South Africa’s Principled Stand: A Moral Beacon in Geopolitics


Written by Ebrahim Deen (Researcher, Brand South Africa)



“By bravely standing up for what is right and taking Israel to the ICJ, however, South Africa showed us that another world is possible: a world where no state is above the law, most heinous crimes like genocide and apartheid are never accepted and the peoples of the world stand together shoulder to shoulder against injustice -Thank You, South Africa” – Dr Haidar Eid



As our beloved country approaches the milestone of thirty years of freedom, our foreign policy stance, rooted in the affirmation of human rights and the pursuit of peaceful resolutions to global conflicts, has prominently come to the fore. In response to recent global events, South Africa has reaffirmed its commitment to the core principles articulated by its first democratically elected President, the late President Mandla. That issues of human rights should be foundational to international relations and cooperation, transcending the political domain to encompass economic, social, and environmental aspects. This underscores the nation’s dedication to the pursuit of human fraternity and equality, especially in a world marked by increased polarization.



On January 11, 2024, South Africa, represented by an esteemed legal team led by experts such as Professor John Dugard, Advocate Max Du Plessis, Advocate Sarah Pudifin-Jones, Advocate Adila Hassim, and Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, presented a compelling case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, a symbol of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, joined the panel of judges for this significant matter, as the country currently has no permanent representation on the ICJ bench. The introduction of Professor Dire Tladi as the upcoming permanent South African representative on the ICJ bench signals a positive change in this regard.



The case against Israel centers on the assertion of genocidal intent in its three-month extended campaign on the Gaza Strip, resulting in the tragic deaths of approximately 25,000 individuals (predominantly women and children) and the deliberate targeting of family homes, civilian & health infrastructure i.e. 70% of buildings. While unequivocally condemning the actions of the Palestinian group Hamas, Pretoria’s objective is to secure an ICJ order for an immediate halt to the campaign. This proposed pause aims to facilitate humanitarian aid delivery and initiate negotiations towards realizing a two-state solution, addressing the longstanding conflict that has endured for over seventy-five years. This significant legal effort reflects South Africa’s commitment to human rights, justice, and its active pursuit of peaceful resolutions on the global stage.



During the 112th-anniversary celebration of the ruling African National Congress, President Ramaphosa emphasized South Africa’s history as a global reference point on human rights issues, stating, “South Africa is the reference point for the world when it comes to issues of human rights, and we [South Africa] stand on principle. The decision to subject Israel to the apex court, which deals with interstate issues and issues legally binding resolutions, has been supported by the fifty-seven-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, the second largest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions). Citing numerous statements by UN institutions and special rapporteurs, South Africa has been praised and celebrated by citizens and civil society organizations as bringing human rights back into global politics and international affairs. Moreover, several countries including Bolivia, Bangladesh, Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey, Namibia, Venezuela, Brazil and Pakistan amongst others have all expressed their support for South Africa’s case





This principled stand received heartfelt gratitude from the people of Palestine, as evidenced by gatherings at Mandela Square in Ramallah. The resonant act of singing South Africa’s National Anthem, a fervent plea for God’s blessings on Africa, is not merely a gesture of acknowledgment but serves as a poignant reminder of our shared humanity. It emphasizes that the realization of our own freedom is intrinsically tied to the freedom of the Palestinians and the pursuit of lasting peace for all.



Furthermore, South Africa’s unwavering belief in justice, respect for international law, and commitment to peace is evident in its active role as a mediator. In September 2022, the country successfully mediated negotiations, concluding a two-year-long conflict between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. This diplomatic success underscores South Africa’s dedication to fostering peace and stability on the global stage. The country has played a pivotal role in mediating conflicts in Burundi and South Sudan, showcasing its commitment to resolving complex disputes and fostering harmony.



Not confined to the African continent, South Africa extends its contributions to global governance and peacekeeping efforts. In June 2023, South Africa took a leading role in addressing the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Leading a six-state African delegation to Russia and Ukraine, the nation unveiled a comprehensive ten-point plan to initiate negotiations and bring an end to the ongoing crisis. This proactive approach highlights South Africa’s commitment to finding diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.



Moreover, South Africa demonstrated its leadership on the environmental front by spearheading a six-state African delegation to COP28 in Dubai in December. Recognizing the imperative of Nationally Determined Contributions, the country also advocated for the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund and other mechanisms crucial for global efforts to combat climate change and mitigate its devastating consequences.



As the globe becomes increasingly polarised, with institutions such as the IMF warning about ‘friendshoring’, South Africa’s human rights guided foreign policy, which exudes neutrality and respect for mediation provides a shimmer of hope and has become a shining inspiration for others. This has been graciously acknowledged by the world, especially Palestinians, with Dr Haidar Eid, associate Professor at Al Aqsa University, who has himself been displaced four times since the 07 October, and who received his doctorate from the University of Johannesburg, stating that, “By bravely standing up for what is right and taking Israel to the ICJ, however, South Africa showed us that another world is possible: a world where no state is above the law, most heinous crimes like genocide and apartheid are never accepted and the peoples of the world stand together shoulder to shoulder against injustice – Thank you, South Africa”