and racist that it has provoked massive reaction among Jews worldwide, particularly Americans. He couldn’t have predicted the virulence of the reaction, both for and against his move. Eminent rabbis in America and Israel are at each others’ throats. His opponents have said: “Shame on you!” for joining hands with despicable people.

Where do South African Jews stand? Must they take a position? As this country tries to heal its racial wounds, which easily provoke volatile reactions, this Zionistic community is moderately right wing in Jewish affairs. Jewish leaders say forcefully that they want to live in harmony with others, including Arabs if they make peace with Israel, and declare support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when Israel’s most fervent own proponents are arguing so intensely about its nature, which way should they turn?

According to Netanyahu’s plan, Israeli national religious party, The Jewish Home, will merge with the extremist party Jewish Power, which embraces the ideology of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the Jewish Defence League founded in 1968. Kahane’s party, Kach, was designated a terrorist group by Israel and the United States in 1994 for its violent, racially motivated actions. Its blunt platform was to brutally expel all Arabs from Israel, in a way which makes people in the western world recoil. It perpetrated violent acts in different countries, and Kahane received jail sentences in America and Israel. His spectre has hung over Jewish affairs ever since, influencing modern Jewish far-right groups and promoting further violence, including in recent decades: In July 2003 the Shin Bet said “the threat to the life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had grown” and “there was a threat from several dozen Kahanist extremists.”

Although Netanyahu’s motives were politically legitimate – to strengthen the rightwing bloc in the Knesset, rather than directly supporting Kach – it will not be judged this way by the world. Netanyahu feared that without the Kahanists joining them, The Jewish Home might not reach the electoral threshold to form a right-wing majority bloc.

An urgent statement by South African Jews on this issue would be important, even if just to deflect the accusation here that they support the Kahanists. Militant racism is part of South Africa’s history. It is dangerous for that genie to be let out of its bottle. Not only Israel must take great care on this, but the ball is also in the court of Jewish leaders in SA and elsewhere.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za