South Africa

Total population: 42 million
Jewish population: 98,000 (mainly in
Johannesburg and Cape Town)

General background

In 1996 the national unity government, led by the African National Congress (ANC) with the National Party (NP) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), continued its policy of transformation. This policy included the introduction of a new growth, employment and redistribution strategy, as well as drastic reforms of housing and education policies. Affirmative action gained impetus as the nation tackled past injustices. Nonetheless, huge discrepancies in wealth and living conditions remain.

In the face of growing labour unrest the government enacted new labour laws that promoted centralized bargaining and provided new mechanisms for dispute resolution. During the year there was a substantial reduction in political violence across the country as a whole, although violence in KwaZulu-Natal continues.

Criminal violence increased against a backdrop of high unemployment, estimated at between 22 and 40 per cent. The economy grew by 3 per cent and inflation decreased marginally to 7.4 per cent, the lowest in twenty-four years. Foreign investment remained unsatisfactory, notwithstanding the announcement by the government of new economic policies, including substantial privatization, fiscal discipline and endorsement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The NP withdrew from the government in mid-year, thereby terminating the position of Deputy President F. W. de Klerk.

Local government elections were held in the metropolitan area of Cape Town in May and in KwaZulu-Natal in July. In the former the NP won 43 per cent of the seats, maintaining a marginal superiority over the ANC. In the latter the IFP gained 39 per cent of seats, confirming its position as a largely rural organization with little significant support in the urban areas.

Following lengthy negotiations, the constitutional assembly ratified a revised draft constitution in December that was due to come into effect in February 1997.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its task of investigating crimes committed under the apartheid regime. Under its provisions, individuals will be able to apply for amnesty. Investigative units made inroads into uncovering apartheid crimes. A database of more than 11,000 human rights abuses was compiled and thousands of victims received acknowledgement, counselling and support.

Historical legacy

The ban on Jewish settlement in the Cape, introduced during the rule of the Dutch East India Company (1652-1795), was abrogated by the Batavian administration (1803-6) and the British. In the South African Republic (Transvaal), established by the Voortrekkers in the mid-nineteenth century, non-Protestants, including Jews, remained disenfranchised until the British occupation in 1902. Jewish immigration, mainly from Lithuania, following the discovery of diamonds and gold in the late nineteenth century, generated considerable antisemitism.

During the First World War, antisemites accused Jews of shirking military responsibilities and, in the inter-war years, tried to associate Jews with bolshevik subversion. Antisemitism in the 1920s culminated in the 1930 Quota Act, which virtually ended Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. Popular antisemitism during the 1930s and 1940s was evident among the "Shirt" movements, most notably Louis T. Weichardt's Greyshirts, the Ossewabrandwag (Oxwagon Sentinel) and Oswald Pirow's New Order. The Afrikaner nationalist movement was also influenced by Nazi ideology. Antisemitism prompted the governing United Party to introduce the 1937 Aliens Act, curtailing German Jewish immigration. NP publications during the Second World War were also influenced by European fascism.

Antisemitism declined rapidly after 1945, although Prime Minister Jan Smuts opposed large-scale Jewish immigration. The Greyshirts and New Order disbanded and, in 1951, the ban on Jewish membership of the Transvaal NP (the NP was structured along federal lines) was lifted. Nonetheless, the NP, in power after 1948, resented disproportionate Jewish involvement in liberal and communist activities and Israel's support for the African bloc at the UN in the early 1960s.

Close ties between South Africa and Israel developed in the 1970s, engendering favourable attitudes towards the Jews on the part of the white population, although antisemitic outbursts, including expressions of Holocaust denial, were prevalent among elements of the white far right.

The majority black population felt betrayed by Israel's close relations with South Africa and sympathized with the Palestinian cause. Although black leaders clearly distinguished between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, there are indications of some anti-Jewish attitudes among black élites.

Since the "normalization" of South African politics, antisemitic incidents have been relatively isolated and largely confined to the far right and Islamist groups. In 1994 there was a spate of industrial disputes that involved protests against "Jewish capitalists".

Racism and xenophobia

The South African government has outlawed all forms of racial discrimination with the adoption of the new constitution, the Bill of Fundamental Rights and the repeal of the race-based statutes of the apartheid era. It has also begun reorganizing the educational, housing and health care systems to benefit all racial and ethnic groups equally.

