On December 29, 2023, South Africa instituted proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. In addition, South Africa, along with Bangladesh, Bolivia, the Comoro Islands and Djibouti, filed a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.
These measures by South Africa are in line with the fact that it maintains close relations with Hamas, despite the latter's recognition as a terrorist organization by many countries, and also cooperates with Hamas' patron, the state of Qatar. South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party not only refrained from condemning Hamas' October 7 attack but even issued a statement calling the attack an "unsurprising" response to "the brutality of the settler Israeli apartheid regime."
Furthermore, in the three months since the attack, South Africa has maintained ongoing contacts with Hamas and its patron Qatar. A Hamas delegation recently visited South Africa and hailed this country's "role in supporting the Palestinian struggle." Moreover, in November 2023 South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa made his first state visit to Qatar and met with the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani. The two discussed the Gaza Strip and the economic cooperation between their two countries.
This report reviews South Africa's ties with Hamas and the recent strengthening of its diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Hamas Official Moussa Abu Marzouq Describes The Development Of Hamas' Relations With South Africa
South Africa's diplomatic campaign against Israel reflects the political alliance between its ruling ANC party and Hamas, an alliance that was formed several years ago is occasionally accompanied by a deliberate undermining of the Palestinian Authority's status. Since founding its political bureau in 1991, Hamas has made a point of developing its relations with South Africa, while presenting its fight against Israel as a struggle against racism and apartheid, which South Africa shares. The former head of Hamas' political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouq, states in his biography that the movement's efforts to strengthen its relations with South Africa began in 1995, when it formed a special committee for this issue in Sudan. The committee worked to form ties with South African diplomats in the Middle East, and also established organizations affiliated with Hamas in South Africa, such as the Islamic Al-Aqsa organization and the Middle East Studies Center, in order to develop relations with Muslims in this country.
The relations grew stronger following an October 2010 meeting in Damascus between Khaled Mash'al, then head of Hamas' political bureau, and South Africa's deputy president at the time, Kgalema Motlanthe. Abu Marzouq states that this meeting paved the way to forming official relations with South Africa's ruling party, the ANC.
The relations between Hamas and South Africa reached their peak in October 2015, when a Hamas delegation headed by Mash'al made an official visit to the country at the invitation of the ANC. The head of the party at the time, then-President Jacob Zuma, adopted a policy of openness towards Hamas despite the position of numerous countries that regard it as a terror organization. The three-day visit included a series of meetings with President Zuma, government officials and ANC members, and the party also signed a memorandum of understandings with Hamas pledging to "support its struggle for the liberation of Palestine." Addressing ANC members, Mash'al stressed that the intifada and the resistance would continue until freedom was achieved and the land belonged to Palestine and its people.
Abu Marzouq notes that the 2015 visit of the Hamas delegation, headed by Mash'al, established a direct line of communication between the movement leadership and the South African decision makers. It also led to series of further political achievements for Hamas, such as a December 2018 visit to South Africa by a Hamas parliamentary delegation, headed by Mahmoud Al-Zahhar. This delegation signed a memorandum of cooperation with the ANC that stressed "the Palestinian historic right" and stated that South Africa would make direct efforts to sway global public opinion against the Israeli occupation and to promote the boycott of Israel on various levels. Then-ANC chairman Jackson Mthembu said during the delegation's visit, which took place amid tension between Israel and South Africa over the March 2018 clashes on the Gaza border, that his party meant to downgrade South Africa's diplomatic relations with Israel ahead of severing them completely.
According to Abu Marzouq, cooperation between Hamas and the ANC was also manifested in political activity by Hamas within South Africa, specifically in efforts to recruit support for the party among South African Muslims in Cape Town.
Hamas In South Africa Establishes The Afro-Palestine Forum (Afropal)
One the means that served Hamas in enhancing its influence in South Africa, according to Abu Marzouq, was the Afro-Palestine Forum (Afropal), which is a registered NGO in the country and has received political and media support from the Hamas movement. Hamas also cooperated with the BDS and other civil society organizations in South Africa to promote its goals and pressure the government to adopt pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli positions, such as downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel, and to pressure various African countries to boycott the 2017 Israel-Africa summit in Togo, for example. Afropal is currently working to mobilize support for Hamas in South Africa, while condoning violence and terror against Israel, as is evident from its social media posts. These include a Facebook post marking the anniversary of the death of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin and claiming that "[h]is ideas and spirit of resistance live among ordinary Palestinians to this day," and a January 13th post on X (formerly Twitter) showing protestors in Johannesburg carrying signs with Hamas symbols and the slogan "resistance is not terrorism."
ANC Support For Hamas After The October 7 Massacre
The pro-Hamas positions of South Africa's ruling ANC party remained unchanged even after Hamas' October 7 terror attack, in which some 1,200 people were murdered and about 240 were taken hostage. An official statement issued by the ANC after the attack called it an "unsurprising" response "to the brutality of the settler Israeli apartheid regime."
