Diplomatic spotlight on SA at Court of Justice


The South African government is hopeful that a landmark “genocide” case against Israel in the United Nations’ highest court will boost its international standing and help garner local support for the ANC in the run-up to a critical election later this year. .

The government is sending some of the country’s leading legal experts to The Hague to fight Israel in the International Court of Justice. Among other things, South Africa is asking the court for an order that will force Israel to immediately stop its military operations in Gaza.

“They are an A-team,” says prof. Cathleen Powell, an international legal expert attached to the University of Cape Town.

“They brought together people who are extremely knowledgeable in international law, and people who are specifically good at presenting cases in a court.”

This is South Africa’s first application to the International Court of Justice, a move that analysts say is motivated by historical and political reasons.

The ANC government has long been a loyal supporter of the Palestinian population, and compares this nation’s historical struggles with the ANC’s own struggle for freedom during apartheid. During this time, South Africa maintained close ties with Israel.

Late ex-pres. Nelson Mandela said at the time that South Africa’s own freedom would be “unfinished without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa told ANC supporters this week that Mandela’s teachings inspired the move and at the same time described it as a “matter of principle”.

“The people of Palestine are being bombed today, they are being killed,” he said.

“We were obliged to stand up and support the Palestinians.”

Still, analysts say there is more to the motivation for South Africa’s complaint, namely lobbying in the run-up to the national elections that take place later this year. This year, the ANC has once again come under accusations of corruption and mismanagement and now, probably more than ever, needs local support.

By promoting a matter of principle internationally, attention can possibly be diverted from all the party’s local problems and show that the party is indeed true to its core values.

“The ANC views the case in the Court of Justice as a way and basis to regain its prominence which has withered over the past 30 years due to increasingly unprincipled government,” said Sara Gon of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

Others dismissed it as a media stunt.

Prof. Koos Malan, legal expert, told RNews earlier that the application could also fuel friction between Muslim and Jewish communities (both minority groups) in South Africa. The Muslim community will probably have a positive reaction to the application, while the Jewish community and Jewish leaders in the country have already expressed their displeasure on various platforms.

Gon says time will tell how the conservative Christian majority in the country will judge the application.

Several Christian leaders have already condemned it and described it as a media stunt, while the government has been accused in some ranks of anti-Semitism.

On an international level, the case may strengthen South Africa’s position – especially among its close diplomatic allies, Gon went on to say.

RNews earlier reported that South Africa’s legal team, led by Adv. Adila Hassim, will argue in oral arguments that the Israeli army’s attacks on Gaza after Hamas’ attack on October 7 went far beyond self-defense, and aimed to wipe out the entire Gaza population.

In addition to an order to tell Israel to immediately stop its Gaza offensive, South Africa is also asking for orders to stop forced deportations and allow humanitarian access.

The case will be heard on Thursday and Friday.