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On Thursday, over 150 students, academics, and activists gathered at the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education in Cape Town to reflect on South Africa’s role in supporting the people of Palestine. The multi-faceted discussion was organised under the theme, ‘From Crisis to Activism: Palestine and the Awakening of South African Consciousness’.

On the same day, Al Jazeera reported that at least 117 people were killed and more than 760 injured as they crowded around aid trucks. The news network quoted the minister of health in Palestine saying that the attacks on Thursday took the total death toll to more than 30,000 since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza nearly five months ago.

There have been numerous protests held in solidarity with Palestine since Israel started their assault on the Gaza Strip. The thousands of Gazans being killed has, according to activists, ignited a burning urge in South Africa for solidarity with the people of Palestine. The recent exhibition soccer match between Palestine and the South African invitation XI was an expression of this new fervour.

Activism is on the rise

“Since the genocide in Palestine began in October, we have seen an influx of energy and of organising, throughout South Africa from different sectors. Youth, arts, media, academics and labour, we have never seen such in the last decade or two. There’s never been this kind of organising for a specific issue; maybe the last time would be when the TAC advocated against HIV and AIDS. We wanted to give students a sense of what we have been doing and also hoping they get involved, get in contact with these activists  and also start organising themselves,” said Mohammed Jameel Abdulla, programmes manager at Tshisimani.

“With every new activism moment, a new cohort of activists emerges. Some people have become politicised because of the genocide in Palestine, but we don’t want it to end there. People must fight for housing, for education, against capitalism and also their basic rights. This is a good space to harness, especially for students because they are a very radical cohort. What this Palestine issue has shown us,  is that we are capable of more as South Africans,” he said. 

Housing Assembly chairperson, Kashiefa Achmat, said, “Our issues and those of the people of Palestine are the same. The Western Cape has a serious housing backlog and they are failing to address it. People were uprooted to Blikkiesdorp as a temporary relocation area (TRA) since 2009 before the  2010 World Cup, but until today they are still waiting for decent housing. People were taken from District Six and displaced to the outskirts of Cape Town. As an organisation we will continue fighting until the right for decent housing is realised,” said Achmat. 

International prison abolitionist and activist Ruth Wilson-Gilmore told the audience that what South Africa has done for Palestine is a clear reminder that, whatever socioeconomic conditions the country is in, “there will always be a spark of revolutionary energy”. 

“The International Court of Justice (ICJ) case that was brought by South Africa against Israel was astonishing. In part, it is a reminder that even the apartheid regime, whatever they thought they were doing by putting the University of the Western Cape here, produced conditions that enabled their downfall. My key message is that, as activists, always remember that capitalism will never free us. In fighting racial capitalism, fight it all in order to realise human emancipation,” said Wilson-Gilmore. 

Thousands of Cape Townians came out in support of the Palestinian people for the two games at Athlone Stadium last month. File Photo by Sharon McKinnon

General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) provincial secretary and Palestine Justice Campaign (PJC) member, Abeedah Adams, criticised the Palestine solidarity protests for being too timid. “Despite our country supporting Palestine, South Africa has not totally cut ties with Israel. Even in the Western Cape specifically, the support for Palestine is mostly middle class, Muslim dominated. We know the DA led government is only supporting protests because they don’t want to lose the Muslim votes during elections,” said Adams.

She said they were also calling for the divestment of Israeli-led consortium, Milco SA, from Clover. “The divestment campaign needs time and resources and we don’t have those things. Workers at Clover are still complaining about harsh and bad working conditions. Since 2022, we have been fighting for these workers rights. We believe that struggle is not over,” she said.