South Africa’s Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was denied an entry visa to travel to Palestine, and the incident sparked discussions led by the Higher Education minister himself on boycotting Israel in the business, academic and cultural sectors.
Nzimande pledges to visit Ramallah despite the ban while the SACP issued an ultimatum to the South African government to declare a travel ban on Israeli nationals and expel the Israeli ambassador from the country.
The South African minister was to visit Palestine to discuss the possibility of a research collaboration between institutions in Palestine and the University of Johannesburg. The collaboration between the two was agreed upon in 2014 when the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited South Africa.
“We consider Israel’s decision to deny Nzimande and the three officials entry into Palestine an affront to not only the minister and his department, but also as a diplomatic insult to the South African government and its people,” Solly Mapaila, SACP second deputy general secretary says.
Israel named Nzimande “an enemy of Israel,” saying he is leading the campaigns that boycott the Middle Eastern state, Lebogang Seale of IoL News says.
At the same time, Nzimande called the visa refusal a “declaration of diplomatic aggression on our government”. Clayson Monyeala, spokesman of the SA Department of International Relations, said:
“We want to be given the reasons why they would refuse a sitting cabinet minister entry into their country.” Adding that the decision was “certainly a matter we will not leave lying down”.
Nzimande said through his spokesperson that Israel cannot dictate who can and cannot visit Palestine and that the ban undermines South Africa’s “sovereignty and national self-determination.”
Although the Israeli government doesn’t report the reasons for a ban, the Higher Education Prime Minister says that he has been told the ban was the result of his “anti-Israel agitation”.
According to the Times of Israel, Nzimande’s ban occurred because he considered Israel just a transit point on his way to Palestine and that he was refusing to meet with Israeli officials during his trip.
Nzimande is calling all SA institutions of higher education to freeze their contracts with Israeli universities. Nzimande, who is a member of the South African Communist Party and has previously endorsed an academic boycott against Israel, has said about his entry visa denial:
“The Israeli government is trying to use all the means at its disposal to hide its atrocities against the Palestinians and to ensure that only the smallest number of people see what is really happening in the land under its control.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to Nzimande’s remarks:
“It would be best for the South African government and the Communist Party to desist from attacking and inciting against Israel, which is a glorious democracy that deals exceptionally well, while ensuring maximum human rights and international norms, with threats and terrorist elements which, had they been active in South Africa, would have caused a bloodbath in the streets.”
In 2012, Thulas Nxesi SA’s Public Works minister was denied entry visa in Palestine for openly standing against Israel’s military occupation.