The 11 February marked the 30th anniversary of the release from prison by South Africa’s apartheid regime of my grandfather, Nelson Mandela. Six years after his passing, my grandfather remains a symbol of our victory over apartheid, and an inspiration worldwide for the battle to overcome institutionalised racism.
With racism and xenophobia rising globally, championed by leaders such as US President Donald Trump, my grandfather’s legacy and the struggle against racism remain global preoccupations – particularly this month, as we marked the UN’s annual International Day for the Elimination of Racism on 21 March.
Legitimising land theft
The UN chose 21 March because it was the day when South African police gunned down 69 unarmed black South African protesters in Sharpeville. This year, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of that terrible massacre.
Today, one place where apartheid South Africa’s echoes are the loudest is in occupied Palestine. We South Africans are reminded of Sharpeville by the ongoing Israeli army atrocities and sniper attacks against unarmed Palestinians protesting for their rights in the open-air prison of Gaza. In a single day in 2018, Israel’s brutal occupation forces massacred at least 58 protesters.
Permanently cementing in place Israel’s apartheid regime is a goal of Trump and Israel’s far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump’s January “peace plan” was such a brazen attempt to legitimise Israel’s land theft, illegal settlements and discrimination, that South Africans and others worldwide immediately saw our apartheid experience reflected in the disconnected Palestinian enclaves in the plan’s map.
Our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid leader, said Trump’s plan “brought to mind the horrible history that we as South Africa have gone through, where the apartheid regime once imposed a bantustan system on the people of South Africa”. Even Israel’s ambassador to South Africa during the fall of apartheid, Alon Liel, called Trump’s plan “an imitation of the Bantustan model” legitimising “a new 21st-century model of apartheid”.
Though these comparisons resonate strongly, labelling Israel’s policies as apartheid is not dependent on close similarity to conditions that black South Africans endured. Apartheid is defined under international law as an “institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other”.