Factsheet: South Africa, Hamas, and the ICJ “genocide” case against Israel

Feb 6, 2024 | AIJAC staff

The South African legal team at The Hague (screenshot)
The South African legal team at The Hague (screenshot)

Key Points:

  • South Africa today is increasingly aligned with Russia, China and Iran.
  • South Africa’s government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the terrorist group Hamas in 2018.
  • Some South African commentators and experts, including from human rights organisations, believe Iran or another ally of Hamas could have paid or influenced the South African Government to take Israel to the ICJ.
  • South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, was on the brink of bankruptcy, but in the same week that it filed its case against Israel at the ICJ, announced its finances were now stable.
  • Pretoria is highly selective about who it chooses to pursue for alleged genocide. In 2015 and 2024, South Africa welcomed Sudanese warlords wanted for genocide.


Many seem to have been willing to give greater credence to the case launched by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice, claiming Israel’s war of self-defence against Hamas in Gaza amounts to “genocide” – for which preliminary orders were issued on Jan. 26 – specifically because the plaintiff was the Republic of South Africa.

South Africa enjoys a halo effect that would not likely have applied if Russia, Iran, Qatar, Malaysia, or any of Hamas’ other international allies had lodged the case.

This is a legacy of that country’s successful and inspiring transition from the racial segregation and other moral horrors of Apartheid to genuine democracy in the 1990s, and particularly the example set by former President and longstanding African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela’s inspiring moral leadership and his efforts at promoting reconciliation.

ABC Global Affairs Editor John Lyons was doubtless reflecting a wider view in certain circles when he explained the South African suit on Jan. 15 by writing “that having lived under apartheid for decades, South Africans know what it is to be oppressed without the rights of the ruling power.”

This fact sheet brings together information about South Africa and the African National Congress (ANC) which suggests that South Africa today is no longer the country of Nelson Mandela, and the ICJ case against Israel has very little to do with kinship for the “oppressed”, as Lyons claimed, and more to do with Pretoria’s increasing alignment with radical actors, including Hamas – as well as, possibly, cynical self-interest.


Hamas and South Africa’s strong alliance

Terrorist organisation Hamas publicly thanked South Africa for bringing the allegation of genocide to the ICJ. On Jan. 2, Hamas’ senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh said: “I applaud all the positions of support and especially the state of South Africa, which filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice against the occupying state for its crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, and we appreciate the political and legal importance of this lawsuit.”

The ANC and Hamas enjoy an extremely close political relationship, which includes signing two Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) in 2015 and 2018.

According to a news report in 2018, that year’s MOU:

“…seeks to introduce practical steps in mobilizing the international community to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestine, including working towards the full boycott of all Israeli products.”

[The memorandum also promises that] “the ANC Parliamentary Caucus will use the oversight powers of South Africa’s parliament to ensure that the ANC’s 2017 resolution to downgrade the South African embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office, is implemented by the South African government.”

Apparently, the South African Government was not concerned by Hamas’ own genocidal founding charter which calls for Israel’s destruction and the murder of all Jewish people across the world. Hamas’ charter also supports the elimination of democracy and subjugation of women, both of which are the very antithesis of the lofty principles expressed in the ANC’s Freedom Charter from 1955.

Cultivating the relationship was a deliberate strategy by Hamas, when it created a dedicated committee based in Sudan, as revealed by Hamas senior official Moussa Abu Marzouk. The committee consciously linked its own battle against Israel with black South Africa’s against apartheid, creating the illusion of shared values. The Hamas committee also actively created affiliations with multiple organisations across South Africa, including the Islamic Al-Aqsa organisation and the Middle East Studies Center, which allowed them to develop links with South African Muslims.

As the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported (Jan. 18), “South Africa’s diplomatic campaign against Israel reflects the political alliance between its ruling ANC party and Hamas.” Both the ANC and Russia invited Hamas for visits as soon as it won Palestinian elections in 2006.

As part of that alliance, South Africa also undermines the rule of the Palestinian Authority, which Hamas battled for control of Gaza, kicking it out of the Strip in 2007 and taking over.

The ANC refused to condemn Hamas’ barbaric terror attacks across southern Israel on October 7 – which included raping women and children, torture, kidnapping of hundreds of people into Gaza, and the slaughter of more than 1,150 people, and injuring more than 1,000 – and even released a statement saying that the unprecedented attack was “unsurprising” due to the “the brutality of the settler Israeli apartheid regime.”

