Tensions over downgrading SA's embassy in Israel
Senior diplomats are said to have advised International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu against downgrading the South African embassy in Israel as per an ANC resolution.
Insiders in the Department of International Relations told the Sunday Times that Sisulu was at loggerheads with senior officials in her department as she was intent on implementing the resolution "soon".
Relations between the two countries are already frosty. South Africa withdrew its ambassador, Sisa Ngombane, last month after Israeli troops killed more than 50 Palestinians on the Gaza strip.
Although a formal process to implement the resolution has not yet started, the insider said diplomats and top management had advised Sisulu against the implementation of the resolution for fear of the economic implications and an impact on diplomatic relations with powerhouses like the US.
Should Sisulu go ahead, citizens would continue to receive diplomatic services, but it would spell the end of political relations as it would mean South Africa does not recognise Israel as a sovereign state.
A senior official said Sisulu was eager to toe her party line on the matter.
"The minister believes that resolution must be implemented, and very soon, so you can expect that to happen," said a high-ranking departmental insider."The advice of diplomats in the department, the entire management and most diplomats, they don't agree with that resolution ... the economic consequences of this are not going to be positive," said the insider.
Diplomats had argued that a large part of the global economy was in Jewish hands and the implementation of the resolution might not bode well for South Africa's bid to attract global investment.
Following his election in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa put together a team led by his economic adviser, Trudi Makhaya, to attract R1-trillion worth of investment.
The insider said diplomats feared that the decision may impact on Ramaphosa's goal.
"[US President Donald] Trump in particular, you know how he is like. He is very unpredictable, but on the question of Israel he is very consistent. Now you then have to ask: 'What will be the consequences of taking this particular decision and how will the US react to it?'" he said.
Others argued that the US was very protective of Israel and had already shown its hand when it did not vote at the UN for South Africa to get a seat on the Security Council.
Sisulu's spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, said the minister received a lot of advice from management and advisers. She did not make decisions on missions alone "but the process involves the president, cabinet, portfolio committee", he said.
"On the Israel matter, our relations with Israel are very good despite the incident. We did express our unhappiness about the incident. We continue to engage diplomatically and our embassy is still open in Israel and fully operational."
He said South Africa's diplomats were engaging and working for a peaceful resolution on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.Lindiwe Zulu, chairwoman of the ANC's international relations committee, said diplomats, although they can advise, could not change the ANC's resolution.
"What I would like to see, what the committee would like to see, is an implementation of the decision of the ANC ... as soon as possible because, you see, these things sometimes get very complicated. The more you delay, the more you delay," said Zulu.
Zulu's colleague Enoch Godongwana, who chairs the ANC's economic transformation committee, said the party had not seen any report on possible economic implications, but South Africa had a right to take its own decision as a sovereign nation.
Zizi Kodwa, who heads Ramaphosa's office in Luthuli House, said the ANC national executive committee had called on Sisulu to accelerate the implementation of the resolution.
"There is no second option ... we are implementing that resolution," said Kodwa.
Tony Leon, a former ambassador to Argentina, said it seemed South Africa stood to lose more than Israel if it downgraded its embassy.