Tens of thousands march through Cape Town in solidarity with Palestinians
Call for Western Cape government to stand with Palestine as it has with Ukraine
Tens of thousands of people marched through Cape Town city centre on Saturday, many calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. It was one of the biggest protests in the city for several years, perhaps only exceeded in size by a protest against a previous war between Israel and Gaza.
The march started at the Muir Street Mosque in District Six and ended at the Western Cape provincial legislature in Wale Street.
The protest, organised by several civil society organisations and political parties, comes more than a month after armed militias from Hamas entered Israel and killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped more than 200 people to Gaza, keeping them as hostages. In response, Israel has bombed the Gaza Strip, killing more than 11,000 people, including several thousand children. It has also intensified its blockade of Gaza.
Israeli settlers and soldiers have also been attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, and nearly 200 people have been killed since 7 October.
The Gaza Strip and West Bank constitute the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which have been controlled by Israel since 1967.
Marchers lined the streets of Cape Town with flags and posters. They chanted: “By the million, by the billion, we are all Palestinian” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
There were also chants directed at US President Joe Biden, such as: “How many children did you kill today?”
At the start of the march, organisers called for discipline and reminded the crowd they were not anti-Jewish, but anti-Zionist. A group of protesters chanted in support of Hamas, including some official speakers.
The official list of demands of the protest were:
“1. That the Western Cape Government pledges unequivocal support and solidarity with the people of Palestine, just as they stood by the people of Ukraine.
2. That the Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, condemns the atrocious war crimes of Benjamin Netanyahu and promises to arrest him, just as he promised to arrest Vladimir Putin.
3. That the Western Cape Government condemns the apartheid state of Israel just as it condemned the Russian Federation and the Premier condemns the United States of America for its hand in the mass killing of innocent people.”
Speakers from the ANC and the EFF urged protesters not to vote for the DA in the upcoming 2024 national elections. International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor and the DA have both declared their support for a Palestinian state (or two-state “solution”). In Parliament last week, Pandor proposed a seven-step plan for the UN to end the conflict.
Last week DA leader John Steenhuisen removed Ghaleb Cachalia from his shadow cabinet. This after Cachalia had tweeted that he would not “be silenced” while Israel was “committing a genocide”.
A statement from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign prior to the march read: “As members of the Cape Town community, we want to hold our provincial government accountable to the values espoused by the Constitution of South Africa. We want to remind our provincial government that statements are hollow without concomitant action and in order to live in a truly transformed South Africa, we must oppose all forms of racism, bigotry, discrimination and oppression.”
A statement from the South African Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Coalition on Friday said that people in Gaza were starving. They called for an immediate ceasefire and a mass delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
Father Michael Weeder, Dean of St George’s Cathedral, addressed the marchers. He called on world leaders to spend less money on wars and more money on peace-making.
Reverend Allan Boesak reiterated the demand to shut down the Israeli embassy.
While the march was taking place, a Twitter user wrote: “This is Cape Town today - how does this get past the City of Cape Town planning and approval process?”
Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis responded: “This march looks entirely peaceful and lawful. You may disagree with it, but that is not a valid objection in a free democracy.”
There have been several events in solidarity with Palestinians over the weekend. On Friday night, a Shabbat service was hosted by South African Jews For a Free Palestine on the Sea Point beachfront. It was the fourth such event and organisers say they plan to take it to other parts of the city in the coming weeks.
On Saturday morning, a group of activists also put up posters on the Sea Point beachfront of Palestinian children who had been killed in the conflict so far. This was also apparently in response to a campaign of posters known as #KidnappedFromIsrael which shows Israelis kidnapped by Hamas and taken as hostages to Gaza. (For a detailed description of poster campaigns around the world, read Chris McGreal’s article in The Guardian: ‘It’s like a fire in the world’: how the Israeli ‘kidnapped’ posters set off a phenomenon and a backlash.)
Israel has rejected several calls for a ceasefire. But on Thursday, the US said Israel had agreed to a “four-hour pause” to allow humanitarian aid in. Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, was reportedly hit by Israeli missiles after this.
There is expected to be a pro-Israel protest in Sea Point on Sunday 12 November. There is also expected to be a counter-protest.
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