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How We Can Free Palestine Based on the History of South Africa’s Fight Against Apartheid

Here’s what we can learn from South Africa in terms of helping Palestine against Israeli apartheid.

Here’s what we can learn from South Africa in terms of helping Palestine against Israeli apartheid.

Last week, a sea of protesters marched through the streets of Cape Town, South Africa’s second-most populous city to condemn the atrocious crimes perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Days after, South Africa’s leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, wrote a scathing piece against Israel. 

It would also be recalled that in 2019, the country downgraded its Embassy in Tel Aviv, regarding Palestine as a sovereign state. Now, South Africa is among the 130 countries that recognizes occupied Palestine as an independent nation. 

Why is South Africa concerned about this conflict?

There are a number of African countries like Nigeria, Libya, and Senegal that have been expressing solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine. But observers might have noticed that, unlike other African nations, the solidarity from South Africa is not just coming from human rights groups and civil society organisations; but even from the authorities themselves. 

People with at least a bit of history will understand why South Africa keeps rallying around Palestine. The answer is clear; as clear as crystal. The country that had battled the racist apartheid regime for years would never want to see any nation going through what it went through years ago itself. 

It “reminds us of the brutality of police …of the apartheid system that we used to have,” 56-year-old Kashiefa Achmat told France24 during a pro-Palestinian protest in Cape Town recently

Many South Africans devoid of their religious or political affiliation are deeply concerned about the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, which they say is akin to what they experienced in apartheid South Africa. 

In a United Nations report released in 2007, John Dugard, the South African international law expert of unquestioned integrity, drew clear parallels between the situation in Palestine and South Africa, saying that the “large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, levelling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa”.

It would also be recalled that 16 days after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela met Yasser Arafat at the Lusaka Airport in Zambia and warmly embraced him. Afterward, he told the media: “I believe that there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the people of Palestine.”

Some reports have it that since during the struggle days of South Africa’s ANC against the apartheid regime, there was a nexus that binds them with the Palestinians, which is the quest for social justice and liberation. Some sources even say that African National Congress (ANC) got training from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). 

Similarly in a letter he wrote recently, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “For all who believe in equality, justice, and human rights, we cannot but be moved and indeed angered, at the pain and humiliation being inflicted on the Palestinian people; for it echoes our own.” 

How can we free Palestine?

Looking at how South Africa fought apartheid through resistance and building relationships with various countries like the Soviet Union, Nigeria, Zambia, Tanzania, Algeria, Costa Rica, and a host of others we would say that there are many lessons the Palestinians and their supporters globally can learn. It is worthy to note that other countries like Swaziland and Lesotho that were economically dependent on South Africa also stood by the oppressed people of the country during the regime. 

Besides verbal supports, some of these aforesaid countries went beyond that. The Soviet Union according to some offered military support and countries like Nigeria raised funds to movements struggling to end the apartheid then. In 1978, the account of the South African Relief Fund (SARF) had $28 million. Scholarships were also granted to natives of the country. 

For instance, at some point, Nigerian civil servants were obliged to financially support the movement against apartheid in South Africa from their monthly salary. 


In brief, the lessons to learn from South Africa in the liberation of Palestine are numerous. And, from the protests that have been going from various parts of the world one would come to understand that no effort is little, just like the proverbial drops that make an ocean, if all people of conscience replicate what they did during South Africa’s apartheid days, Palestine too will be emancipated and all will become history.