South African opposition leader visits Israel

Mmusi Maimane shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Mtshatshalazisi/Twitter)

In what could be seen as flagrant disregard or an act of defiance, the leader of South Africa’s opposition party, Mmusi Aloysias Maimane, visited Israel just two days after the South African president called for a boycott of travel to Israel.

The African National Congress (ANC) is the governing political party of South Africa. Established over a century ago, the ANC fought Apartheid and took power under the headship of Nelson Mandela in 1994 after the first democratic elections in that country.

This past weekend the ANC celebrated their 105th anniversary and the current president, Jacob Zuma, took the opportunity to state his position on Middle East issues. Zuma called for unity in Palestine and pledged support for the most recent and controversial UN Security Council resolution 2334.

“The people of Palestine continue to suffer in their rightful quest for self-determination and the ANC pledges its ongoing solidarity and support for their just cause,” he said using terminology that is well-recognized in BDS circles.

Zuma strongly discouraged travel to Israel.

Maimane’s visit was not in an official capacity and Israel’s Foreign Ministry was not responsible for organizing the trip, but they were instrumental in facilitating certain meetings including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

An Evangelical Christian with a masters in theology, Maimane joined the Democratic Alliance (DA) in 2009 and has been its leader since 2014. Diplomatic officials have said Maimane has an open mind regarding Israel and it appears that his visit to the Holy Land is a result of efforts of pro-Israel supporters in South Africa as well as within Israel. One of the few Jewish members of South Africa’s parliament, Michael Bagraim, accompanied Maimane.

In a letter dated Jan. 11, the South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) officially commended Maimane for his willingness to visit Israel. Considering the anti-Israel stance of the current government of South Africa, the SAFI are embracing what they call “this refreshing approach to dealing with the International community from a prominent South African leader and hope that Mr. Maimane’s experience and engagement with leadership in the Middle East will give him the perspective he needs to help find solutions for lasting peace in the region.”

The SAFI said that Maimane has shown vision and courage as the State of Israel has faced great slander. They commended him for showing true South African values of dialogue and engagement and being willing to hear different narratives. SAFI also called on leaders across the political spectrum to rethink their positions on Israel and to pursue unity with Israel.

As the visit was to promote the relationship between South Africa and Israel, SAFI highlighted the fact that Israel is a world leader in food security, water management, technology and innovation. South Africa can benefit from this connection to Israel. As KNI has reported, there has been a push in recent years to renew or jumpstart African-Israeli relations.

SAFI expressed its desire to see more South African leaders following Maimane’s example, emphasizing the recognized role South Africa has played in peace-building globally.

In contrast, an ANC spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, slammed Maimaine’s visit to Israel saying that the DA shows blind support for Israel despite its treatment of the Palestinian people.

“The ANC together with other progressive organizations and forces are not surprised by the DA’s visit to Israel and to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said.

An outspoken pro-Israel South African leader who has also come under fire from the ANC is Kenneth Meshoe, president of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). He and his family, who have visited Israel, criticize those who call Israel an apartheid state claiming that these accusations are deceptive and slanderous. He says that the claims belittle the enormity of prejudice and abuse suffered by the non-white South African majority at the hands of the white minority under the apartheid regime.

Click below to watch Kenneth Meshoe expressing solidarity with Israel.

Dee Catz

Israeli-born Dee Catz is a Jewish believer in Yeshua, happily married with children. She has an interest in cooking and baking and all things Biblical. History, Geography, and Archaeology are some of her favorite hobbies, as well as touring Israel's national parks and landmark sites with her family and friends. She has been contributing to Kehila News Israel since December 2015.