Some of the speakers at the event, from left to right – Yasmin Sooka of the Foundation for Human Rights, Prof Farid Esack of UJ, Mbuyesni Ndlovu BDS SA, Janet Love, Kayum Ahmed of the SAHRC and Prof Steven Friedman of Rhodes University. Photo credit :Hassan Isilow
By Hassan Isilow
JOHANNESBURG: Prominent members of the South African Muslim community have dispelled a long term myth which claimed that Muslims hated Jews. On Sunday January 27, a group of prominent Muslims joined the Jewish community in commemorating the Holocaust Memorial Day. “As a Muslim, I came here to show solidarity with the Jewish community in remembering the Holocaust which claimed the lives of millions of Jewish people,” said Professor Farid Esack of the University of Johannesburg. He also used the opportunity to warn the Israeli government to stop committing atrocities against Palestinians since this would put them at the risk of committing a Holocaust against Palestinians.
Other prominent Muslim figures who spoke at the event were Yasmin Sooka of the Foundation for Human Rights and Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission. In his presentation, Ahmed condemned the perpetrators of the Jewish holocaust. He also criticised some imams(Muslim Preachers) whom he claimed were telling their worshippers to hate the Jews because of their conflict with Palestinians.
However, this statement did not go well with councillor Abdul Razak Noorbhai, chairman of Al Jama-ah political party in Gauteng who was present at the function. “I think Ahmed’s statement was offensive to the Muslim community. I wonder if he said these too merely impress the Jewish community or he meant what he said?” he questioned.
The event which was held at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg was organised by BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street and was endorsed by a number of human rights organizations like Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Coalition for a Free Palestine and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Family Legacy Foundation. Other speakers at the event included Professor Steven Friedman, Janet Love and Mbuyiseni Ndlovu.
The Holocaust Remembrance Day is an international memorial day for all UN member states to remember the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the death of 6 million Jews, 2 million Gypsies and 15,000 homosexuals by the Nazi regime in Germany.
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CAPETOWN: Its 2pm on Saturday afternoon in Bellville and several people are lining up opposite the bus station to buy a stimulant called khat which is in its leaf form. Although the stimulant is illegal in South Africa, it has been openly sold on the streets of Bellville over the last three years. According to local residents, authorities in the Western Cape seem to have turned a blind eye on those who sell or chew the leafy substance.
“Once in a while the police comes here and arrests those selling khat, but in a matter of minutes they are released and they return to the streets again,” Muktar Hajji, a street vendor in Bellville told Africa witness. He thinks the police could be taking bribes from khat sellers since they are never taken to court. “I know many families that have been destroyed as a result of chewing khat,” he related.
Many residents here told Africa witness they were afraid their teenage children could become hooked on the stimulant because it is freely available on the market. “I wish police authorities could intensify raids on these dealers and lock them up for good,” Abdalla-Aziz Mustafa, a father of three, said. In South Africa, around 10,000 people from East Africa and the Middle East use khat, but most of its consumers are from the Ethiopian and Somali communities. The illegal drug is planted in Limpopo and transported daily to the Western Cape where thousands of addicts eagerly wait for it.
Grant Jardine, director of the Cape Town Drug Counseling Center, explained that the fresh khat leaves are chewed to achieve a state of mild euphoria. He added that khat has a stimulant effect similar to that of amphetamines, adding that the drug – which is known to many as simply an African herb – is highly addictive. “Khat is in a leaf form, but it is sometimes processed into a powder form and sold like any other illegal substance,” Jardine explained. He said the addictive leaf comes from a tree called Catha edulis and when it is chewed the user experiences feelings of increased alertness, confidence and a loss of appetite.
A former khat user who wished to remain anonymous said the drug is normally weighed and sold per kilo. 1kg of “Gizaa” – freshly imported khat from Kenya – costs about R350. Locally grown khat appears to be much cheaper at only R40 a kilo, because it is considered to be of poor quality. “I lost half of my teeth because of chewing khat. But alhamdulillah, I have now stopped the practice,” another former addict confided.
According to Jardine, depression and psychological disorders, like psychosis, are common among regular users of khat. The main psychoactive ingredients in khat are cathine and cathinone, chemicals which are structurally similar to, but less potent than, amphetamine; yet result in similar psychomotor stimulant effects.
Meanwhile, when Africa witness was finally able to reach someone at the Bellville police station, we were told that they were not allowed to comment. Asked about the claim of bribery, Colonel Andre Nieuhaus said: “It is not true that we take bribes. The truth is that that we arrest khat dealers almost every week and we plan to intensify our operation.”
