A group of South African activists hung pro-Palestine banners at the stadium where Nelson Mandela’s memorial was held.
The posters were put up by BDS South Africa, the leading organization in the country advocating for boycotts, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel. Five of the posters were hung before the memorial service.
The banners, which showcased a photo of Mandela and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat together, displayed a famous Mandela quote. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela, the African National Congress leader, said in 1997.
Mandela’s memorial was attended by numerous leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Knesset members like Likud member and settlement resident Yuli Edelstein. Haaretz‘s Gideon Levy and Alex Levac reported that the slogan “Free Palestine” could be heard during the memorial–an indicator of how South Africans view the question of Palestine.
South Africa is perhaps the most pro-Palestinian country in the world. As early as 1995, the South African government, led by Mandela, established diplomatic relations with the “State of Palestine.” Since 2010, BDS South Africa has campaigned for boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel.
In December 2012, the ANC officially endorsed the BDS movement. In early November, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that the government had “curtail[ed] senior leadership contact with [Israel] until things begin to look better.” She also added: “The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle. The last time I saw a map of Palestine, I couldn’t go to sleep. It is just dots, smaller than those of the homelands, and that broke my heart.”
BDS South Africa was also at the center of controversy in September 2013, when protesters at Wits University chanted “Shoot the Jew”–a modification on the 1980s-era anti-apartheid song, “Shoot the Boer.” BDS South Africa, which helped organize the protest against an Israeli singer, later distanced themselves from the song. “We unequivocally distance ourselves from the singing of this song and its sentiments. Also, to tarnish all Jews with the Zionist brush is racism, regardless of who does it. Racism is racism… and racism is abominable,” the group said in a statement.