South Africa has attracted a great number of illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries, particularly Mozambique, generating substantial resentment and xenophobia. Amendments to the Aliens Control Act have been introduced to control illegal entry and, in particular, residence status. By the end of the year, 10,000 had taken advantage of a new amnesty bill, passed in June, which allowed certain illegal aliens who had lived in South Africa for five years to become legal residents. Over 16,000 asylum-seekers were registered by the government in 1996.

Parties, organizations, movements

ln 1969 the Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP, Reconstituted National Party) was formed to counter deviation from apartheid philosophy. The party's official organ, Die Afrikaner (circulation 8,000), has featured numerous anti-semitic articles.

The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB, Afrikaner Resistance Movement) led by Eugene Terre'Blanche, kept a low profile in 1996. The movement, which was founded in 1981, pursues exclusivist, racist and antisemitic policies. It includes a paramilitary wing, the Storm Falcons, and a crack guerrilla unit, the Ystergarde (Iron Guard). Since the 1994 elections, however, its operations have been limited. In March, nine AWB members were found guilty of murder in connection with a series of bombings before the 1993 elections.

Antisemitic views were expounded in numerous, small white supremacist groups and neo-Nazi cells including: the Israelites; the Church of the Creator; the Kultuur Studie Groep (Culture Study Group); the Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging (BBB, White Liberation Movement); the World Preservatist Movement; the Afrikaner Nationalist Socialist Movement; the Kerk van die Verbondsvolk (Church of the People of the Covenant); the Boer Republican Army; and Orde Boerevolk. The membership of these groups remain small and their influence is not significant.

In 1996 the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight exposed the involvement of British neo-Nazis in a plot to overthrow the new government in South Africa. Members of the British neo-Nazi League of Saint George reportedly co-operated with neo-Nazis throughout Europe to send mercenaries on a mission to South Africa in 1993. The strategy consisted of the assassination of South Africa's leaders and sabotage of its economic infrastructure. The co-ordinating body was the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), the right-wing umbrella group combining the AWB, the Conservative Party, the HNP and the Boerestaat Party, under the former military leader Gen-eral Constand Viljoen. The plan failed through the actions of the South African security services and a change in strategy by Viljoen, who withdrew from the project and led the Freedom Front (FF) in the 1994 general election.

The formation of the Muslim-dominated, community-based organization People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) and its intimidation campaign against gang leaders in the Western Cape has caused considerable concern. The group, which held meetings at the Gatesville Mosque in Cape Town, announced in August that it opposed the media because it was controlled by Jewish groups. A member of Pagad reportedly claimed that Jews were exercising financial control in South Africa.

In October, Pagad led a protest march to stop a housing development planned by Neil Bernstein at Oudekraal outside Cape Town on the grounds that Muslim graves were scattered around the area. Several people waved placards with slogans such as "One Muslim [grave], One Synagogue", "One Brick, One Jew". They also displayed swastikas and Stars of David with the word "money" printed in the centre.

Other Islamist groups that have been established in recent years in South Africa include: Al Jihad; Da'wah Foundation of South Africa; Environmental Mazaar Action Committee; Foundation for Islamic Tarbiya; Hizbullah South Africa; Lebanon Alert Action Group; Islamic Unity Convention; Islamic Propagation Centre International; Muslim Alert Network; Nation of Islam; and People Against Drugs and Violence (Padav). In terms of influence most of these groups are of little consequence among the wider population, although their impact on the Muslim community cannot be discounted. Many express hostility towards Israel and use antisemitic motifs.

A report in the South African Jewish Times by two Israeli journalists, Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg, in May, claimed that Iranian mullahs, backed by Libyan and Muslim extremists, were spearheading a major effort to bolster a militant Islamist movement in South Africa. They charged that Louis Farrakhan (see MAINSTREAM POLITICS) had donated $50 million to the leftist Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), which reportedly had close ties with Qibla, an Islamist movement in Cape Town.

Mainstream politics

Amid criticism from the South African Jewish community, President Mandela met with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (see United States of America), in January (see PUBLICATIONS AND MEDIA).


Advocate Kuper received documents from an unknown source containing extracts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion that claimed Jewish control of the legal system. This occurred following Kuper's initiation in January of a new scheme at the Johannesburg bar to improve the process of arbitration.

In March swastikas were painted on the highway from Johannesburg airport to Irene, outside Pretoria. A swastika was painted on a picture of Tony Leon, leader of the Democratic Party (DP), in Durban.

Graves were damaged in the Pretoria Jewish cemetery. In April, 125 graves were vandalized in the old Bloemfontein cemetery but since the Christian section of the cemetery was also damaged, the motives for this particular incident remain uncertain.


