Menu JTA Search

South Africa Tells U.S. Jews That Transition Won’t Be Anti-semitic

A group of American Jewish leaders received across-the-board reassurances of opposition to anti-Semitism from key players in South Africa’s transition to racial democracy.

A fact-finding mission of the American Jewish Committee visiting here last week expressed optimism over the future of Jews in South Africa after they met with leaders of the governing National Party, the African National Congress, the Zulu Inkatha movement and the South African Communist Party.

Leaders across the political spectrum supported passage of a bill of rights protecting the rights of minorities, said Jason Isaacson, director of AJCommittee’s Office of Government and International Affairs, and John Simon, vice president of the group’s central New Jersey chapter.

Howard Friedman, a former AJCommittee president, headed the 11-member mission, which also visited the black township of Soweto.

There will also be continued ties with Israel, they were assured.

Members of the ANC youth league will visit Israel in February. But they will do so only after first stopping in Tunis, where the Palestine Liberation Organization is headquartered.

Isaacson and Simon spoke with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency before returning to the United States last week.

They said they had not met with ANC leader Nelson Mandela, but said the ANC had reaffirmed “most of the assurances regarding the Jewish community (which Mandela) gave me in Washington in 1991,” according to Isaacson.

Also taking part in talks were Ronnie Kasrils, a South African Jew who is a member of the ANC’s national executive committee; Walter Sisulu, ANC deputy president; and other senior ANC officials.

The AJCommittee figures also received praise for the contributions of Jews to South Africa in all walks of life from Hendrik (Kobie) Coetsee, the country’s minister of justice, and Deputy Foreign Minister Renier Schoeman.

“Coetsee felt anti-Semitism would never take root here,” said Simon.

An unplanned meeting with Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi took place at the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg, where the Inkatha leader was returning from a visit to Toronto.

“He actually left his guard of honor to speak to us, recalling past meetings and apologizing for being out of the country during our meeting with other Inkatha officials,” Simon said. In his absence, the Jewish leaders met with director Gavin Woods and a member of the Inkatha Institute staff, John Bangu.

The AJCommittee leaders also met with Chris Hani, the secretary-general of the South African Communist Party. Hani voiced support for a mixed economy and multiparty state.

“They are getting away from old-style communism and have created a kind of indigenous animal,” Isaacson reported.

The AJCommittee group visited Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. They met with Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and Mervyn Smith, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, as well as with other communal leaders.

In the black township of Soweto, the visitors saw two projects associated with Israel. A Hebrew University-developed program for preschool youngsters was being implemented. And a child-care center had a director who had trained in Israel.

NEXT STORY