In South Africa khat was originally chewed by foreign nationals, but now local South Africans have also bought into it and are chewing the leaves. Experts warn that these leaves are highly addictive and could be responsible for increased crime in the country. But khat is not just a problem in South Africa. In an industrial estate in Southall, west London, thousands of boxes full of khat are delivered every week. The drug begins its journey from the hills of Kenya and arrives in the UK four times a week. It then makes its way to the depot, where dealers buy the herbal high to supply customers across the UK.
Britain is the only country in the west where the product remains legal. The khat business generates over £400m in revenue for the British economy, and the chancellor of the exchequer also picks up a tidy sum in VAT revenue. Around 90,000 people from the east African and Yemeni communities in the UK use it, especially the Somali community.
But a Home Office report, which will be published on Wednesday, is to recommend regulating the product, and a ban is expected to follow later. Last year, counter-terrorism officers working with their American counterparts arrested seven individuals across the UK. The group – all of them khat traders – were suspected of channeling the proceeds of an alleged smuggling enterprise to al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Somalia. (This piece was first published by the Voice of the Cape website © reserved)
By Hassan Isilow
JOHANNESBURG: It is a Thursday evening in Mayfair – also known as little Mogadishu among Johannesburg’s residents. A group of middle aged Somali men are seated in a restaurant quietly listening to a televised announcement made by the US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, recognizing the new Somali government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
“I am extremely happy the United States has finally recognized our new government. I believe the US government will now help Somalia in terms of developmental aid which is much need for the reconstruction of our ‘wrecked’ institutions, such as education, health, infrastructure and human resource development,” Bashir Yunus, a Canadian-Somali currently doing business in South Africa explained.
Most of the Somali men seated in this restaurant related that they were closely following political developments back home. “I think the new US/Somali relations will make other world powers to also recognize the new Somali government, because the US is a world power and almost every nation in the world emulates them,” 56-year-old Yahaya Noordeen related.
The excitement and optimism was not limited to Johannesburg. The same sentiments were shared in Cape Town where the largest Somali community in South Africa resides. “The US recognition of the Somali government will pave the way for other countries to follow suit and start diplomatic relations with Somalia,” Ahmed Bodibodi stated confidently.
He was now looking forward to the day when the US government would establish an embassy in Mogadishu which will make it easy for Somalis wishing to travel to the United States to get visas. He added that currently Somalis wishing to travel to the United States have to go to Nairobi in Kenya or Kampala in Uganda where the US has embassies. This, he said, was too costly for most Somalis.
Washington had not recognized a Somali government since warlords toppled dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. But in making her announcement on Thursday, Clinton said times have changed, citing the armed group al-Shabab’s retreat from every major Somali city. She said the US had provided $780m to African forces to help fight the militant group.
The White House also expressed optimism about Somalia’s future and pledged to work with the country’s new government to promote peace and security, improve the economy and boost social services. Obama has urged his Somali counterpart to “seize this unique opportunity to turn the page on two decades of civil strife”, according to a White House statement.
“If the Somali government wants to succeed it should not be seen to be overdoing it in siding with the west. This could lead to the return of al-Shabab who has a hatred for the west,” Andrew Attah Asmoah, senior researcher on Horn of Africa at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) told said on Friday. He said recognition will help Somalia receive greater assistance from US and international aid agencies.
Asmoah also noted that the recognition was good for Somalis who live in the Diaspora as this would allow them to be viewed as people from a recognized state, compared to current stance where they are seen as people from a failed state. He said the new relations between the US and Somalia will lead to economic development and prosperity for Somalia. The US recognition of Somalia comes barely one year after Turkey recognized the new Somali government.
Meanwhile, last year Britain organized the London Somali conference aimed at discussing ways of ending the two decades of civil war in Somalia. Several leaders attended the conference. Prior to the conference British foreign secretary William Hague also met with the Somalia community in Cape Town where he sought their views that was forwarded to the London conference. ( This piece was first published on the vocfm website)
By Hassan Isilow
CAPETOWN: The New Year began on a sad note for the Somali community in the Western Cape when two more Somali traders were killed by gunmen who have yet to be identified or captured. The first victim was Mohammed Abukar Mo’alim, a 30 year old shop keeper who was murdered on Monday at his shop outside Wynberg. “Mo’alim was killed by unknown gunmen as he served customers inside his tuck-shop about 10pm on the outskirts of Wynberg,” Abdi Jidow, chairman of the Somali Community Board (SCOB) in the Western Cape, reported.
Speaking to Africa Witness on Wednesday, he was of the belief that the motive behind Mo’alim’s murder was purely criminal. “I believe those who killed Mo’alim were robbers who knew he could identify them so they decided to shoot him before stealing cash, cigarettes and other items from his shop.” Jidow ruled out the possibility that the murder could have been committed for xenophobic reasons.
