A posting by Rene Smit, an obscure ANC party worker in the Western Cape, quickly went viral when it emerged that it sang the praises of Adolf Hitler for killing off the Jews and intimated that had been retro-actively justified by the behaviour to date of those Jews who survived. The post featured a picture of Hitler assuming a visionary pose, was headed “Yes man, you were right … ” and followed by the words “I could have killed all the Jews, but I left some of them to let you know why I was killing them”. Readers were exhorted to “Share the truth with the whole world”. To this, Smit herself added the words “Free Palestine!!”
The ANC itself dissociated itself from Smit, saying that she was not an employee of the party and was posting in her private capacity. Fair enough. Why, though, did ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe pointedly decline to condemn and dissociate his party from the content of the post itself?
Had it not been for the apparent ANC link, the post would most likely have been ignored, as Smit was just one of scores of South Africans who propagated similar material via social media and in the blogosphere. The latest outbreak of sustained hostilities between Israel and Gaza has resulted in a veritable tidal wave of shrill invective, not just against Israel but against the entire Jewish people. In my 17 years of monitoring anti-Jewish trends at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, I have never seen anything like it.
Another thing that has emerged very starkly from the innumerable incendiary exchanges over the internet is that the ever-fraught Israel-Palestinian question seems to set South Africans in general against one another’s throats more than any other issue. Alongside the many vicious anti-Jewish comments are malicious attacks against Muslims and Islam and exceedingly nasty racially loaded exchanges between blacks and whites. The manner in which the Middle East conflict is sowing division and poisoning relationships between fellow South Africans and the need to foster a more civilised discourse on the question is thoughtfully addressed by Marelise van der Merwe in the Daily Maverick.
Bad as the overall discourse has been, it is against Jews, and sometimes specifically against the local Jewish community, that the worst of the vitriol has been directed. Here are just a few examples picked up over the last few days:
“Rabbi Warren Goldstein, this is the time I wish Hitler was alive and his gas chambers still in use” tweeted Mahlaba Mathonto to Israeli ambassador Arthur Lenk. The latter was directed to pass on the message to the Chief Rabbi.
Responding to the question whether it was true that Israel was under a threat of terrorist attacks from Hamas or was rather exercising her authority under the protection of the US et al to commit genocide in Palestine, Thembelane Dibate wrote: “The latter is the right one. Hitler did right kill these cockroaches.” Dibate, by the way, is project coordinator at the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance, which falls under the Gauteng department of education.
Rachel @lakhilakhi5, of the Young Communist League of SA, has been especially busy. “Was Hitler Wrong about the jewish evil? Compare what’s happening today with the Holocaust and choose your name” she writes. She has also put out a version of what Rene Smit posted, with slightly different wording: “I would have killed All the jews.I saved sum 2show the world how evil they can be”.
Somewhat puzzling is her tweet, “When Hitler the Great killed Jews, they ran All over the world Including back to Palestine!” One would not have expected her to acknowledge that Jews came from Palestine in the first place.
@lakhilakhi5 has some helpful advice for Barack Obama: “Maybe Hitler knew that Jewish Capital will eventually destroy even America?” She has a bit of a problem with the local Jewish community as well: “How many brick did Jews build in SA? None! How many roads? None! Queens and kings in my country of birth!”
At this year’s ANC Youth League conference Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, with reference to a video on Israeli agricultural programmes in Africa being promoted by the Israeli embassy, commented, “ … disgusting. We fighting racism/colonialism/apartheid and don’t need promotion on Nazism”. Having declared his opposition to Nazism, however, what would Vavi say about the following recent tweets by Affan Sosibo, secretary-general of the ANC Youth League:
The theme of depicting SA Jewry as a hostile unwelcome element in this country, and warning what the consequences might be if their leaders persisted in attacking the government, was pursued by Sosibo in an “open letter” to Chief Rabbi Goldstein (whom he describes at one point as a “Shylockian spinster”):
“Can you please tell me where in the world it is acceptable for a leader of a minority community, acting on behalf of a foreign regime, to threaten with ‘consequences’ a popular government? The last time Arab citizens of Israel tried to do that they were considered a fifth column and had their property destroyed and citizenship revoked. Given that you regard Israel as bastion of democracy, would you like the South African government to treat you in the same manner as Israel treat its Arab minority?”
Of the examples quoted above, it will be noted that most emanated by black South Africans. This, too, is something new. Up until very recently, hard-core anti-Semitic attitudes were all but unknown in the black community. At worst, one found the surfacing of the occasional “Jews are tight-fisted” stereotype. One practically never saw the kind of visceral, often overtly threatening hostility towards the Jewish community that is now commonplace.
It all begs the question, why should a remote conflict taking place on another continent, one, moreover, whose destructive impact is demonstratively far less severe than many of those taking place in Africa itself, generate so much ill-feeling in this country? Why, also, has it generated such hatred against the Jewish people as to result in growing numbers of black South Africans enthusiastically embracing the Nazi ideology, even though this was almost as racist against people of colour as it was against Jews?
All this is showing a face of South Africa that I never suspected existed. Right now, it’s hard to believe I’m living in the same country.