SUNDAY TIMES - SA group sparks fury by accepting Israeli invite
Sunday Times STLive By CAIPHUS KGOSANA, 2010-12-18 19:50:20.0

SA group sparks fury by accepting Israeli invite

DETERMINED: Ladysmith Black Mambazo Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

But founder says they will sing songs about peace and unity, as they did in Palestine

Grammy-award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has sparked a furious outcry among pro-Palestinian activists, the ANC and Cosatu, following a decision to perform in Israel.

The world-renowned group has been invited to perform at a world music show in June at the Opera House in Tel Aviv, as well as in Jerusalem.

Omar Barghouti, of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said if the group were to honour the invitation, it would be "complicit" in covering up Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

He said artists such as Carlos Santana, poet Gil Scott-Heron and actress Meg Ryan had all cancelled performances and appearances in Israel over "its human rights abuses".

"It is a true shame that any South African performing artist or group would violate the guidelines of the Palestinian cultural boycott of Israel," Barghouti said.

Ironically, the group was at the centre of a similar controversy when it performed with US singer Paul Simon during his sanctions-busting tour of South Africa in 1986.

Trade union federation Cosatu and the ANC have also waded into the furore.

The ANC's head of international relations, Ribbon Mosholi, who led a delegation to Palestine last week, said:

"We want people such as Black Mambazo to understand that, just like under apartheid, we discourage artists from coming here. We still do the same concerning the struggle of the Palestinian people."

Mosholi said it was ironic that the same group that was "exploited" by Simon is part of a "similar campaign" by the Israelis.

Cosatu's Zanele Mathebula also advised the group against going.

"We will strongly urge them not to go there. For an SA artist to perform in apartheid Israel for a certain crowd - and for them to pretend not to see it as long as they get money in their pockets - is not on," she said.

But the band's founder member, Alfred Mazibuko, told the Sunday Times that it was determined to perform despite the intense criticism. "We will go and perform there if we get confirmation," he said.

Mazibuko said the band had previously performed in Palestine in 2007 and saw nothing wrong with doing the same in Israel.

"We went there (Palestine) in 2007 and we sang songs about peace and unity. We will do the same when we go there again," he said.

It is not the first time that a scheduled performance by a South African group in Israel has led to an uproar.

The Cape Town Opera, which was due to perform Porgy and Bess in Tel Aviv this year, was forced to cancel after a similar outcry, which included an emotional letter from Arch-bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who implored them not to perform to segregated crowds in Israel.

"Only the thickest-skinned South Africans would be comfortable performing before an audience that excluded residents living, for example, in an occupied West Bank village 30 minutes from Tel Aviv, who would not be allowed to travel to Tel Aviv, while including their Jewish neighbours from an illegal settlement on occupied Palestinian territory," wrote Tutu in October.