In November 2023, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made his first state visit to Qatar – which along with Iran, is a financial sponsor of Hamas – and met with Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. It was during this visit that Ramaphosa announced his Government’s decision to take Israel to the ICJ over allegations of genocide.

Just ten days after the October 7 terror attacks, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor phoned Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, a move that she was strongly criticised for by South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies.

On Nov. 7 – the one-month anniversary of the October 7 terror attacks – Pandor made a speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling on the International Criminal Court to arrest Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli government officials for “the massacre of the people of Palestine” in Gaza. She made no mention of Hamas’ crimes of October 7.

That same month, South Africa’s Parliament passed a motion calling for the closure of Israel’s embassy and breaking off diplomatic ties.

In December 2023, Ramaphosa threatened any South African citizen who goes to fight for Israel without legal permission with jail.

This followed a visit by a Hamas delegation, led by senior official Bassem Naim in December 2023, to attend a ceremony marking the 10-year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death.

It is also notable that the Hamas delegation – including Khaled Qadoumi, Hamas’ Iranian representative, Imad Saber, from Hamas’ international relations bureau, and Bassem Na’im, from Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza and its representative in Russia – met with South African Government officials at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, including ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula, in December to discuss “ways to support the Palestinian people,” “genocide against the Palestinian people” and “stop Israel’s aggression”. Hamas official Bassem Naim later thanked the South African Government for the “role played by South Africa in supporting the Palestinian struggle.” Hamas’ delegation also met with multiple civil society organisations across South Africa during its visit.

Hamas and its patron Iran share the same ultimate goal, which is the destruction of Israel. Iran regularly refers to the world’s only Jewish state as “the little Satan” and a “cancerous growth”.

As revealed by MEMRI, “[Iran] promotes in public discourse the claim that Israel is an alien corn that was planted in the region to oppress the Palestinians and that it is a violent, occupying colonial force that subjects the Palestinians to an apartheid regime.”

Yahya Safavi, advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, made it clear what the Iranian regime’s plan was for Israel: “It is also important to formulate a comprehensive multi-stage media plan to inform global public opinion about the crimes committed by the Zionist regime against the Palestinian people, including children, so that the Zionists will not be able to present the oppressors as oppressed, and vice versa, [when they address] the world public opinion.”


South Africa’s alliance with Russia, China and Iran

Despite South Africa’s rightly earned reputation as a nation that fought long and hard to remove apartheid and usher in democracy, it has since slid into rather shady territory.

The ANC Government has formed close relationships with Russia, China and Iran. In regards to Russia, a senior South African official spoke to the BBC off-the-record in June 2023, saying the alliance between the countries was a “nightmare”.

The government’s heart is with the Russians. There’s no doubt about it. They believe the world is slipping out of Western hands – that the Russians are stronger and will win, and that they’re investing in a strategic future, a new world order,” said Irina Filatova, a Russian academic based in Cape Town.

Others disagree, saying that South Africa isn’t actually serious about moving away from the US, UK and Europe.

The relationship harks back to when the former Soviet Union provided financial support to the ANC when it was in exile during the apartheid years.

Officially, South Africa has maintained a neutral position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, multiple ANC members have openly sided with Russia. The ANC Government has welcomed multiple senior Kremlin officials, and also sent its own army chief to Moscow on a “combat readiness” visit. Senior ANC Government officials have for some time echoed the same talking points as Russia when it comes to the United States and claims that Western-supported Ukraine is a threat to Russia.

In February 2023 – the same month that marked a full year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – South Africa joined Russia and China in a series of naval exercises off its coast. In May 2023, US Ambassador Reuben Brigety accused South Africa of supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia via a Russian-owned ship that docked in a highly-guarded navy port near Cape Town in December 2022. Brigety added that the US may impose trade restrictions against South Africa. The ANC Government denied the claim.

The support for Russia is not limited to the ANC; the leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party, Julius Malema, said at a rally in 2023: “We are Putin and Putin is us.”

China – which again, has long been accused of committing genocide against its Uyghur people, including by imprisoning over one million in re-education camps – has also formed an alliance with the ANC Government, which includes its controversial ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, direct Chinese investment of more than $US10 billion, favourable trade deals, military co-operation and emergency support for the country’s failing power infrastructure. In 2015, China started a political training program in South Africa that informed the country’s leaders about its own political views, including state-owned enterprises and a one-party system. China also extended itself by successfully pressuring a South African media company, Independent Media, to cancel a story written by journalist Azad Essa about human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

As Aaron Schwartz wrote for the American Security Project: “If China continues to meddle in the democratic institutions of South Africa now, the government could experience democratic backsliding.”


Speculation that Iran influenced/paid South Africa’s Government to take case to the ICJ

The African National Congress (ANC) political party has ruled South Africa since 1994, when its then-leader Nelson Mandela was elected as the country’s first Black president. The ANC, which was created in 1912, is now a very different party to what it was under Mandela.

Thanks to ANC mismanagement and corruption, South Africa is on the threshold of becoming a failed state (see below for more information).

The party has been embroiled in corruption, political entitlement at the cost of the public, and a slew of failed policies, resulting in it being on the brink of bankruptcy since at least 2021. The following year, the ANC was forced to resort to public crowdfunding just so it could pay its staff’s salaries, which went unpaid for three months. The staff went on strike, not just because they hadn’t been paid but also because they hadn’t received any payments for their unemployment insurance fund or pensions, as well as their “appalling employment conditions”.

The ANC faced a crippling R102 million (US$5.4 million) debt – plus interest and costs following three court cases that found ANC owed the money – to South African company Ezulweni Investments, which printed material for the party’s 2019 election campaign.

Despite the ANC still being in serious financial strife, the party reached an out-of-court settlement with Ezulweni Investments in late December 2023. Soon afterwards, the party announced that its finances had ‘stabilised’ and that same week, the ANC Government launched its case against Israel at the ICJ. The ANC did not reveal how it had managed to solve its long-term financial crisis so rapidly.

Questions are now being asked about how the ANC could afford to pay any of the debt it owed, especially as just weeks earlier Ezulweni Investments attempted to seize the party’s assets, which it had court permission to do so after ANC had repeatedly failed to pay its debt.

Journalist Rebecca Davis, from South Africa’s Daily Maverick, writes: “To some people, the timing of these two events is suspicious. This is a difficult claim to fact-check… but it’s an important one because it has been repeated by some fairly high-profile public figures.”

Paul Hoffman, director of South African organisation Accountability Now, which holds those in power accountable for their obligations to protect and uphold human rights, agreed that the ICJ case was an ‘ideologically-based ploy to isolate Israel’ which was possibly sponsored by Iran.

“If you look at the interaction between Iran and South Africa since the Hamas attack on Israel (on October 7), we have had a lot of interaction, not only with Iran but also with the Hamas leadership, which actually visited Pretoria (South Africa’s capital),” he said.

“The Minister of International Relations visited Iran and out of that has come the application that has been made in the ICJ by South Africa. Whether that is a principled stand by a government that truly takes its human rights obligations seriously and seeks to enforce anti-genocide laws, or whether it is a ploy on the part of those who would see Israel destroyed and Hamas and indeed its sponsors, like Iran, prevailing.”

The ANC has rejected the claim.

Hoffman pointed out that South Africa itself is in breach of its own human rights obligations, following a December 2023 judgement from the country’s highest court, which found that the ANC Government had violated multiple constitutional rights over load shedding – the regular shutting down of the power supply across the country. The Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that the government had breached “the rights to human dignity, life, freedom and security of the person, to an environment that was not harmful to people’s health and wellbeing, the right of access to healthcare services, food, and water and the right to basic education.”

Dr Frans Cronje, former CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, said that the ICJ case came as ‘no surprise’:

“The South Africans have for an extended period of time been fronting an Iranian strategy to do two things: the first is to so poison opinion against Israel in the Western world that military aid to Israel becomes increasingly conditional and secondly, to so traumatise and stigmatise young Jews around the world that service in the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] becomes increasingly controversial and later you fracture internal Israeli consensus on security policies.”


South Africa’s hypocrisy on genocide

South Africa has had many opportunities to raise cases of alleged genocide committed by multiple countries – by the Rapid Support Forces in Darfur, Sudan, Russia against Ukraine, and the Chinese Communist Party’s repression and detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang – but has declined to do so. In fact, in 2015, South Africa also failed to arrest and turn over Sudan’s deposed president Omar al-Bashir, who had been wanted since the 2000s by the International Criminal Court over claims of genocide in Darfur, when he visited the country.

