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Visa Waiver for Palestinians: No Thanks to South African Government

South Africa's President, Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Ramaphosa' Social Media)

By Iqbal Jassat

While Israelis enjoyed and continue to benefit from unhindered travel access to South Africa, Palestinians were denied this right.

The reversal of Visa restrictions on Palestinians seeking to travel to South Africa, has finally happened.

And no thanks to the ANC-led government of Cyril Ramaphosa. May sound strange and perhaps carries a hint of ingratitude?

Not at all if one considers that while Israelis enjoyed and continue to benefit from unhindered travel access to South Africa, Palestinians were denied this right.

And if the context of the background to visa restrictions is relevant to understand why the ANC would be embarrassed, let’s unpack it.

Our research at the time we discovered this unjust anomaly, uncovered that the restrictions were imposed post-94.

In other words, the ANC-led government introduced stiff conditions on Palestinians – making it impossible for them to enter South Africa, while at the same time allowed Israelis free access.

In my oped written during November 2020, I explained my distress as follows:

“Regardless of their faith or political affiliation, not only are Palestinians forced against their will to endure Israeli apartheid in ghettos across the occupied territories, but they also face the humiliation of having to comply with apartheid-based visa regulations imposed by the South African immigration authorities.

“The details provided on the Department of International Relations website make clear the shamelessly hypocritical double standards that are applied. In addition to having to apply for visas and the delay that the lengthy process entails, Palestinians have extra burdens placed upon them which do not apply to Israelis; they have also to provide proof of medical insurance, proof of a hotel booking and proof that they have sufficient funds for their stay.

“There are a host of restrictions applicable to Palestinians but not to Israelis, yet we are led to believe that South Africa opposes Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestine. In fact, by applying such measures on Palestinians wishing to travel to South Africa, the government in Pretoria remains an active participant in Israel’s illegal, immoral and unjust occupation”.

The public campaign we then launched demanding the lifting of the restrictions, received groundswell support but not from the government.

Some ministers would feign ignorance while others would concur that it was irrational and out of sinc with the ANC’s solidarity for Palestine’s freedom struggle.

But it stopped there and dragged on without any tangible moves to make amends.

Until a member of Parliament from the opposition NFP (National Freedom Party), Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam, took up the battle. His efforts over a period of time led to sustained engagements with the Minister of Home Affairs, ultimately resulting in the decision to lift all punitive visa restrictions on Palestinians.

“This development signifies a watershed moment in South Africa’s history — a moment that encapsulates the core principles of justice, human rights, and equality and sends a powerful message of solidarity with the Palestinian people,” said Shaik Emam in an interview with IOL.

“The disparity that existed between Palestinians requiring visas and Israelis not needing them was deeply problematic. This inconsistency in our policies was a stark reminder of the need for government’s policy to be firmly rooted in principles of human rights and justice,” he said.

Important to acknowledge that in the absence of Shaik Emam’s timely intervention, the ANC government would have allowed the untenable and illigical situation to remain untouched.

Notwithstanding the public campaigns and various means of advocacy undertaken by us and others including high profile Palestinian academics and activists, it didn’t appear to bother ANC parliamentarians.

It thus behoves us to acknowledge the interventionist role of the NFP as a crucial component of the campaign that finally attained the desired outcome.

In the words of Shaik Emam: “The waiver extends to Palestinian citizens and diplomats, marking a profound shift. It eliminates the arduous and strenuous visa application process that Palestinians previously had to navigate, replacing it with a warm welcome and a strengthened bridge of friendship with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”

It is true that the ANC, much to its shame, did not voluntarily waive the restrictions. However for it to redress the injustice endured by Palestinians over the past three decades, we now call on it to complete the cycle of unfinished business by imposing travel restrictions on Israelis.

This has become imperative in light of the fact that many South Africans are known to be recruited and serving in the Israeli military.

The crimes committed by the apartheid regime and its army of terrorists is well documented and may not be ignored by the ANC government any longer.

– Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the South Africa-based Media Review Network. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit: www.mediareviewnet.com