Nelson Mandela’s grandson arrived in Palestine on Sunday morning for a historic visit to the nation that the late President of South Africa so admired. During his time in Palestine, it is expected that Chief Mandla Mandela MP will hold several meetings with Palestinian leaders, including one with the beleaguered 83-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas.
While Chief Mandela also plans to visit the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, perhaps the most poignant part of his tour will come in Ramallah, where he is expected to visit the mausoleum of Yasser Arafat. “Our stand is that Arafat is a comrade in arms and we treat him as such,” the MP’s grandfather once said.
Close by the mausoleum is a 6-metre high, bronze statue of President Mandela, who will forever be cherished by Palestinians for saying loud and clear, “We know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Mandela had a reputation for saying what he meant and meaning what he said. The statue stands in Nelson Mandela Square in the upscale Al-Tireh neighbourhood.
It is almost certain that groups of rich, corrupt Palestinians in Ramallah, as well as Abbas, will seize the opportunity to have their photographs taken with Mandela’s grandson in a bid to acquire badly needed credibility. Let’s hope that he is as astute as his grandfather was, and sees through these weak, power hungry men whose mandate with ordinary Palestinians expired years ago.
The unelected government of Abbas has yet to endorse Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which was inspired by and modelled on the boycott of Apartheid South Africa. Perhaps this most famous of grandsons will remind the Ramallah cabal of that during his three-day visit.
Chief Mandela’s grandfather was always a man of the people and he never forgot his struggle or, indeed, the struggle of other freedom fighters with whom he identified around the world. This visit by his grandson is not only a huge morale boost for ordinary Palestinians but also for the BDS campaign; Chief Mandela, a senior Member of the South African Parliament, is a strong supporter of BDS. His show of solidarity with the movement will no doubt lift those involved in BDS around the world, not only in Palestine.
Parallels will inevitably be drawn between Apartheid South Africa and Israel’s own version of the hated Apartheid system. It was the worldwide acceptance of the boycott of White-ruled South Africa that helped so much to bring Apartheid there to an end.
Significantly, before going to Palestine, Chief Mandela had a meeting with Palestinian leader Omar Barghouti, who heads the BDS National Committee in the occupied Palestinian territories. After the historic meeting, Barghouti said that the great man’s grandson is exceptionally inspiring. “Not only for carrying forward Madiba’s legacy of justice and internationalism,” he explained, “but also for seeing solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation as a South African ethical obligation. Palestinians are proud of and deeply grateful for this solidarity from Madiba [Nelson Mandela’s clan name], Chief Mandla Mandela and from the great people of South Africa.”
During his meeting, Barghouti reiterated Palestinian support for the closure of the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, the leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, went one step further when he called for the closure of the Israeli Embassy in South Africa as well, in solidarity with Palestine and its people.
At a picket outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria last week, Malema called for support for the Palestinians in their fight against “Apartheid Israel” which, he pointed out, is oppressing Palestine and depriving its people of their land. He said that this was a struggle all too familiar in South Africa. “The EFF is not an organisation for South Africans only,” he insisted. “The EFF represents all those who reject imperialism and colonialism.”
That Israel is a colonial-settler project has never been in doubt; that it is an Apartheid state is becoming ever more apparent. And who knows better about that than the people of South Africa? They are united with the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom.