Zwelinzima Vavi’s input to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in New York
Chairperson Pierre Galand
Members of the jury
Ladies and gentlemen
Comrades and friends
Thank you very much for the opportunity to address the New York session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
Firstly let me again express the collective gratitude of the millions of South Africans who love freedom and justice and this year are celebrating 100 years of their struggle, led by the ANC, against a system of apartheid which was declared a crime against humanity, thank for holding your Tribunal in the country you played such an important role in liberating.
I am a black South African who was born into the conditions that so many of you did everything in your power to resist, and to defeat. For that we shall forever be indebted to each one of you and millions across the globe for helping free Nelson Mandela.
Today I return to you to speak about my own personal experiences – as a child labourer who was born in a farm on a date, month and year no one remembers in my family precisely, because farm workers were undocumented, and did not have even the most basic facilities such as hospital and schools.
I know what life was like under a brutal regime supported by equally brutal employers whose profits depended on the creation and maintenance of slavery conditions. I know the pain of humiliation, deprivation and hunger. I have known what it is like to sleep in the open in the middle of the coldest winter night following the eviction of my parents in the farms.
When i involved myself in a struggle for freedom and justice, I suffered oppression, torture and detention without trial in the Bantustans which they created to be labour reserves to supply cheap labour to agriculture and mining bosses who helped consolidate the vote for the then National Party in 1948.
I have witnessed countless massacres of our people, countless deaths in detention, countless hangings of freedom fighters, forced removals and black-on-black violence instigated by agents of the regime. Only last month we were mourning the brutal killing of Steve Biko on 12 September 1977.
Apartheid was correctly declared a crime against humanity.
I have followed the history of the people of Palestine with keen interest. With my own and my people’s history it appears to me that there would be something fundamentally wrong with me and indeed every South African if we were to be indifferent to the suffering visited on the people of Palestine for so many decades.
The Russell Tribunal held in Cape Town, South Africa, after listening to the testimonies of the people from South Africa and Palestine, came to the correct conclusion that Israel is practicing apartheid against the people of Palestine.
I believe that whilst apartheid was atrocious beyond the description of words, the difference between South Africa and Palestine is that the latter is facing an aggressive attempt to drive all the citizens of the country into exile and take away their right to their citizenship.
Today only 20% of the land that used to be in the hands of the people of Palestine remains. As we heard yesterday, Palestinians constitute the biggest group of refugees in the world, with over 6 million having been forced to flee.
Secondly the apartheid regime had an army that could defeat the army of a combined force from Africa. But as brutal as they were, they never used chemical weapons and the most sophisticated weapons on citizens. Yes, there were Bantustans, but there was no physical erection of the highest wall (up to 8 metres) and longest (832 km when completed) to enforce apartheid as we are witnessing today.
My disappointment is the absence of the American unions, together with many of the friends who played such an important role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.
This makes me recall the words of one African leader who once in his attempt to mobilize women to stand up against patriarchal system in his country of Burkina Faso declared: “I hear the roar of the women’s silence”. Today let me say: “I can hear the roar of the American unions’ silence”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at the times of challenge and controversy”. This is a quote from a civil rights fighter who inspired the oppressed all over the world – Martin Luther King Junior.
My challenge to those who helped free us in South Africa, is – The people of Palestine are crying – hear their cry!
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