South Africa’s ambassador to Israel said on Sunday that the people of his country do not hate Israel.
Speaking to Army Radio in the wake of the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela, Ambassador Sisa Ngombane said that South Africans “hate oppression”, hinting at the fact that Israel was oppressing Palestinian Authority Arabs similar to how blacks were oppressed in South Africa.
"There is a claim that South Africans hate Israel, but it's totally untrue,” said Ngombane, adding, “South Africans hate oppression. Mandela was the representative of the oppressed and therefore it has been said that he identified himself with the Palestinians."
According to Ngombane, "Mandela said he thought that Israel has problems related to human dignity and that until human dignity is respected, there will not be calm, there will be peace or reconciliation.”
The ambassador also responded to concerns in Israel that the Israeli representative to Mandela’s funeral will be met with anti-Israel protests outside his hotel, and told Army Radio that no protests would take place.
"The last thing South Africa needs right now is reports about protests that are suppressed by security forces," said Ngombane. "I'd be happy if President Peres comes and joins the mourners. He said that Mandela was one of his closest friends. I'd be happy if he represents those Israeli leaders who have chosen to try resolve the conflict.”
Mandela, who passed away at 95, was known as a supporter of PA Arabs, saying once that “if the Palestinians are not free, no one is free”, a statement which anti-Israel groups have taken advantage of to accuse Israel of applying a policy of “apartheid” towards Arabs.
Mandela also once criticized the U.S. through Israel, hinting in 2003 that then- President George W. Bush had no foresight because “Their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction, but because it’s their ally they won’t ask the UN to get rid of it. They just want the oil.”
Anti-Israel sentiments have been prevalent in South Africa long after Mandela’s presidency and have surfaced in recent times as well. In June, the former South African ambassador to Israel rejected a symbolic gift from the Israeli government, planting trees in his honor in a national park named after South Africa.
He explained that Israeli policies which, he claims, discriminate against PA Arabs appeared to be reminiscent of his experiences under South Africa's apartheid system.
“Regrettably, my permission was not sought to plant a tree/s in my or the name of a South African Ambassador on usurped land, the rightful land of the Palestinians and Bedouins. I reserve the right to the usage of my name with or without my permission,” Coovadia wrote.
“I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of ‘18 trees,’ in my ‘honor,’ on expropriated and stolen land,” he added.
In April, South Africa imposed new rules requiring that goods imported from Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem display special labels.
The new rules stipulate that goods will no longer carry "Made in Israel" labels but instead will have to be specific about the exact origin of the goods.
Last year, South African Minister Rob Davies issued an announcement warning merchants “not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as products of Israel.”
He later rejected “with utter contempt” suggestions that there were racial motivations for his move, saying his department was neither seeking to promote a boycott of Israeli goods nor to prevent the entry of such products into South Africa.
Last month, South Africa's Foreign Minister slammed Israel's plans to build new homes in Jerusalem, saying she was “losing sleep” over the size of “Palestine”.