‘We must guard against Gaza conflict turning us against each other’: Cyril Ramaphosa
Despite strong views on the Israel-Hamas conflict, South Africans should guard against this turning us against each other.
This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who believes there is no place in South Africa for violence or threats of violence against those holding contrary views.
“What is happening in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank provokes strong emotions. For some, the murder of Israelis and the abduction of hostages on October 7 has further hardened sentiment that Israel has the right to use whatever means at its disposal to defend itself.
“At the same time there are others who view the collective punishment of the people of Gaza by the Israeli government as a war crime.
“The conflict between Israel and Palestine has long been a polarising conflict that has deepened divisions in societies and communities way beyond the Middle East.”
The president criticised heightened tensions in Cape Town last week when police were forced to intervene in a confrontation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters at a demonstration.
“While this incident is troubling and unacceptable, we must commend all those South Africans who have participated in orderly and peaceful demonstrations in several parts of our country.
“Our constitution protects everyone’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of association and to demonstrate. It also requires that all demonstrations must be peaceful and that freedom of expression does not extend to the advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
“There is no place in South Africa for violence or threats of violence against those who hold contrary views. Nor is there any place for prejudice, racism or chauvinism.
“As emotive as the Israel-Palestine issue may be for many of our citizens, particularly given our own history of discrimination and oppression, we must not let it deepen divisions between us.”
As a government and as a people, we stand firm in our call for justice for the oppressed Palestinian people, for their rights and aspirations to be fulfilled, for the immediate cessation of hostilities, and for there to be accountability for the deplorable killings of civilians in this recent conflictPresident Cyril Ramaphosa
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said South Africa is a society that prides itself on tolerance and respect, with successive democratic administrations that have upheld the constitutional rights of all individuals and groups.
“We have enforced these rights through our courts, including the equality court, and through institutions like the South African Human Rights Commission, the commission for the promotion and protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities and others.”
The president said it was disappointing to read an article in a leading Israeli newspaper by a representative of a local Jewish organisation suggesting his government is “encouraging pogroms” against the South African Jewish community.
“This has never happened in the history of democratic South Africa, nor will it ever be allowed to happen.
“As a government and as a people, we stand firm in our call for justice for the oppressed Palestinian people, for their rights and aspirations to be fulfilled, for the immediate cessation of hostilities, and for there to be accountability for the deplorable killings of civilians in this recent conflict.”
The president maintained peace will not be possible until Palestinians are free, and said support for the Palestinian struggle cannot be equated with anti-Semitism.
“There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, just as there is no place in our country for prejudice directed against any individual or community on the basis of race, religion, belief, political view or sexual orientation.
“In a free and democratic society such as ours, where divergent views are respected and protected by law, we will continue to uphold everyone’s right to advocate and demonstrate peacefully, be they pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.”
Ramaphosa urged citizens to remember their personal duty to be tolerant and respectful of others.
“Let us promote dialogue and meaningful engagement so that, as South Africans, we may work together to support the realisation of a just, peaceful and secure future for the people of both Palestine and Israel.
“Above all, let our painful history be a reminder of the heavy cost of a divided nation that has turned against itself. When it comes to freedom, equality and justice, we must be at one.”