The continued decline of right-wing anti-Semitism in 1997 was more than
countered by a steep rise in anti-Jewish activity in the Muslim community. This
culminated in the first physical attack on Jewish property in fourteen years, when
the home of a Jewish book-seller in Cape Town was petrol-bombed. In other
incidents, placards with anti-Semitic slogans were carried by demonstrators at
anti-Israel rallies, and an Islamic radio station in the Western Cape was
disciplined for anti-Semitic broadcasting.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
The number of Jews in South Africa continued to decline, and most estimates do not
exceed 80,000 out of a total population of 41 million. Jewish life in the smaller
communities is dying out, and the Jews from these towns have moved to Cape Town
and Johannesburg. The rate of violent crime, a major problem for all South
Africans, is a leading factor in the continuing trend toward Jewish emigration.
EXTREMIST PARTIES AND HATE GROUPS
Right-wing splinter groups continued to play a negligible role in South Africa's
political life in 1997, and most of them can now be assumed to be defunct. The
ongoing work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has further served to
demoralize the white right, many of whose members have been implicated in alleged
crimes of the white regime. The remnants of the extreme right, however, still
occasionally engage in anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial propaganda.
Muslim-Jewish relations deteriorated significantly during 1997, due, in large
part, to events in the Middle East.
Islamic extremist movements tend to have small but militant followings and are
particularly active in the Western Cape. They include Qibla, which has ties with
the Lebanese Hizballah; and Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs),
ostensibly an anti-crime body whose leaders have made anti-Jewish comments on a
number of occasions.
Official statements from government and police sources indicated that Muslim
individuals were receiving military training in other Muslim countries, such as
Sudan, and then returning to South Africa.
Violence and Vandalism
It became clear during the course of the year that the real long-term threat to
the security of the Jewish community was posed by extremist elements within the
Muslim population. There were strong indications that Muslim extremists were
preparing to move away from inflammatory rhetoric and planning actual attacks on
The most serious incident was the fire bomb attack on the home of a local Jewish
book-seller in Cape Town, in July. No one was hurt in the attack although
extensive damage was caused. The fire-bombing followed a series of demonstrations
in Pretoria and in Cape Town against the "pig leaflet" incident in Hebron (see
Arab Countries and below). Police discovered that the material used in the bomb
was the same as that used by Pagad in other incidents in the Cape Flats. Pagad
denied any involvement in the bombing.
Following the bombing, leaflets bearing slogans such as "Save the World, Kill a
Jew" were found at a synagogue and at a Jewish home for the aged in Cape Town,
and a fax was sent to the South African Board of Jewish Deputies (SABJD) declaring
"Bookshop was first, you Jewish pigs."
In April, an official warning was sent to the Community Security Organisation
(CSO) at the Board of Deputies, stating that information-gathering on Jewish
installations was taking place and advising the community to increase its level
of vigilance over the Passover period. In August, the CSO was warned of the
possibility of a car bomb attack on a Jewish institution.
Two Muslim protest marches to the Israeli embassy in Cape Town took place
following the "pig leaflet" incident in July. In the larger demonstration, on
12 July, some 2,500 Muslims chanted anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slogans. Qibla
was allegedly involved in organizing these demonstrations. At other anti-Israel
demonstrations in October in Pretoria and Cape Town, Muslim demonstrators carried
anti-Jewish placards with slogans such as "One bullet, one Zionist Jew" and a
call for a new Hitler to destroy the Jews.
A debate over Middle Eastern affairs between certain members of the Muslim and
Jewish communities in the letters pages of The Star, a leading Johannesburg daily,
frequently took on racist and religious overtones. It was eventually revealed that
some letters were planted under a fictitious Jewish name in an attempt to
discredit the Jewish community. When a letter under the same fictitious name
appeared in The Sowetan, a newspaper mainly circulated among the black population,
the editor was notified and he undertook to stop publishing letters from this
On the extreme right, a claim that the decline in political power of white
Afrikaners was orchestrated by Jews appeared in the book Volksveraad (1997), by
advocate P.J. Pretorius. The book was not widely circulated and appeared to have
ATTITUDES TOWARD THE HOLOCAUST AND THE NAZI ERA
Holocaust denial rhetoric and literature continued on the fringes of South African
society, mainly the preserve of the white right. In June, it was reported that a
group of people, including a leader of the small, right-wing Herstigte Nasionale
Party, had protested outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria for freedom of
speech, in solidarity with Germans who had been jailed for Holocaust denial. Also
in June, the right-wing Die Afrikaner published an anti-Semitic article on this
issue. It blamed Jewish financial power for muzzling speech in Germany.
To a limited degree, Muslim extremists have adopted Holocaust denial as a
propaganda tool. In January, a guest speaker on the Islamic station Radio 786,
the well-known Swiss Holocaust denier and convert to Islam Dr. Ahmed Huber made
several anti-Semitic remarks, including a reference to "the Holocaust swindle."
The station agreed to broadcast an apology, drafted by representatives of the
Jewish community, four times on one Sunday after the SABJD complained to the
Broadcasting Complaints Commission. At two of the rallies protesting the "pig
leaflet" in Hebron, some of the placards bore the slogan "The Holocaust is a
RESPONSES TO EXTREMISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM
South Africa in the post-apartheid era, in particular after the 1996 ratification
of the new constitution with its Bill of Rights, is no longer fertile ground for
the propagation of racist or anti-Semitic theories. The Bill of Rights, whilst
protecting freedom of expression and freedom of the press, also includes a clause
on hate speech, thereby limiting the above freedoms should they threaten the
well-being or safety of any ethnic or religious group. This has created a
favorable climate in which instances of anti-Semitism and racism can be followed
up and dealt with effectively, as was witnessed, for example, in the successful
action taken by the SAJBD against Radio 786. In an important legal victory against
racism, Eugene TerreBlanche, the white supremacist and neo-Nazi leader of the
Afrikaner Resistance Movement, the most radical wing of Afrikaner nationalists,
was sentenced to six years in prison for assauling two black men.
On the other hand, given the spiraling crime rate in South Africa and the
inability of the current authorities to curb it, many Jews fear that they might
have to rely on themselves to provide adequate protection for their community in
the event of increased anti-Semitic activities.