In January 2024 – just one week before South Africa pleaded its case against Israel at the ICJ – South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed and hosted Sudanese warlord

Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, whose Janjaweed militia and its successor are accused of genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Incredibly, Dagalo later visited Rwanda’s Kigali Genocide Memorial, which was built at the burial site of 250,000 of the estimated more than one million Tutsi victims of the 1994 genocide.


Links between the ANC and the PLO

The ANC has had a long association with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), dating from the period when its ultimate goal was the destruction of Israel. The PLO, whose members are now senior officials in the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank, has committed dozens of deadly terror attacks against Israel and Israelis, including the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre, the murder of 21 children at Ma’alot in 1974, and the murder of 35 people inside a tourist bus on the Haifa-Tel Aviv coastal highway in 1978, among many others.

Elements of the ANC doubtless absorbed the radicalism which characterised the PLO in the 1960s and 1970s, and continue to echo that rejection of Israel’s right to exist to this day.

However, ANC leader and South Africa’s first post-apartheid President Nelson Mandela made it very clear that while he supported Palestinian national aspirations, he also supported Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland and to security. In the last 15 years, the ANC has strongly shifted away from that legacy of recognising the legitimate aspirations of both peoples to the rejectionism of today, thanks in part to the ANC’s foreign policy being increasingly shaped by partners in the trade unions and the Communist Party.

Renowned South African-born legal scholar Prof. Raymond Wacks, who knew Mandela, has condemned the South African “genocide” case against Israel, slamming “the moral turpitude of the ANC” and how “the leaders of post-apartheid South Africa have failed to follow the laudable example of its first President. That they have the audacity to side with savagery, renders it morally unfit to stand before the World Court.”


South Africa is on the brink of becoming a ‘failed state’

Under the ANC’s leadership, South Africa has developed some terrible statistics as a society over recent years – the highest socio-economic inequality in the world, the highest incidence of gender-based violence and domestic abuse against women, among the highest crime and murder rates in the world and the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases.

Government incompetence, corruption, and policy paralysis have brought South Africa to its knees, resulting in widespread poverty, power cuts and rampant violent crime across the country. Essential services that are the responsibility of the government are often no longer being provided.

The South African people now suffer regularly from power cuts, sometimes for as long as 12 hours at a time, which have forced hospitals, schools and private businesses to rely on generators. The broken-down sanitation system caused a cholera outbreak in June 2023 near the capital, Pretoria. Schools and roads are crumbling, and the South African Post Office and South African Airways have already collapsed.

Theft is now rampant, as is violent crime, including murder and attempted murder. Four South African cities – Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg – were named among the 40 most deadly cities in the world. Because of this, there is now more private security employed than the police and military combined.

South Africa has been named the world’s most unequal country by multiple global institutions and experts, reflecting the fact that more than half the population lives below the poverty line (some earn as little as US$50 per month) and the bottom 60% of the population own just seven percent of the nation’s wealth.

Due to the decaying state of the country, many private businesses have been forced to step in and provide essential services to the public – including fixing roads, paying for fire trucks, upgrading schools and maintaining safe drinking water – just so they can continue to operate. “It’s not altruism. You can’t run a successful private business in a sea of chaos,” Lungisa Fuzile, CEO of the South African unit of Standard Bank Group, said.

A Harvard University study, released in November 2023, concluded that South Africa was at “collapsing state capacity” and stated there was little hope for change in the foreseeable future.

Many have pointed out that given the woeful situation South Africa is in, the ANC is in no position to bring such a case to the ICJ, and questioned how it could even afford it. Charles Asher Small, who was previously chairperson of the African National Congress Solidity Committee of Canada, wrote: “Instead of focusing on transparency in their own party, or cleaning up the streets, the ANC has gone back to the world’s oldest scapegoats.

“Just like Nazi-inspired racists and Jew-haters Verwoerd and Smuts, who blamed Jews for all the evils in the world, the current ANC government is deflecting from its own failures by attacking the one and only Jewish state and threatening Jewish South Africans with prison for serving in the army of the truly democratic nation of Israel.”



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