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Closed Tel Aviv embassy stymies South Africans wishing to vote in May elections

Pretoria's mission to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah will be open for voting.

An Arab man hangs a picture of former South African leader Nelson Mandela next to a poster of former PLO chief Yasser Arafat, at a memorial service for Mandela in Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 8, 2013. Photo by Sliman Khader/Flash90.
An Arab man hangs a picture of former South African leader Nelson Mandela next to a poster of former PLO chief Yasser Arafat, at a memorial service for Mandela in Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 8, 2013. Photo by Sliman Khader/Flash90.

Thousands of South Africans in Israel will be unable to vote in the republic’s upcoming election on May 29.

South Africa’s embassy in Israel was closed in November 2023 following a significant downturn in relations between the two countries—a decision that affects immigrants, tourists and many other South Africans’ ability to exercise their civic and constitutional right to vote.

Bilateral relations between the countries have become increasingly more hostile, following South Africa’s stance in support of Hamas following the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 attacks and the ongoing Gaza war.

Voting abroad in the elections is set to take place on Friday and Saturday, and South Africans who are either studying, visiting or living in Israel will not be able to participate. Apparently, the South African mission to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah will be open for voting. However, only five South Africans voted in Ramallah in the 2019 national elections.

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) released a statement objecting to the “South African government’s infringement of the basic constitutional rights of citizens who are in Israel at this time.”

Some of the South Africans who will be denied one of their most basic democratic rights include members of the Jewish community and South Africans studying at Israeli universities.

The SAZF has informed the Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) of its fears.

IEC reiterated that it is bound to the directives of DIRCO, which had informed it in January that the Tel Aviv mission was “temporarily closed due to security concerns.”

“South Africa’s International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor wants to appease the Muslim community and appear as a revolutionary before disillusioned voters who have lost confidence in her party,” Kenneth Mokgathle, who is studying for a master’s degree at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva, told JNS.

Uri Marks, a product manager in Modi’in, speaking to JNS this week said, “I have voted in every South African national and local election since 1994. As a proud South African, I have always considered my vote an honor and a privilege. I registered for the 2024 elections, and I am saddened and disappointed that this year, being in Israel, I do not have the opportunity to vote in South Africa’s national elections.”

Rowan Polovin, SAZF national chairman, said, “Apart from the severe impracticalities involved in voting elsewhere, the democratic principle should be paramount: South African citizens in Israel should be empowered by their government, funded by their taxes, to exercise their basic voting rights, rights which are at the very heart of any free country.”

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