I felt a deep sense of privilege to serve when I was approached to lead the South African leg of the 2018 #IsraeliApartheidWeek campaign. But, I was also nervous!
In some ways, I am no different to the vast majority of young black South Africans. I come from the dusty streets of the African township of Galeshewe in the province of the Northern Cape, where opportunities are few and far between. I am the product (not victim) of sub-standard Apartheid-era education. I don’t have a university degree; I could not afford to enroll. My father was never around, and I lost my amazing and resourceful mother when I was 18.
Notwithstanding the amazingly supportive people that have often kindly carried and cared for me, my life has indeed, at times, been about the struggle to make ends meet. At the same time, perhaps due to my proximity to struggle, I have also made my life a journey in which I try to actively support causes and struggles for a better and more just world.
Thus, I have been involved in youth and gender activism in my home province. I have always had a passion for internationalism – supporting the struggles of the people of Swaziland, Western Sahara and Cuba among others. I’ve organized events and activities in my small city – like pickets, workshops, lectures etc. However, to lead a nationwide and international campaign, now that, at the beginning of January last year, seemed daunting and a bit much!
Little did I know, that through the generous, smart and selfless activists who comprise the BDS and Palestine solidarity movement and the #IsraeliApartheidWeek network, I would emerge within a short space of 3 months having led, according to the statistics, the largest, widest and most successful #IsraeliApartheidWeek to date! Part of this amazing team was last year’s 2018 South African spokesperson for #IsraeliApartheidWeek, a young White Afrikaaner student, Justin De Swardt – my comrade and partner.
A good indication of its breadth, is that at its height, last year in 2018, the hashtag #IsraeliApartheidWeek had a social media reach of 6.69 million people – this is not an average, this was on one single day! In South Africa, the hashtag trended at number 1 at least twice in that month. We were on primetime TV as well as radio and the campaign had a mainstream media reach of over 10 million people – on one single day. The Israeli lobby tried to respond to #IsraeliApartheidWeek through smear and other tactics, (including, strangely, bringing out to South Africa, Israeli super models) but ultimately, they failed. If coverage is anything to go by one can only but conclude that they were reduced to a mere footnote due to the sheer size and spread of our campaign.
How did we get here? Well, the answer is, hard work! There were over 150 activities during last year’s #IsraeliApartheidWeek (in South Africa alone). Events ranged from smaller community meetings to larger public activities – some with over 5,000 in attendance. Several new organisations endorsed the campaign, leading to us having more than 125 endorsements (in SA alone) – ranging from trade unions, women’s groups, school organizations, Jewish groups, churches, student movements, and the country’s governing party, the ANC, which boldly declared: “#IsraeliApartheidWeek is perhaps one of the best examples of South Africa’s unity in diversity and the vibrancy of our civil society.”
With “Afro-Palestinian solidarity” as last year’s theme, #IsraeliApartheidWeek focused on both Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians as well as the regime’s discriminatory policies against Africans. The campaign also successfully highlighted the African community in Palestine and hosted events, celebrating the historic support and solidarity that African liberation struggles and countries received from the PLO and the Palestinian people during the 1970s and 1980s. That said, at its heart, the campaign was nourished by the internationalism and solidarity natured by those who came before us – those in the international community from Nigeria to Norway, from Canada to Cuba and hundreds of other countries who made our struggle, their struggle.
Cabinet ministers, members of Parliament, mayors, and other government officials participated in events, which in 2018 featured a wonderful new variety. Some of the highlights included the Salsa solidarity event with the Cuban Embassy, a fashion show with a local design school (click here to watch this promo video), a Congolese community event, a neon walk, a Zimbabwean music activity, a soccer tournament (with the Minister of Sport in attendance), a tennis challenge, a family hike, several poetry sessions and more. A highlight for 2018 was the nationwide tour of the well-known South African entertainer, Mashabela Galane.
The participation of high profile and influential people included the former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, as well as the (then-incoming) Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, who, in an interview for #IsraeliApartheidWeek, praised the campaign and described the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a “historically tested peaceful tool of resistance.”
With students at the University of Cape Town, we hosted Palestinian author and activist, Ali Abunimah, who addressed community and campus events across the country. Abunimah concluded his tour with a meeting between #IsraeliApartheidWeek organizers and former President Kgalema Mothlanthe.
Due to the growth of the initiative, there were several pre-campaign activities including speaking events with US poet Maytha Al Hassan and South African poet, Natalia Molebatsi, both who highlighted last year’s #IsraeliAparthiedWeek focus – Israeli racism against Africans. We were fortunate to also include, keeping in the theme, the screening and broadcast of the Latin American documentary “Anti-Black Racism Reveals Israel’s White Supremacy,” produced by award-winning TeleSur journalist, Abby Martin.
The proof is in the pudding; the day that #IsraeliApartheidWeek officially closed on 18 March 2018, it was reported that DJ Black Coffee (arguably South Africa’s most famous DJ) had performed in Israel. South Africans (armed with the knowledge, that they, perhaps, gained during the month) were quick to challenge him on his crossing of the picket line. #IsraeliApartheidWeek activists, like myself and Justin, were simply too exhausted to engage Black Coffee (after the gruelling month of work and events), but it was heart-warming to see our fellow South Africans picking up the baton and holding him accountable for disrespecting the cultural boycott of Israel. Black Coffee trended on social media for three days straight, continuing to bring light to the plight of the Palestinians against Israeli Apartheid and urging support for the boycott of Israel.
Our government must be a reflection of our people and so it was only but logical that twice during the campaign, South Africa, at the United Nations, condemned Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people to being “akin to Apartheid” (click here). Senior South African diplomat to the UN, Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, used the “A-word” (being “Apartheid”) a whopping five times in her input at the UN Human Rights Council in reference to Israel (click here to watch online). Representatives from Nigeria, Angola, Namibia, Senegal and Somalia also made hard-hitting contributions at the debate.
Not out of arrogance, but humility, we can confidently claim that in this last year’s #IsraeliApartheidWeek, South African civil society (across the gender, racial and religious spectrum) undoubtedly played a role in advancing the struggle for the freedom of the Palestinians. A freedom which, when it arrives (through struggle), will naturally mean the freedom of Israelis as well. As our dear Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal supporter and endorser of the annual #IsraeliApartheidWeek, has put it: “the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.”
#IsraeliApartheidWeek, as an annual series of self-organized rallies, protests, lectures, cultural performances, concerts, sports events, films and workshops (held in over 250 cities, communities and campuses across the globe) needs to expand, however, into more African countries. This year in 2019 the team, having chosen “Africa for Palestine” as the theme, are intending to ensure that the campaign, on the African continent at least, takes place in at least a dozen more countries – particularly in the SADC region.
As Justin and I hand over to Rashaad Dadoo and Paolomina Jama, this year 2019 Convener and Spokesperson for #IsraeliApartheidWeek, I want to thank all who contributed and contribute with their time, resources, wisdom and guidance in making #IsraeliApartheidWeek such a successful campaign – indeed, it’s a campaign in which my appreciation for the human spirit of solidarity and love continues to be nourished.
#IsraeliApartheidWeek takes place worldwide between 18 March and 08 April 2019, and on the African continent between 01 and 07 April 2019. For more information visit www.iawafrica.com