"A Night To Honour Israel"
Keynote Address By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President Of The Inkatha Freedom Party

Durban Jewish Club: 26 October 2011

 

In July 1986, I told a journalist of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that "Israel is indeed a land of miracles". He reciprocated by writing in the Washington Jewish Week that I would become the first black president of South Africa. So you can see that my friendship with Israel has always been a two-way affair! But I did not of course see myself as the first black President of South Africa.

 

In truth though, I have suffered criticism for supporting Israel. South Africa's Government has made no effort to conceal the fact that it supports the Palestinian cause, and I am often both embarrassed and ashamed of the way Israel is sidelined by our country's leaders; particularly when South Africa has official diplomatic ties with Israel and recognizes its sovereignty. Our Government maintains an unstated position with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and one seldom hears an unbiased statement in Parliament.

 

Even religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have expressed partisan views when it comes to our foreign policy. I, on the other hand, have been criticized for being openly supportive of Israel.

 

Because I am a politician and a representative of South Africans in our national Parliament, people often try to sway my opinion over who is right and who is wrong. I receive press alerts from the Palestinian Embassy on a regular basis and have welcomed Ambassador Halimeh in my office in Cape Town. I appreciate being kept abreast of news and international politics, and I welcome invitations from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and visits from people like Ms Jenna Reinbach, who organized this evening's events. I have also attended a function in the Palestinian Embassy when the Ambassador of Palestine invited me to enjoy some Arab Music at the Pretoria Theatre by singers from Palestine. What I detest is bias. My Professor at the University of Fort Hare who drafted the Freedom Charter, Professor Zacchariah Keodireleng Matthews said something which has stuck in my mind in all these decades. He would always say: "There are two sides to every issue." No one can dispute that there have been violations on both sides which are inevitable in any conflict situation.

 

Just as an aside, Ms Reinbach gently requested that I keep my remarks light-hearted. So it is not her fault that I am delving into politics. But I feel I need to get this more serious talk out of the way, before we speak about our friendship and more pleasant issues. The Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be ignored, even on a joyful occasion such as this.

 

As a political leader, I am kept informed, I am chided for my perceived bias and I am lobbied to take a stand. But what does one do with an issue as historically intractable as this? As a Christian, I feel compelled to seek to understand the issues and to find a black and white solution. I know that Israel is close to the heart of the Maker. As a Believer, I am obliged to involve myself.

 

But what I have realized over many years of contemplating the Arab-Israeli conflict, is that it is not for me to decide who is right and who is wrong. That is not my role. I know that there is pain on both sides, violence on both sides, tragedy on both sides. There is a story to be told from many different perspectives. The narrative changes depending on the voice of the narrator.

 

But suffering is never something we can turn a blind eye to. We must support a peaceful outcome to this historic conflict. It is not about taking sides, but about ensuring that neither side sustains a loss of dignity or basic humanity. It is about stemming the flow of blood and seeking a different path forward that embraces compromise as well as the importance of accommodating different views. It is about creating peace.

 

I was recently asked by a group of political science students what I would like to be remembered for. Over the course of more than half a century in politics and public life, I have waged many battles and taken up many causes. I have won accolades and received awards. I have influenced history and helped shape our nation. I have empowered the poorest of my people, and challenged the most powerful to do what is right.

 

But when I consider what should be captured on my epitaph, it is simply this: "He loved his country"

 

I have loved my country so much that I endured vicious campaigns of vilification for the sake of pursuing its liberation. I have endured assassination attempts and threats on my life. I have sacrificed time with my family and the pursuit of my own ambitions. I have given my strength, my energy and my heart to seeing South Africans free. So the words of Ha-Tikvah resonate with me. As long as deep within my heart my soul is warm, my hope for South Africa is not yet lost. We, like Israel, seek "to be a free people in our own land."

 

By virtue of our long struggle for freedom, South Africa should relate to the heart's cry of Israel. I think perhaps it is because we share the pathos of enduring oppression and heartache that I have found a kinship with many Jewish people, both in the South African diaspora as well as in Israel. I have often recognized a certain generosity of spirit and magnanimity in my Jewish friends, and I am drawn to their warmth. I am not implying that every Jew is a paragon of perfection. There is nothing like that in our entire human family, viz Species Homo Sapiens.

 

In 1952, I was privileged to begin my legal articles under Mr Rowley Israel Arenstein, the lawyer often used by the ANC at the time. He was charged with treason four years later. Mr Arenstein wanted to see South Africa become a federal system, a philosophy which I myself adopted and carried into the constitutional negotiation process in 1992.

 

He was one of the first, but one of many Jewish friends who influenced my life. I remain indebted to several Jewish families who were steadfast friends during the years of Apartheid; most notably perhaps the intellectual and activist, Ms Helen Suzman. I will never forget how she and her husband Mosie gave such wonderful hospitality to my wife and I in their home whenever we travelled to Johannesburg, because in those days hotels were reserved for whites only.

 

Ms Suzman was respected as a formidable force. I recall that, in the sixties, I was arrested as I returned with my brother-in-law, Dr Dotwana, from a seminar of the Progressive Federal Party. I was driven to the office of the Security Police. But someone contacted Ms Suzman and she immediately demanded my release, which was granted; not because anyone within the Apartheid regime would do her a favour, but because they feared the international repercussions of her taking up my case.

 

Then of course, there is Mr Harry Oppenheimer, who was a great friend and ally not only to me, but to the people of KwaZulu, as well as the people of South Africa. Mr Oppenheimer helped fund training institutes for teachers and nurses, and established the Mangosuthu Technikon in Umlazi to impart skills to people whose only help was to help themselves, at my request.

 

As the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, I was honoured to visit Israel at the invitation of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in August of 1985. The Israeli media were enthusiastic about my visit. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post credited me with preventing a revolutionary explosion in South Africa. I met with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Minister Abba Eban and Director-General David Kimche. I have participated in a seminar in the United States with Premier Netanyahu. When he became Prime Minister I sent him a message of congratulations.

 

The Israeli Government provided agricultural aid, leadership training and assistance to women-led cooperatives in KwaZulu. We were deeply appreciative of the partnership that developed between the KwaZulu Government and the Government of Israel. I also appreciated the friendship that grew between myself and Prime Minister Peres. Our friendship endured through many years, and I was privileged to attend his 80th birthday celebration in 2003.

 

During an interview on that occasion, I said that I have always warned against violence and promoted the route of negotiations. My stance has not changed. I committed myself to non-violence as a young activist in the ANC Youth League, knowing that this was one of the fundamental principles articulated by the founding fathers of our liberation struggle in 1912. I remained committed to non-violence throughout the armed struggle and the People's War that was waged by the ANC and UDF against Inkatha. I entered a democratic South Africa on the basis of non-violence, and I still champion negotiations, reconciliation and peace.

 

I believe in this for my own country. How could I believe anything different for Israel? Indeed, in 1985, Prime Minister Peres told me, "We are brothers in suffering". He understood the shared pathos that linked our people. He understood that just as we suffered one another's suffering, we should celebrate one another's victories.

 

I think that this, the Night to Honour Israel, is in a sense a victory that we can celebrate together. We have been drawn together by a love of Israel and we will celebrate Israel through dance, music and joyful festivities. The fact that we can express so much joy in the midst of so much ongoing pain speaks of a victory of the human spirit.  I apologise for the fact that I will have to leave immediately after I have made these remarks, as I have to fly to Johannesburg tonight, where I am attending Mr Oliver Tambo's birthday celebration at 7am tomorrow morning.

 

But more than that, it speaks of the victory of our Creator who imbued the human spirit with a sense of hope. We know that the smallest flame can light the darkness. So let us take our small flame and ignite the radiance of celebration. Tonight, let us honour Israel.