Stains that can’t be removed

Bibi in Paris (2)

Netanyahu, stay away from Paris! On January 13, 2015 three million plus Parisians and foreign leaders participated in an anti-terror demonstration after terrorist murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery in Paris. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked not to attend by the French president for fear he would exploit the event for his own political purposes leading up to Israeli parliamentary elections in March. But he ignored the request and attended anyway. Here he is shown with a band of leaders. He also called on all the Jews of France to leave and go to Israel

LEGACY is an important thing, to anyone. What will you be remembered for? Too many heroes of the struggle against apartheid who gave their all for it, and were admired, became corrupt and immoral when the struggle was over. Former president Jacob Zuma, who was head of intelligence of the ANC, went on to become the epitome of corrupt government, leading to the country being robbed of billions of rands. The shine he and his ilk had during Nelson Mandela’s days is long gone, replaced by a myriad sleazy politicians driving fancy cars and stashing away their ill-gotten millions in foreign bank accounts.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to come to trial, after being indicted last week. Politically, his opponents will dance for joy at the fact that his legacy will forever be “Israeli prime minister indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” It is a tragedy, since he and his family contributed hugely to Israel for its founding and after. He personally did this from his younger days, such as serving in an elite army unit, providing a sense of security to the country amidst its multiple enemies, and being its highly articulate spokesperson on the international stage. To this day, thousands of Israelis still believe in him totally and call him the king of Israel.

History is a harsh judge. It casts an exacting light on powerful people for whom their power has become addictive and has led them to believe they can do anything without accountability. A student of history who logs on to Wikipedia 50 years from now for information on Netanyahu, will probably find him described as the longest serving Israeli prime minister, but see him deemed, a sentence or two later, as the first Israeli prime minister indicted for serious misdemeanours while he was in office. Whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings, which will dominate Israeli politics for years to come, he cannot remove this stain from his record.

Numerous powerful people and historical figures who have been discovered to have done something abhorrent will be remembered by history only for that act, not their greater deeds. When the former president of Israel, Moshe Katzav’s name is mentioned, it is not his term as president that comes to mind, but his abuse of women, and the fact that he was sent to jail.

Sidney Frankel, a billionaire stockbroker in South Africa supported homes for underprivileged orphans for many years, gave money to worthy causes, and was universally respected and admired, until it was discovered that he had been sexually molesting these same orphans. Now, whenever this man’s name crops up, all you can think of is these sexual crimes against vulnerable children. Think of former South African police chief Jackie Selebi, who goes down in history as a beneficiary of drug trafficking. Think of highly respected South African artist Zwelethu Mthetwa who murdered a prostitute in 2013, and will be remember for that, alone. What do you remember about world famous athlete Oscar Pistorius?

Legacies can move in the other direction, too. The famed German Oskar Schindler who saved 1 200 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis by employing them in his own factories, was previously himself a card-carrying member of the Nazi party. Today his legacy is one of a selfless, courageous man. There are still Jews today who can trace their family to the people he saved.

Sadly, Netanyahu seems to have travelled a well-trodden path from the heights of glory to an ignominious end without ever being willing to let go. His legacy will not be his courage in battle, or his diplomatic talents but his arrogance, his wheeling and dealing and his corruption. Had he let go, it might have been different.

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



A tale of two suburbs

Zuma at Zondo (2)

Now tell us what you know and what did you did! Former SA president Jacob Zuma has been grilled at the Zondo Commission about his role in the “State Capture” of major public institutions for the benefit of himself and his friends

20 July 2019

THE IMPRESSIVE and effective functioning of South Africa’s legal system shown by the dignity and thoroughness with which the commission investigating state capture is doing its work, must be noted by people who have been uncertain about where the country is headed. Among the many South Africans who have left the country over the years because they lacked confidence in its future, there is lots to think about. Perhaps some might even consider coming back.

The appearance before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture of a humbled former SA president Jacob Zuma, to explain his role in the corruption of the nine years during which he was in charge, is an example. He stands accused of allowing or encouraging the ‘capture’ of state institutions by criminal elements, including the notorious Gupta family.

He has been allowed every possibility to ‘have his days in court’, which is what everyone is entitled to. Justice Zondo went to great lengths to insist on Zuma and his legal team being given all necessary protection to ensure their safety and shield them from intimidation.

The remarkable thing is that, despite attempts to undermine it, the country’s basic legal foundations have stood up. South Africans can raise a glass to that. It was gratifying to see this once powerful man, the former president, talking to the judge at the commission’s premises in Parktown, Johannesburg, as if he was just another citizen facing the law trying to explain his way out of a difficult situation. It remains to be seen if he might outwit those using the legal process on the other side to tie him down.

Despite the impressiveness of the Zondo commission and other legal examples such as the respected constitutional court, to which many have turned for rulings about adherence to the constitution of the republic, some people who left the country would still be relieved that they have built other lives elsewhere, where political complications are less severe and there might be greater opportunities for them. But others might miss the country they were brought up in, as it performs in ways they never thought possible.

On the negative side, if a society’s health is judged by crime figures, South Africa comes out very badly. For example, spectacular headlines were made this week about the situation in the Cape Flats, the impoverished area near Cape Town, where gangsterism has escalated so drastically that 900 people were murdered in the first six months of 2019, according to mortuary statistics.

What does this have to do with the ordinary South African? As always, in the wealthier suburbs, life continues differently and often elegantly. Many white South Africans know the ‘white areas’ of Cape Town such as Sea Point on the Atlantic coast from living or holidaying there in the past. Sea Point in particular has always been a very ‘Jewish’ area, with beautiful buildings, delightful beaches, and a boardwalk and pools in which children swim.

Sea Point’s residents have always known that in the Cape Flats there was poverty and crime. It is important now, as the country tries to consolidate the good things that it has in its favour, that everyone becomes more aware of what happens in places like the Cape Flats, and looks at ways in which they might be able to help.

Helping in a situation like that is not easy for the average person, without the resources or know-how. But a spirit of optimism about the country and a belief that despite its difficult past and the challenges it faces now, might in itself help.

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