SOUTH AFRICAN BUZZ: Mandela in Ramallah

A delegation led by the mayor of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, attended the unveiling ceremony.

A bronze statue of the late former South African President Nelson Mandela, Pretoria (photo credit: REUTERS)
A bronze statue of the late former South African President Nelson Mandela, Pretoria
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The City of Johannesburg sponsored the erection of a six-meter bronze statue of Nelson Mandela which was unveiled in newly named Mandela Square in Ramallah on Tuesday.
A delegation led by the mayor of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, attended the unveiling ceremony. People living in the poorer districts of Ramallah might well wonder why money could not have been diverted to them as during the previous few days there have been protest marches there demanding service deliveries which are constantly lacking.
Ramallah’s mayor, Musa Hadid, said that the statue carried immense significance since Mandela was an international symbol of peace to people striving for freedom and liberty. Indeed, Mandela did speak broadly about various people’s liberation struggles, but in fairness he never said anything detrimental about Israel. In fact, a visit that he made to Israel in 1999, after he left office, was met with a great deal of applause.
Strangely, the whole story of the unveiling is being treated with very low-key media interest here. Many newspapers do not mention it at all, or else write about it hidden away in the inner pages. Only one national TV news reported on it very casually well down its list.
The Jewish organizations here virtually ignored it but one member of the Zionist Federation commented, off the record: “I hope that the Palestinians listen to what Mandela had to say about peace and reconciliation and do as he did.”
Women singing Should women be allowed to sing when men are present? This has become a rather contentious issue here because with Holocaust Remembrance Day approaching the “pros” and “cons” on the issue have taken up their positions. Actually the issue was brought to the fore when two Orthodox Jews (note Orthodox) opened legal proceedings against the Cape Branch of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in the Equality Court to allow women to sing at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. The board has responsibility for the program.
The board, for its part, says that it ensured that the ceremony is as widely representative of all members of the community. “It has not been an easy task,” it admits, “to balance the competing interests of the various sections.” It has demonstrated its complete commitment to gender equality at every level, including, it adds wistfully, “Women singing at other events under its aegis.”
The chairman of the Cape Council appealed, “Let us strive to be unified as a community and deal with this issue and Yom Hashoah respectfully.” He proposed a colloquium instead of going the court route, but that could only be set up in two weeks, well after Holocaust Remembrance Day is done and dusted for 2016.
A Progressive woman rabbi from Johannesburg associated herself with the initial legal challenge, for which she was suspended by the SA Jewish Board in Johannesburg. Supporters of women singers point out that the ban on women singing in the presence of men is not a Torah injunction but a rabbinical decision and can therefore be reinterpreted according to later scholars and students. What about Miriam singing, they ask? Now the latest news is that judge Albie Sachs, a prominent anti-apartheid activist who lost an arm in an assassination attempt and is well respected, has been asked to mediate. Time is running out and it seems that possibly/probably at Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies there will be two closures. The first, earlier, one to allow men who don’t want to hear women sing, to leave. Then a later closure to incorporate women singing.
Oh vay! New pal in the Middle East Our beloved president was on his travels again last week. This time he was in Iran in “a bid to transform bilateral relations into a substantive strategic partnership.”
Zuma was given a royal reception with a military parade at the airport and a motorcade plus decorated horsemen (the horses decorated, not the riders) to the palace which once was that of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was invited, apparently, by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, a rare event.
Zuma said, “We have expressed our congratulations to the people and the government of Iran for the successful conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the subsequent lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions unilaterally imposed against the Islamic Republic.” Phew.
Zuma insisted that Iran had the right to develop nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes.”
He thanked Iran for the role it had played in securing a nonracial South Africa.
The South African delegation was over 100 strong, many from banking and financial sectors. Their priority, they said, was strengthening economic relations.
The US has only lifted some of the banking and financial sanctions – not released all frozen funds.
Zuma, ignoring his travails at home, praised Iran for its successful 1979 revolution and several times cited Iran’s decision to follow the nuclear program route.
He and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to increase trade relations to a billion dollars over four years. South Africa would boost oil and gas imports and also build refineries.
They would also promote an increase in bilateral tourism with the introduction of regular flights between the two countries. Two days later and Zuma was back in South Africa. Promises, promises.