A political storm cloud is brewing over South Africa’s forthcoming Davis Cup tennis tie against Israel to be held in Pretoria on February 2-3 after sports minister Thulas Nxesi’s decision to boycott the event.
Nxesi’s decision follows a letter sent to the minister by several South African human rights organisations and the personal humiliation he experienced in 2012 when he was refused entry into Israel-Palestine.
“I would actually have loved to attend the Davis Cup but given the concerns that activists and fellow South Africans are raising regarding the presence of an Israeli team I believe that it would not be proper for me to attend,” Nxesi said in his response to a letter sent to him by BDS South Africa, National Coalition 4 Palestine, SA Jews for a Free Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Alliance and the Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee.
“I myself have experienced Israeli discrimination and occupation when I was denied entry to Palestine in 2012. In response to this and other practices by the Israeli regime against the Palestinians, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many other notable South Africans, have called on the world to support the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement,” added the sports minister.
“This call for BDS is increasingly supported by progressive Jewish Israelis who remind us of our own icon, Joe Slovo, who, while he was Jewish, dissociated himself from the practices of the Israeli regime.”
On Friday BDS South Africa said it welcomed Nxesi’s decision.
Tennis South Africa (TSA) has distanced itself from the political fallout.
“TSA, along with 200 other countries globally, is an affiliate of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and participates in the Davis Cup – the World Cup of tennis – on an annual basis,” it said response to a letter sent to it by rights groups.
“One of the ITF’s key objectives for this competition is to grow the sport of tennis, and to do so without discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, age, sex or religion.
“The ITF believes that sport should be used as a unifying element between athletes and nations.”
It said the ITF’s flagship competitions, the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup, had been founded on the idea of fostering greater understanding among nations through tennis, a principle that was as valid today as it was over 100 years ago.
“TSA fully supports the guiding principles of both the ITF and the Davis Cup,” the organisation said.
In 2009, South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council documented a report claiming that Israel was practising apartheid in occupied Palestinian territories.
South Africa further raised the ire of Israel on Tuesday during a fiery exchange in Geneva, Switzerland at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), an assessment held every five years by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is seen as a barometer of the state of human rights in a given country.
Delegates from over 100 countries, including the 47-strong United Nations Human Rights Council, attended the debate.
On the subject of Israel’s human right records South Africa’s delegate Clinton Swemmer stated: “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state. We remain deeply concerned at the denial of the right of self-determination to the Palestinian people, in the absence of which no other human right can be exercised or enjoyed.”