Crime vs. Xenophobia
Meanwhile, on Tuesday another Somali national, Abdulkarim Hussein, was gunned down in Mitchells Plain. “I don’t know why the victim was killed, because residents of Mitchells Plain have always been very friendly and welcoming to the Somali community,” Abdullahi Ali, a Somali analyst living in Cape Town stated. He explained that Somalis are mainly targeted because of business jealousy from local traders who often accuse them of selling merchandise at lower prices. “Somali traders are very enterprising, so the local business people in townships hate them. Hence the continuous murders we are seeing,” he stated.
However, other community analysts believe that criminals view Somalis as soft targets. “Somalis often carry around huge sums of money, airtime and cigarettes which have made them a soft target for criminals. So we should not always attribute attacks on Somalis as being xenophobic because there are also other motives behind these attacks,” said Keisar Ali.
Last year 45 Somali nationals were murdered in townships across the Western Cape, which was significantly lower than in 2011 when it was reported that 60 Somalis were killed. “We are shocked about the endless killing of our nationals,” Amir Sheikh, former secretary general of the Somali Community Board (SCOB) said on Wednesday. ( This Piece was originally published on VOCFM)
Ambassador Obed Bapela
By Hassan Isilow
PRETORIA: The South African Government joined the international community on Thursday in commemorating the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. ‘‘We wish to take this opportunity to re-affirm our commitment of supporting the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation and self determination’’ Ambassador Obed Bapela read out a statement on behalf of the South African Government at a function held in Pretoria.
He said the South African Government had also decided to vote for the Palestinian bid for non- member observer state at the United Nations general assembly in New York, because of its longstanding unwavering commitment to the Palestinian freedom.
Bapela said South Africa believes that the new Palestinian status at the UN general assembly was a necessary step in the advancement of the Palestinian cause. He also called for a moment of silence to remember the late Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa Ali Halime who passed away two months ago.
‘‘The South African Government would like to send its heartfelt condolences to the people of Palestine and members of the diplomatic community present at this function following the untimely death of our colleague Ambassador Ali Halime’’ He said adding that the late Halime was a man who wanted to see peace in his country.
Bapela said the South African Government believed that the Palestinian issue would be best resolved through diplomatic means rather than using violence. He also condemned the recent rocket attacks committed by both Israeli and Palestine. ‘‘ we also believe that the only way to bring about lasting peace in the Middle East, is to have a comprehensive and unconditional negotiated settlement to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories and Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza.’’
He said adding that this would contribute towards peace and security throughout the Middle East. Baphela noted that the delay in achieving such a settlement will lead to an unending cycle of violence, as tragically witnessed during the last two weeks between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups.
To put emphasis on South Africa’s diplomatic approach to solving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Baphela quoted a speech read out at the UN general assembly on November 4 1974, by the late Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat ‘‘Today I have come here bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighters gun but do not let the olive branch fall from my head ’’ he said this historic speech made by Arafat was intended to seek the intervention of the international community in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli issue diplomatically, but unfortunately the international community did not immediately intervene. He said South Africa remained strongly critical of the ongoing defiance of the Government of Israel in refusing to halt the illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, thereby complicating any possible resumption of substantial negotiations. ‘‘We therefore, on this day, once again call on Israel to stop its policy of settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem, and to realise that the only way to achieve peace is through creating an environment for a two-state solution, where Israel will be able to exist side-by-side in peace with a viable and fully independent Palestinian state within internationally recognised borders, based on those of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.’’
The United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was attended by several Diplomats, SA Government officials, and members of the civil society, religious leaders and academics among others.
By Hassan Isilow
JOHANESBURG: Zwelinzima Vavi secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has lashed out at western countries that use the war on terror to silence and dominate developing countries particularly those in the Middle East and Africa.
‘‘wars of colonial expansion & racist domination are being wagged in the name of fighting terrorism, which represents a vicious attack on the dignity of not only Palestinians but of all humanity, particularly those of us who suffered under colonialism and apartheid in South Africa’’ the trade unionist said last week while addressing a Pro-Palestinian conference organised by the Coalition to free Palestine (CPF) held in Lenasia South of Johannesburg.
Vavi said it was wrong for the west to label the Palestinian armed resistance group Hamas as a terrorist organisation. ‘‘ In March 1960 when 69 people were shot in sharpville, comrade Nelson Mandela said there comes a time in any history of a nation where people choose to either submit or to fight. So why should the Palestinians not have a right to fight (resist) against the Israeli occupation, when actually the Israelis forcefully took their land’’ he questioned, amidst a thunderous applaud from the crowd.
He said the people of Palestine should be accorded their right to resist occupation just like South Africans did by forming the military wing of the ANC called Umkonto We-sizwe which resisted apartheid in the 70’s. ‘‘We too in South Africa including the world’s greatest political icon Nelson Mandela were once called terrorists. I think this should make Hamas proud because those who called Mandela a terrorist are now equally calling them terrorists because they are resisting against occupation’’
Vavi also called upon South Africans to unite behind the intensification of a global boycott, disinvestment and sanctions targeting everything from Israel. He said this should include identifying all Israeli targets and all people who collaborate with them globally.
