Youth activists shut down Cape Town’s local government headquarters on Friday 12 January in a call for the city’s leadership to speak out against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
Protesters staged the action after the Democratic Alliance (DA) party, which governs the city, declined to support South Africa’s application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to have Israel charged with genocide. The party said that ‘any country has the right to approach the ICJ’ but criticized the African National Congress government for having ‘consistently ignored gross human rights violations on our own doorstep’.
The demo, organized by the Cape Youth Collective in collaboration with Equal Education and Youth for Al-Quds, began with a ‘die-in’ on the floor of the Civic Centre’s central lobby, underneath a huge portrait of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It took place as Israel’s lawyers responded to the genocide charge at the ICJ.
Occupying the lobby for almost two hours, the demonstrators chanted, alongside other pro-Palestine slogans: ‘DA, DA, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?’ No arrests were made.
The centre-right DA is the largest opposition party at a national level, but leads the governments of both the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape province.
Neglect for working class communities
Abeedah Adams, Western Cape provincial secretary of the General Industries Workers’ Union of South Africa, was among the protesters. She said: ‘We feel, especially young people feel, that it’s important to come and protest specifically at the City of Cape Town [local authority].’
Adams drew a comparison between the DA’s apparent opposition to Palestine solidarity actions and its neglect for working class communities in Cape Town.
‘A few days ago [the city council] sent out their anti-graffiti brigade to the Cape Flats, over a Palestinian flag that was on a block of council flats, and their argument was that this was council property.
‘On the Cape Flats we’ve got killing sprees where young people are losing their lives to gang warfare all the time. And the amount of police vehicles that was sent to that working-class community to paint over the flag... If we call the cops, they tell us they don’t have money, they don’t have a vehicle, they don’t have resources.’
In comments reported by the Cape Times, Cape Town safety and security chief JP Smith said: ‘In terms of this specific incident, a complaint was received and the graffiti unit was activated. Community members responsible for the mural have agreed to apply for permission to have the mural reinstalled following an engagement with graffiti unit officials.’
The Cape Town protest came on the eve of a weekend of global action calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Get the background to what’s happening in Palestine and Israel from our July-August magazine available from the Ethical Shop. New Internationalist's Big Story on South Africa will be featured in our March-April 2024 magazine.