In February, a teacher at Pinelands North Primary School, Cape Town, told pupils that Hitler was "a nice man who had treated everyone well". He also claimed that Jews had grossly exaggerated the number of people killed in the Holocaust.

A senior lecturer at the Cape Technicon in Cape Town repeatedly made antisemitic statements, for example accusing Jews of theft. The lecturer resigned following complaints by Jewish students.

Publications and media

In the May edition of the monthly journal Living Africa , Jon Qwelane published an article entitled "The Lynching of William Makgoba" that blamed Jews for the removal of Professor Makgoba as deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Witwatersrand. Qwelane maintained that because Makgoba was pro-Arab, the "powerful Jewish lobby" at the university, including academics, students, administrators, financial benefactors and Jewish-led corporations, had forced his removal.

In September a City Press editorial responded to a press release from the South African Board of Deputies about the visit of the Iranian president with the following statement: "The Jewish community in South Africa must begin to owe allegiance to this country and start to think like everyone else in this country. They must not support President Mandela when it suits them and turn their backs when they think of lsrael."

A cartoon appearing in the Sunday Times next to a statement by the University of the Witwatersrand on 15 September suggested that negative criticism of the university came predominantly from the Jewish community. The cartoon, a grotesque parody of a dinner-table scenario that made obvious allusions to the Jewish community, also appeared in the Financial Mail, Business Day and Sowetan .

Antisemitic remarks were only occasionally broadcast on radio. Radio 702, a Johannesburg station, aired an advertisement in which reference was made to the pogroms in Russia and that ridiculed South African Jews, using sexually explicit imagery. Chat-show host John Berks faced a number of antisemitic callers while discussing the proposed visit to South Africa of the Libyan president, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, on Radio 702. Callers claimed that Jews controlled Radio 702 and that the Jewish lobby was attempting to stop the visit.

Louis Farrakhan's visit to South Africa aroused much discussion in the media. When questioned about Jews in an interview in the Johannesburg daily Star , Farrakhan answered that among them "are those who did involve themselves in the slave trade and unfortunately there are those who concocted the falsehood that black people were the children of Ham, doomed to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, servants of white people."

Holocaust denial

The August issue of Hustler, a pornographic monthly that has featured various antisemitic articles in previous years, condemned the prospect of a "hate speech" clause in the new constitution and defended its right to question the authenticity of the Holocaust. The article also accused the South African Board of Deputies of attempting to control all statements about the Holocaust.

In July a letter in the Natal Witness, a Durban newspaper, denied that there had been a Nazi plan for the mass murder of a Jews. The letter, entitled "Where is the Proof of the Nazis' Plan?", related to debates on whether apartheid should be considered a "crime against humanity".

Effects of anti-Zionism

In March a pamphlet was distributed by the Ash-Shaheed organization entitled "The Common Roots of Apartheid and Zionism".

In April at an international Muslim conference in Pretoria, "Creating a New Civilization of Islam", speakers cited Jews as "a powerful economic force" and blamed Zionism for "all evils in society".

Also in April the owner of the San Colioni Italian restaurant in Sandton, Johannesburg, refused to take a booking from a Jewish woman because of "what Israel is doing".

In July the KwaZulu-Natal Committee of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies received a package of articles with the words "anti-Christ" and "Neo-Nazionists" written on them. The materials also compared Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to Hitler's treatment of the Jews.

In September, anti-Israel and antisemitic mailings were received at the Union of Orthodox Synagogues in Cape Town. The letter condemned "Israel Nazionist barbarity" and quoted the following Qur'anic text: "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou [Muhammad] find the Jews and the Pagans."

Countering antisemitism

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies monitored antisemitism and responded to incidents and offensive statements where appropriate. In particular it attempted to dissuade President Mandela from meeting Louis Farrakhan (see MAINSTREAM POLITICS).

The board also promoted dialogue with opinion-makers in the wider community. Jews have had high-profile representation on inter-faith forums.


Antisemitism was of marginal significance in public life in South Africa. Ultimately the fate of South African Jews is tied up with that of the white population as a whole. Given the ANC's opposition to racism, the climate for opposing antisemitism in South Africa publicly is more favourable than it has been in the past. The quick repudiation of occasional and individual expressions of antisemitism by various organizations and institutions bears testimony to this.

Nonetheless, there are disturbing signs that anti-Zionist sentiments, particularly those emanating from the Muslim community, are often conflated with antisemitism.

© JPR 1997