On October 16, 2023, South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, spoke on the phone with Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya, and in her November 7 speech at the UN General Assembly she called on the ICC to issue arrest warrants for the Israeli Prime Minister and other Israeli officials who, she said, are responsible for "the massacre of the people of Palestine" in Gaza – again in complete disregard of Hamas' October 7 terror attack.
Moreover, on December 6 a delegation of Hamas officials – including Bassem Na'im, a member of the movement's political bureau in Gaza; Khaled Qadoumi, Hamas' representative in Iran, and Imad Saber, a member of Hamas' international relations bureau – met with South African officials at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, including the party's secretary-general Fikile Mbalula, to discuss Israel's "genocide against the Palestinian people" and "ways to support the Palestinian people" and "stop Israel's aggression." Hamas official Bassem Na'im expressed appreciation for the "role played by South Africa in supporting the Palestinian struggle." The Hamas delegation also met with civil society organizations in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The Qatari Connection: South African President Makes First State Visit To Qatar To Discuss Gaza, Economic Cooperation
Qatar too is encouraging South Africa's diplomatic campaign against Israel and in favor of Hamas. According to Hamas official Abu Marzouq, Hamas mediated between South Africa and Qatar and prompted them to strengthen their relations. In fact, Abu Marzouq claims that it was at Khaled Mash'al's "behest" that South African President Jacob Zuma was invited to Doha in March 2016, and Qatari investments in South Africa were increased by several measures. Furthermore, according to Project Raven documents that were leaked to the media, in 2012 Qatar's ambassador to South Africa, Salem Abdallah Al-Jaber, transferred $2 million to then-South African President Thabo Mbeki, also a member of the ANC party, in the form of a grant for the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.
On November 15, 2023, about six weeks before South Africa filed its case against Israel at the ICC, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made his first state visit to Qatar since his election in 2018 and met with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani. In the meeting, the Emir said that the visit expressed the two countries' joint desire to strengthen their mutual relations. According to reports in the Atari press, the two discussed bilateral cooperation, "especially in the fields of economy, energy, investments and education," as well as several issues of mutual interest, "especially the latest developments in the occupied Palestinian territories and the international and regional diplomatic efforts to bring about an immediate ceasefire."
Qatari Ambassador To South Africa: The Two Countries Agree On Many Issues
Both countries stressed the importance of Ramaphosa's visit to Qatar, while noting their similar positions on the Gaza war, as well as the economic cooperation between them. Qatar's Ambassador to South Africa Mubarak bin Nasser Aal Khalifa emphasized that the visit was taking place "amid the extermination faced by the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip," and noted that South Africa was one of the only countries in the world that had clearly condemned Israel's violations against the Palestinians and recalled its representatives from Israel in protest against its actions. Adding that Qatar's and South Africa's relations were constantly developing on the diplomatic, economic and political levels, he pointed to the increase in their mutual trade in the last five years, which has reached some $3.5 billion, and that the Qatari TotalEnergies company has signed a partnership agreement to explore a large gas field in South Africa's Outeniqua Basin. He stated further that the two countries have over 25 agreements and memoranda of understandings in various fields, some of which are in their final stages.
Ahead of the visit, the South African President's spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, said that the visit, which would be Ramaphosa's first as head of state, was the culmination of three decades of diplomatic relations between the two countries and would strengthen their relations in the domains of economy, trade, investments and tourism. Magwenya explained that in 2022, South Africa exported $206 million worth of goods and services to Qatar, making it South Africa's fifth largest trading partner in the Middle East. In 2017-2022, he added, South Africa witnessed a surge in its imports from Qatar, which amounted to $252 million in 2022. He also noted that President Ramaphosa would be accompanied by a high-level business delegation to explore opportunities for cooperation in industry, energy, mining, healthcare, tourism and other domains, and that South Africa was a significant investor in Qatar, especially in the petrochemical-related sector, with a total investment of approximately $8.7 billion."
South African President Announces Filing Of Case Against Israel From Doha
During his visit to Qatar, at a press conference following his meeting with Qatari businesspeople, President Ramaphosa announced the intention of his country and several others to file a case against Israel with the ICC for alleged war crimes committed in Gaza, and added that both Qatar and South Africa condemn what is happening there. Several days after the visit, on November 20, Minister Naledi Pandor announced that South Africa was acting in concert with Palestine to file the lawsuit against Israel with the ICC, and would also petition the ICJ to declare Israel an apartheid state.
Qatari Ambassador To Netherlands Meets With ICC Prosecutor, President In Hague
It should be noted that, in light of the calls to prosecute Israel at the ICC, Qatar's news agency reported that the Qatari Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, met with ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan on November 2, 2023 to discuss the escalation in the Gaza Strip and a number of other issues of common interest. About one month later, on December 5, 2023, the news agency reported that Al-Qahtani had also met with ICC President Piotr Hofmanski to exchange views on issues of common interest and discuss the latest developments in Gaza.
This report was first published on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute.