/ 18 October 2023

ANC reacts to Hamas backlash: ‘Hands off Naledi Pandor’

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor. Gallo
Minister of International Relations and Cooperations Naledi Pandor. Gallo

ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula has defended international relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor following reports that she engaged with Hamas in a telephone call this week. 

Speaking on Wednesday at a media briefing to outline the weekend’s national executive committee meeting, Mbalula said Pandor had done nothing wrong. 

“If we want to send things now to Gaza, who are you going to talk to? You must talk to Hamas. She has been insulted left and right, there is nothing wrong with what she is doing. She is doing her job. That is what diplomats do.” 

Pandor has been heavily criticised for her conversation with Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist group by the US and the EU. 

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) said Pandor had “dragged our country into very dangerous waters”, and called on her to resign or be fired immediately.

News24 reported that the SAJBB deputy vice-president, Zev Krengel, said Pandor’s only legitimate course of action [during the phone call] would have been to ensure the release of any South Africans among the hostages that were kidnapped by Hamas and taken to Gaza during the incursion into southern Israel on 7 October. 

“You’ve got a government that’s been hijacked by Islamic jihadists … Unless she resigns or [President Cyril Ramaphosa] fires her, South Africa is in a seriously compromised position,” the board was reported to have said. 

Pandor confirmed speaking to Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and said their conversation centred on humanitarian relief for Gaza, which is bracing for a ground invasion as part of Israel’s deadly retaliation to Hamas’s deadly attacks.

“Pandor and the Hamas leader discussed how to get the necessary humanitarian aid to Gaza and other parts of the Palestinian territories,” her office said, dismissing the rest as propaganda.

“The reports that minister Pandor also offered support for the ‘Battle of Al-Aqsa Flood’ (the Hamas incursion on 7 October) are untrue and meant to impugn the minister and the government of South Africa.”

The statement from the militia group read: “The head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, received a phone call from the South African Foreign Minister, where he [sic] affirmed South African solidarity with the Palestinian people and with Gaza in the Al-Aqsa flood battle, and expressed his [sic] sadness and regret for what the Palestinian people are experiencing in Gaza.”

Mbalula said Pandor was performing her job as a diplomat.  

“Special envoys are there for that. Subtle diplomacy left and right. You don’t just talk through a press conference. Our minister, hands off. Hands of our minister Naledi Pandor, she has the right to talk to anybody,” Mbalula said. 

“She has the right to do her job as long as she does not compromise the foreign policy of this country. She is not. She is advancing peace. She can talk to the Israelis as well, government to government.”