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  • People seen cheering in Nelson Mandela Square in Ramallah before a statue of the late African leader.

    People seen cheering in Nelson Mandela Square in Ramallah before a statue of the late African leader. | Photo: Reuters

The grandson of South Africa’s revolutionary leader likened Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands to apartheid.

Mandla Mandela, the grandson of South Africa’s first president and independence leader, Nelson Mandela, accused Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” during a historic visit to Palestine.

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Mandela, who is a strong advocate for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, held a joint press conference with Palestinian Prime Minister (PM) Rami Hamdallah and said: “The settlements I saw here [in the West Bank] reminded me of what we had suffered in South Africa because we also were surrounded by many settlements and were not allowed to move from one place to another freely.”

“Palestinians are being subjected to the worst version of apartheid,” Mandela continued, echoing a (now retracted) assessment published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia which concluded that "Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole."

Hamdallah told the South African MP about the “violations against the Palestinians, including settlement expansion and displacement projects that constitute a major obstacle to realizing the dream of establishing a Palestinian state.”

Prime Minister Hamdallah invoked the legacy of Nelson Mandela in a meeting that took place with the revolutionary leader’s grandson in Ramallah.

The prime minister also stressed the importance of relations between Palestine and South Africa, two nations born of struggle against racism and ethnocentrism. He also praised South Africa for supporting the Palestinian people before the international community and in the United Nations General Assembly.

“What we have experienced in South Africa is a fraction of what the Palestinians are experiencing,” Mandela remarked during an interview with Royal News English, on Sunday. “We were oppressed in order to serve the white minority. The Palestinians are being eliminated off their land and brought out of their territories, and this is a total human-rights violations. I think it is a total disgrace that the world is able to sit back while such atrocities are being carried out by apartheid Israel.”

Mandela is also set to meet with other Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. During his trip, the MP will also visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum in Ramallah. An official statement by Mandela did not indicate whether the MP would meet with Israeli officials, though the Israeli Foreign Ministry indicated that they had not been briefed on the MP’s visit.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of solidarity between South Africa and Palestine is a six-meter tall statue of Nelson Mandela erected near Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum, both of whom were the first presidents of their respective countries.

Israel and apartheid South Africa had close ties, before the African nation’s liberation from repression imposed by the white minority. South Africa was among only 33 nations that voted in favor of the 1947 UN Partition Plan of Palestine and recommended the creation of a Jewish ethnostate.

While apartheid South Africa and Israel had a near-falling-out when Israel tried to extend a hand to sub-Saharan African nations, this hand was quickly rejected when it became apparent to postcolonial African nations that Israeli was a colonizer state. A catalyst for this was the Six-Day War and subsequent military occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and West Bank.

In response to increasing isolation felt by both colonizer states, the mouthpiece of the South African Nationalist Party, Die Burger, remarked: "Israel and South Africa are engaged in a struggle for existence... The anti-Western powers have driven Israel and South Africa into a community of interests which had better be utilized than denied."

It was after this point that both South Africa and Israel deepened their financial and strategic ties. Israel became the main arms supplier to the South African Defence Force as well as its main military ally. It is also widely believed by many that South Africa and Israel collaborated to develop nuclear weapons.

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In response to this historical collaboration by their respective oppressors, relations between the current South African state and Palestine have deep ties. Nelson Mandela, the first president of South Africa, and Yasser Arafat, the first president of the Palestinian National Authority, had close relations and shared similar views.

South Africa opened diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine in 1995, which was not long after the Republic of South Africa was created from the abolition of apartheid in 1994.

Nelson Mandela once famously remarked:

“We know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Echoing the remarks of his grandfather, Mandla Mandela said, during the July speech:

“We demand that Israel complies with International law and demand the return of six million Palestinian refugees driven from the land of their birth. We demand that all occupied land be returned, and we condemn the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”

He continued in his address: “Today, we stand to salute the brave and fearless Palestinian people who are facing the brutal might of the Israeli Army to defend al-Aksa with their bare hands. We demand that all occupied land be returned. Madiba reminded us that our freedom is incomplete until Palestine is free.”


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