Mmusi Maimane, the charismatic leader of South Africa’s opposition, is currently on a low-profile, private visit to Israel, just two days after South African President Jacob Zuma called on his countrymen not to visit Israel.
Maimane is being accompanied by Michael Bagraim, a Jewish member of parliament from Maimane’s Democratic Alliance (DA) Party. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials, including opposition head Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
The visit was not organized by the Foreign Ministry, though it did facilitate setting up meetings.
One diplomatic official said that Maimane’s visit is part of efforts by both Israel and pro-Israel supporters in South Africa to develop positive relations with key figures in the country, whose current leader has taken stridently anti-Israel positions.
Maimane has been described by diplomatic officials as having an “open mind” on Israel.
At a conference in Soweto on Sunday marking the ANC’s 105th anniversary, Zuma said that “the people of Palestine continue to suffer in their rightful quest for self determination.” The ANC, he said, “pledges its ongoing solidarity and support for their just cause. We reiterate that we firmly discourage travel to Israel for causes not related to fostering peace in the region. We call for unity in Palestine and support UN Security Council resolution 2334 of December 2016.”
Meanwhile, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a four-day visit, the first by a Sierra Leonean president. His trip comes amid a strengthening of ties between Israel and many African countries. Netanyahu visited east Africa over the summer in the first visit there by a sitting Israeli prime minister since 1987, and is scheduled to visit West Africa some time later this year.
Koroma is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday, and among the issues expected to be discussed – beside bilateral relations – are Sierra Leone’s voting pattern on Israel in international forums, as well as Israel’s efforts to gain observer status at the African Union, a status that Israel lost over a decade ago, but which the Palestinian Authority enjoys.
According to diplomatic officials, Sierra Leone generally votes against Israel at the UN, but is more supportive in multilateral African forums such as the African Union and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
One official said that Koroma is very appreciative of Israel’s assistance in fighting Ebola, which hit the country hard. Israel gave $10 million to the Ebola aid fund – the sixth-largest contribution in the world, and the largest per capita donor – and also sent field hospitals to countries such as Sierra Leone, struck by the plague. Some 4,000 Sierra Leoneans were killed by the disease.
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