Boycott to intensify after Israeli ban on South African minister’s trip to Palestine

South African higher education minister Blade Nzimande

GCIS South Africa

Last week Israel denied entry to South African higher education minister Blade Nzimande. The minister had intended to travel to Ramallah to discuss academic cooperation with institutions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A spokesperson for the ministry told South African media that the justification Israel gave was that Nzimande is “one of the most vocal anti-Israeli government ministers.”

A broad alliance of South African civil society organizations responded Monday to the Israeli ban by promising to intensify its program of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They presented a new plan of action at a press conference Monday, South Africa’s Freedom Day.

The organizations said they consider Israel’s decision to deny entry to Nzimande and three officials from his department an affront and an insult to the South African government and its people.

Nzimande’s support for the Palestinian struggle and boycott of Israel is not a personal position but representative of the resolutions of the various organisations that he is a leader of, including the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress (ANC).

“It is wrong for the Israeli government to try and suggest that Dr. Nzimande is acting on his personal whims when supporting the freedom of the Palestinian people,” the organizations stated in press release. This ban exposes to the world the fact of Israeli control of Palestinian borders, access and general freedom of movement.

The ANC National Executive Committee recently called for “a cultural, academic and education boycott of Israel including travel bans for members and leaders of the ANC, the Alliance [between the ANC, SACP and COASTU trade unions], Members of Cabinet, Members of Parliament and Government Officials to Israel.” 

The body also recommended that “companies that do business in the Israeli occupied [Palestinian] territories, such as Capegate, G4S Security and Caterpillar must not be allowed to do business with [the South African] state.” The following program of action was presented at the press conference.

Full program of action

  1. Calling for the decision by the ANC to institute a travel ban to Israel as articulated by the National Executive Committee to be strengthened and further implemented at all levels of government.
  2. Meeting with the Department of Home Affairs to demand that the automatic visas for Israelis – which is a hang-over from Apartheid – will be suspended and requirements will be introduced for Israelis wanting to travel to South Africa including requiring them to declare their involvement in the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli occupation, illegal settlements or other Israeli war crimes.
  3. An announcement on Thursday by the SRCs of five SA universities to deal with the academic boycott of Israel and will include the participation of the South African Union of Students which represents all Student Representative Councils of universities.
  4. BDS South Africa together with all our progressive organisations will host an international conference on the academic boycott of apartheid state of Israel; the Department of Higher Education and Training has been invited to participate and support the event. Special guests to include Minister Nzimande; former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University (who has also been denied entry to Palestine); Omar Barghouti (of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel); National Coalition; and Progressive Israeli academics.
  5. Meeting with Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to call for an immediate end to Israeli agricultural interests in South Africa.
  6. Engaging with the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions to prosecute South Africans serving in Israeli defense forces in violation of South African law.
  7. If the Department of International Relations and Co-operation does not expel the Israeli Ambassador 10 days from now, our progressive organisations will take upon ourselves to be at the Israeli Embassy on the 15th of May to expel the Israeli Ambassador in a protest march which will also commemorate the Palestinian Nakba.
  8. COSATU together with alliance partners will use the upcoming May Day rallies to mobilize support for the Palestinian freedom and intensify the boycott of Israeli products as well as services including the #BoycottWoolworths campaign.

The decision by Israel to deny the Minister and other government officials entry into Palestine constitutes a suppression of academic freedom. The South African government must act! Failure to do so means Israel can pick and choose which South African government ministers and officials are allowed to visit Palestine. This will be tantamount to Israel undermining South Africa’s national sovereignty – which we cannot allow. In terms of international law Israel does not have any right to decide who the friends of the Palestinian people should be.

Issued by

Solly Mapaila, South African Communist Party Deputy General Secretary (on behalf of the SACP National Chairperson who is also the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cde Senzeni Zokwana)

Bheki Ntshalintshali, COSATU Acting General Secretary

Muhammed Desai, BDS South Africa Co-ordinator

Mluleki Dlelanga, National Secretary, Young Communist League of SA

Matome Chiloane, Provincial Chairperson, ANC Youth League

Ahmed Saloojee, Chairperson, Palestine Solidarity Alliance

Kwara Kekana, Deputy Coordinator of BDS South Africa

Dr Anis Daraghma, National Coalition for Palestine, Institute of Palestine and South Africa

Tebogo Thothela, Deputy President, South African Union of Students

Lucas Qakaza, South African National Civic Organisation (HQ)

Altaaf Adam, Chairperson Palestine Solidarity Alliance Youth League

Bassam Elhussiny, Palestinian Embassy in South Africa

Suraya Dadoo, Media Review Network

Riekert Koen, Political Commissar of South African Students Congress (Wits University)


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh