/ 30 November 2023

Cabinet not aware of Hamas visit to South Africa

Khumbudzo Ntshavhen
Minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. (Jairus Mmutle/GCIS)

The government is not planning to have any bilateral meetings with Hamas, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said on Thursday. 

A media advisory was circulated this week stating that a senior delegation representing Hamas had arrived in the country to participate in the fifth Global Convention of Solidarity with Palestine.

“While in the country, the group, comprising Politburo member Dr Bassem Naim; Hamas representative in Iran Dr Khaled Qaddoumi; and Hamas international relations director for East, Central and Southern Africa Emad Saber, will meet representatives of political parties, civil society groups and the Palestine solidarity movement to provide updates about Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, and to hear South African views on the global solidarity movement and the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle in general,” the statement read. 

The convention is jointly organised by the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine and the Royal House of Mandela and will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the campaign’s launch and the death of Nelson Mandela. 

During a media briefing after this week’s cabinet meeting, Ntshavheni said that despite the United States and the European Union having classified Hamas as a terrorist group, the United Nations has not made that classification. 

Ntshavheni said the government was not tracking the presence of individuals who are visiting the country. 

“We don’t know of a Hamas office in South Africa so I can’t say there is Hamas, there is no Hamas. We don’t have that type of evidence but there is no UN declaration that classifies Hamas as a terrorist organisation. You will recall when organisations are classified as terrorist organisations, they must be done so by the UN otherwise the ANC would have been declared as a terrorist organisation because the apartheid regime had called the ANC a terrorist organisation.” 

She added that Pretoria would make an announcement should it meet Hamas representatives. “So far we have no schedule to meet with them.”

Despite parliament having voted for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the closure of its embassy, the minister said the cabinet had no intention of closing the Israeli embassy. 

“You will recall in the South African system we have a separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and parliament. Parliament can give guidance in terms of these matters that are in the purview of cabinet and cabinet will have to decide within its areas having considered all matters that are at play. We have not had that discussion. We are not in a hurry to have that discussion as yet.” 

Earlier this month, Pretoria announced that it had recalled its diplomats from Israel over the country’s continued bombing of the Gaza Strip, in which more than 15 000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. 

Soon after, Israel recalled its ambassador, Eliav Belotsercovsky. Pretoria has described the relationship with the embassy as “untenable”. 

Ntshavheni had previously said the government was “disappointed” by the “impunity” of the Israeli government and its “refusal” to respect international law and United Nations resolutions.

This is after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution late last month calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the bombing of Gaza, which has been taking place since the 7 October raid into Israel by Hamas in which 1 200 people were killed and about 250 people taken hostage.

A temporary ceasefire was declared last week for the release of prisoners from both sides.