South Africa’s chances of winning case against Israel seem unlikely – Prof Theo Venter

The South African Government has enlisted top legal experts for its case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Their 84-page application argues that they only need to prove some of their accusations against Israel fall under the Genocide Convention to effectively halt its military operations in Gaza. Oral arguments for the proceedings initiated by South Africa against the Israeli government will be presented from January 11-12. However, Prof Theo Venter, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg, told BizNews that he believes it will be a challenging battle. Venter expressed doubt about South Africa’s chances of success at the ICJ. He also accused the South African government of selective neutrality, pointing out an apparent bias in its international relations towards Moscow. Additionally, Prof Venter commented on the crisis in student funding following the leak of a series of recordings by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, alleging corruption within the Higher Education Department and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. He predicted that this issue will significantly complicate the management of students at South African universities. Venter said if the funding of 70% of students go awry, the fall out will be at the universities, not in Pretoria at the office of Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education.Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the Interview

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Proving genocide is going to be an uphill battle 

Taking Israel to the International Court of Justice is a challenging uphill battle. If you consider the global definitions of genocide, they exclude political parties and cultural groups. Genocide is defined as actions aimed towards an ethnic, cultural, historical, or racial group. This definition excludes political parties. So, if you consider what Israeli Netanyahu did, stating in harsh words that they want to exterminate Hamas, that’s focused on a political party. I don’t believe they ever stated that they would like to eliminate the Palestinians. Some right-wing members of the Israeli cabinet have made such statements, which I think were completely out of line with their actions. However, looking at it from a judicial perspective, I don’t think South Africa stands a good chance. But what we can gain from this is a bit more moral pressure on the Israelis to stop the humanitarian crisis they caused in Gaza.

Read more: 🔒 Marc Champion: Israel-Gaza war is becoming existential

South Africa practices selective neutrality 

South Africa’s foreign policy is formally referred to as neutrality. However, in light of recent events such as the Ukraine incident and the situation between Gaza and Israel, it might be more accurate to describe it as selective neutrality. We strive for neutrality, but the bias in our approach is so evident that it challenges the concept of neutrality.

For instance, the South African president visited Ukraine and Russia last year, but the bias towards Moscow was apparent, especially in light of incidents like the Lady R incident. The same bias is evident in our stance on Israel. While we advocate for peace and support the two-state solution, our bias leans towards Palestine.

This bias isn’t hidden. If you examine ANC policy documents, you’ll find that the concluding statements of every conference usually indicate the groups towards which the ANC is sympathetic. These typically include the people of Morocco, the Polisario group, and the people of Palestine.

Fallout for NSFAS bribery accusations will be felt on campuses, not by the Minister 

This is a fascinating development. NSFAS, of course, is the national fund where students in need can apply for funding for their first degree. The funding mechanism has been quite awkward. Each university has managed it independently. In some cases, universities have given students the full amount to spend as they wish.

In other cases, universities manage the funds on behalf of students, paying their class fees, housing, and so on. However, towards the end of last year, NSFAS decided to outsource the management of student funding to four contractors. They would essentially act like a bank, paying the students directly. This approach didn’t work well. Over the last couple of months, it has emerged that similar to the state capture issue, a significant amount of NSFAS money has ended up in the hands of people who shouldn’t have received it. Approximately 20,000 students did not receive their NSFAS payments at the end of 2023.

Read more: What we can expect from ICJ hearings on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel

Student politics is a highly activist field in South Africa. Young people are very vocal and active. University management across the country, at all 26 universities, are doing their utmost to manage this situation. However, if funding for approximately 70% of all students goes awry, the fallout will be at the universities, not in Pretoria, at the offices of Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education. Students will go to university management in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Potchefstroom, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, and they’ll ask, ‘Where is our money?’ This will make it incredibly difficult to manage those universities in various ways. I believe this is the biggest fear at universities. 

I also think the opposition parties are doing the right thing. They are taking the Minister of Higher Education to task and potentially taking him to court, or at least asking him to account for what is currently being spread around in the media, interviews, tapes about people receiving kickbacks and such, which is corruption. This shows what the opposition parties are up against.

Students are vocal but don’t vote – a challenge for the EFF

Students fall into the category with the lowest voter registration in South Africa. After the last registration opportunity, approximately 27 million South Africans were registered to vote. However, those under the age of 30 have the lowest registration rates.

Despite their vocal activism, students often don’t register to vote. This is a significant issue for the EFF. They score quite high in surveys, reaching up to 15% in some. However, on voting day, those who support them in survey research can’t vote because they haven’t registered. This is a considerable problem.

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