African National Congress President Nelson Mandela has for the first time publicly acknowledged South African Jewry’s “particularly outstanding contribution” to his people’s “struggle for freedom and social justice.”
His warm, unsolicited message on the eve of Passover was conveyed by fax to the editor of the Johannesburg Jewish Voice, the official newspaper of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
It was the first such communication by the ANC leader to the Jewish community here and was described by the Jewish Voice editor as “an incredible coup in black-Jewish relations.”
Mervyn Smith, national chairman of the Board of Deputies, responded promptly in a letter to Mandela dated April 15.
“On behalf of the South African Jewish community, I thank you for your message, which was most moving, as well as your warm wishes for a happy Passover,” Smith wrote.
Mandela said in his message that Passover, which commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery, bears a message of universal human significance that has touched the hearts of millions throughout history and transcends boundaries of geography, race or creed.
“Fellow compatriots,” he wrote, “the figure of Moses, the liberator, has served as an inspiration to every people who have been compelled to struggle for their liberation.
“The immortal words he spoke to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’ reverberates through the corridors of time. They continue to inspire us in our quest for democracy today.”
WISHES JEWS ‘SHALOM ALEICHEM’
Mandela went on to note that “our country today stands on the threshold of a momentous transformation which must culminate in the attainment of freedom for all South Africans. We are all required to march together to complete the last miles to freedom.”
He stressed that the ANC recognized that despite its small numbers relative to the entire population, the local Jewish community has made contributions “second to none” to the development of South Africa.
He called for defeat of those forces “fanatically devoted to a discredited past, who wish to destroy all hope of a peaceful future.”
He concluded his message by wishing South African Jews “Shalom aleichem. Peace be with you all during Passover.”
In his reply to Mandela, Jewish Board of Deputies Chairman Smith noted that recounting the Exodus story is central to the Passover seder.
“Jews are therefore constantly reminded of the suffering that oppression brings and the importance of true freedom,” he wrote.
“We hope and pray that the coming year brings a respite from violence and true freedom for all South Africans so that we may live together in peace and harmony to rebuild our great country,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.