ANC amplifies support for Palestine, seeks votes in Western Cape

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is leveraging his government’s stance on Israel’s conflict with Hamas to gain support in the Western Cape province, where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) faces opposition from the Democratic Alliance (DA). Ramaphosa’s support for Palestine aligns with sentiments in predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods, potentially influencing the upcoming elections. The ANC’s national majority is at risk, and its stance on international issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict is a factor in voter considerations.

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By S’thembile Cele

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is capitalizing on his administration’s efforts to bring an end to Israel’s war on Hamas as he seeks to draw votes in the only province that isn’t controlled by the ruling African National Congress.

Pretoria has been outspoken against the war in Gaza, filing a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice on Dec. 29 that accused Israel of genocide during its campaign against Hamas. The United Nations court ruled in January that Israel must act to prevent Palestinians from being killed or injured, but stopped short of demanding an immediate cease-fire. 

“People are appreciative of the stance taken by the ANC” and will take it into consideration, Ramaphosa said in an interview during a weekend campaign stop in the Kayamandi suburb of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town.

The streets of several predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in Cape Town, the capital of the Western Cape province and the nation’s tourism hub, have been adorned with murals in support of the Palestinian cause. 

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The main opposition Democratic Alliance wrested control of the Western Cape from the ANC in 2008, and has ruled the country’s third-most populous region ever since — though some opinion poll suggest it may lose its majority there in elections on May 29. The DA won 52% support in the province in 2019, and the ANC 31%.

The polls also suggest that the ANC risks losing its national majority for the first time since it first took power under Nelson Mandela in 1994, and that its grip on several of the eight provinces it controls is also under threat.

Muslims account for just 1.2% of South Africa’s 62 million people. The biggest concentration is in the Western Cape, where they make up 5.6% of the population, and could potentially tip the balance of power. 

Ramaphosa said that ordinary South Africans had encouraged the government to file its case against Israel, and that it was intent on perpetuating Mandela’s backing for an independent Palestine. 

“It is you that ensured that we took that position, and it was Nelson Mandela who inspired us to adopt that very strong position, and we are never going to turn back from supporting the cause of the Palestinians,” he said in Cape Town’s Rylands suburb, where residents applauded him for taking Israel to task. 

Fighting has dragged on for seven months since Hamas attacked southern Israel from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 hostage. Israel’s bombardment and ground attack on the Palestinian territory have killed almost 35,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

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