The 26th April brought thunderous and unseasonably heavy rainstorms to Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel. That evening the garden of the official South African ambassadorial residence in Ramat Gan was the scene of that countries 24th Freedom Day celebrations – and the rains stopped for a few hours. What luck!
The event was hosted by His Excellency Ambassador Sisa Ngombane and Mrs. Thatanyana Ngombane. The evening opened with a smart reception with guests mingling happily on the beautiful lawns. Honoring the assembly with their presence where, amongst many others, the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Tanzania, Italy, South Korea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and more; senior (and other) members of the diplomatic corps in Israel, captains of industry, art, science, education and culture in Israel; and many other VIP guests from various walks of life that link South Africa and Israel.
Renditions of the national anthems of South Africa and Israel preceded Ambassador Ngombane’s address to the guests. The ambassador brought greetings from the President of South Africa to the President of Israel and the Israeli people, on the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel. His warm welcome was tinged with sadness when he diplomatically included a note of sympathy to the Israelis on the just-announced death of ten teenagers who had been swept away in sudden floods while on a tour. His message also included noting that April is a sad month for South Africa, the month when several famous and gallant freedom fighters, politicians and diplomats died. Quoting Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana, who eulogized at the funeral of the legendary Hugh Masekela: “[He] is gone, Masekela is no more. All that energy, all that vitality, all that zest for life, (what the French call joie de vivre), all that passion and belief in higher destiny for mankind, especially for African people, all that charisma - they have all been extinguished. That is the way of mortal man.” Mortality ….
Ambassador Ngombane added: “We are also gathered here to reaffirm our vision of an African continent, which is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united; and which aspires to a world that is just and equitable. We are also mindful of the long road ahead and the challenges we confront, South Africa’s contribution to the African continent is to address the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. In this regard, we are determined to build on the achievements we have made and confront the challenges we face to accelerate progress in building a more prosperous and equitable society. South Africa is hard at work and focused on growing the economy in order to be able to address these challenges.”
The theme of South Africa’s 2018 celebrations is none other than “Nelson Mandela” – a fitting theme indeed. In a memoir, the late revered Nelson Mandela writes: “The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” The ambassador noted that President Matamela Ramaphosa, conscious of this, has pledged South Africa’s solidarity with the struggling people of Western Sahara and Palestine for their self-determination and expressed a wish to see a speedy resolution of these conflicts.
Mr. Meron Reuven, chief of protocol for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded on behalf of the State of Israel. He opened his words with sincere congratulations to the government and people of South Africa on the occasion of Freedom Day. “South Africa, the Rainbow Nation is a mosaic of cultures and languages. It is committed to pluralism, and to its democratic spirit.” Mr. Meron also mentioned the deep Jewish historical roots in South Africa: “Many Jews escaping persecution in Europe, found safe haven in South Africa, for which we, the Government of Israel and the Jewish people will always remain grateful.” He added: “Today, with the principle of equality and justice for all deeply etched in your national flag, our happiness in celebrating your Freedom Day is especially great.”
In addition to the wide range of beverages offered, fine South African wines and unique liqueurs enhanced the pleasant atmosphere. The very generous buffet dinner featured the mouth-watering South African specialty – biltong – strange to the Israelis and other non-South Africans, but a very welcome touch of “home” to SA expats. Many of the guests wore traditional African tribal and other costumes that made the entire evening special and welcoming.
The directors and staff of Diplomacy.co.il join in congratulating Ambassador and Mrs. Ngombane, the government and people of South Africa and the embassy staff on this wonderful day and beautiful event.
© Copyright Jonathan Danilowitz May 2018
Photos Silvia G Golan