The trade unionist also revealed that some members of the Coalition to free Palestine (CPF) had received death threats from Zionist groups operating in South Africa. ‘‘We are sending only one message to those bloody racists, you dare touch one of us, then you will understand that South Africa belongs to all of us’’ he also warned
He warned South African citizens including Muslims who were working as informers of different Zionist organisations ‘‘to those of you who may be in this rally but are agents of the Zionists we say shame upon you.’’
vavi called for a global intensification of protest marches against representatives of Israel and their allies. ‘‘We are only in our 18th year of democracy which we couldn’t have achieved if the international community had not supported us, so my call is that the South African Government should lead in supporting the oppressed people of Palestine. First we should expel the Israeli ambassador from Pretoria’’
Over 800 people attended the rally notable among them were former anti-apartheid stalwarts, Reverend Frank Chikane and Dr. Don Matera. Several members of the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance (PSA) as well as members of the broader civil society movement addressed the crowd.
By Hassan Isilow
JOHANNESBURG-More than 100 South Africans gathered in Johannesburg this weekend to mark “Black Kashmir Day”, referring to the day in 1947 when Indian troops invaded Jammu and Kashmir. “Since 1947, the Indian government has continued to illegally occupy the lands of Jammu and Kashmir, despite the people’s demands for independence,” Salman Khan of the South African Kashmir Action Group told guests at the function held in Fordsburg.
Khan urged the South African government to intervene in the Kashmir crisis by sending an immediate fact finding mission to probe the cases of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and the inhumane treatment of women and children. “If South Africa sends a team to probe these atrocities, this could be an initial step towards ending the reign of terror and impunity in the Indian occupied Kashmir,” he stated, adding that this would help deter the widespread, systematic human rights abuses against ethnic Kashmir civilians.
“Human life is totally disregarded in Indian Kashmir as its forces occupy Jammu and Kashmir against the will of the people,” another Kashmir national living in South Africa revealed on condition of anonymity. He claimed that Indian troops were killing at least five Kashmir nationals every week. “I used to attend several burials of Kashmir activists killed by the Indian police nearly every day, so I know the pain that our people are going through,” he said.
Meanwhile, the first secretary of the Pakistani embassy in South Africa, Hassan Afzel Khan, said his government was committed to helping the people of Kashmir in their fight for freedom. The diplomat also called upon the international community to intervene in the Kashmir crisis. “It is important for civil society organisations to continue speaking about the human rights violations and other injustices in Kashmir. I believe efforts (like the Black Kashmir Day commemoration) will compel the international community to intervene,” he said.
In August 1947 when the Indian subcontinent became independent from Britain, all the rulers of the 565 princely states, whose lands comprised two-fifths of India and a population of 99 million, had to decide which of the two new dominions to join – India or Pakistan. The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, whose state was situated between the two new countries, could not decide which country to join. He was Hindu, but his population was predominantly Muslim. He therefore did nothing.
Instead he signed a “standstill” agreement with Pakistan in order that services such as trade travel and communication would be uninterrupted. India did not sign a similar agreement. In October 1947, Pashtun tribesmen from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province invaded Kashmir. There had been persistent reports of communal violence against Muslims in the state and, supported by the Pakistani government, who was eager to precipitate its accession to Pakistan. Troubled by the increasing deterioration in law and order and by earlier raids, culminating in the invasion of the tribesmen, the ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, requested armed assistance from India.
The then Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, believed the developing situation would be less explosive if the state were to accede to India, on the understanding that this would only be temporary prior to “a referendum, plebiscite, election”. According to the terms of the Instrument of Accession, India’s jurisdiction was to extend to external affairs, defence and communications. On the morning of 27 October, Indian troops were airlifted into Srinagar.
Recent research from British sources indicate that Hari Singh did not reach Jammu until the evening of 26 October and that, due to poor flying conditions, V P Menon was unable to get to Jammu until the next morning, by which time Indian troops had already arrived in Srinagar. In order to support the thesis that the Maharaja acceded before Indian troops landed, Indian sources have now suggested that Hari Singh signed an Instrument of Accession before he left Srinagar but that it was not made public until later.
This was because Hari Singh had not yet agreed to include the Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, in his future government. To date no authentic original document has been made available. Pakistan immediately contested the accession, suggesting that it was fraudulent, that the Maharaja acted under duress and that he had no right to sign an agreement with India when the standstill agreement with Pakistan was still in force. Pakistanis also argued that because Hari Singh fled from the valley of Kashmir, he was not in control of his state and therefore not in a position to take a decision on behalf of his people. Historical information was obtained from Wikipedia. This piece first appeared on the voc website. All rights reserved.