Bizarre Diplomatic Relationship
Whenever one mentions South Africa, “the Apartheid system” and “Nelson Mandela” are a universal flash to everyone. The first being a racial taboo imposed by the whites and the later a man who fought to end the system.
These two extremes converged at one once the Apartheid system was abolished and Mandela triumphed after his long quest to complete South African emancipation. Since then, South Africa became the hub of tolerance and human dignity.
I am not here today to talk about South Africa or the system that had ruined the rights of SOuth Africans but about silent and wierd relationship a South African Diplomat and a Communist Party of South Africa have with one of the extremely totalitarian regime in Africa, the PFDJ Regime of Eritrea.
South Africa opened its embassy in Eritrea in the year of 2004. Prior to that, there was no noticeable diplomatic relationships and I rarely read news about South Africa in the Eritrean news outlets.
However, with the assignment of new ambassador(2012), South Africa started to surface on major political, cultural and business news activities via Eritrean and some South African news outlets. But I was not aware who was behind these new movements until I came to know an Ambassador named Iqbal Jhazbhay.
The first time Ambassador Iqbal Jhazbhay came to my attention was when he participated in Bologna Festival held in July 2014 by PFDJ on the occassion of 40th anniversary of one of EPLF’s historical festival during the armed struggle. He was the only foreign diplomat who participated in the festival and delivered a speech.
Another event that forced me to pay a closer look was on October 30, 2014, when Asmara hosted first of its kind festival organized in collaboration with the office of the South African Embassy and PFDJ regime. The festival which is held on the occasion to mark 10th anniversary of Eritrean-South African ties is nothing but a political exhaustion. According to the report, Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay explained to the participants the festival will enhance the political, economic, cultural, as well as diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay : Who is he?
Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay was a South African Ambassador to Eritrea from 2012 to 2016. As an Ambassador, he had a mission to accomplish in line to the interest of South Africa in Eritrea. However, his diplomatic mission had a nature of secretive and unusual merge between business and political interests.
Inspite of some public funfares and mass media appearances, neither the people nor the country represented had any transparent and known diplomatic relationships. From what I tried to follow, it wast purely business oriented, exploitative and camouflaged friendship that aimed at extracting the natural resources of Eritrea via PFDJ and South African mining companies and active duties in the political affairs of Eritrea including in the participation of diaspora festivals and meetings organized by PFDJ. In addition, Professor Iqbal’s appeared to have a strong interest in the geo-politics of the horn of Africa, especially Somalia.
In many occasions, he appeared to represent Eritrea in diplomatic missions. Usually accompanied by Ambassador Tesfamichale Gerahtu, there could be some link between these diplomats that dates back to early 2000.
But, who is Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay and why he accompanied PFDJ officials in some important foreign meetings? Why Ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu had strong relationship with him?
Ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu’s relationship between these two ambassadors rooted back to early 2000s when the Eritrean Ambassador known for his antagonistic approach was there to dismantle the Eritrean student movement in South Africa? According to the news report, an official diplomatic relationship was launched in 2004, three years after the university student movements.
To look into the bibliography of Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay, in his linkdin profile, the following information is written.
“Iqbal Jhazbhay is South Africa’s Ambassador to the State of Eritrea. Formerly Professor at the University of South Africa and the previous Director of the Unisa Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and, studied Arabic and Islamic sciences in Cairo, Riyadh, Manchester and Johannesburg.
His research interests include Islam in Somaliland and Somalia, South African Islam, Sufism, Political Islam, South African foreign policy towards North Africa and the Middle East, international relations and Islam.
He was a visiting scholar at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies and London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
He has authored the book, ”Somaliland: An African struggle for nationhood and international recognition”, some twenty-two academic articles and chapters on Islamic thought, Somaliland and South African foreign policy.
He is a member of the board of directors of the Institute for Global Dialogue –an International Relations think-tank established by former President Nelson Mandela. Serves on the ANC’s NEC Sub-Committee of International Relations, its newly-formed International Relations Rapid Response Task Team and chaired the ANC’s Sudan Task Team. He previously served on the ANC’s Commission for Religious Affairs. He was elected as Rapporteur of the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference (2012).”
Well, here we get some traces of this good Ambassador to be a good fortune for PFDJ cover-up. The professor known for his academic studies related with Somalia and PFDJ’s link and involvement in the Somalia’s affairs, no one can be worth enough to be a firsthand good friend for an evil diplomatic relationships.
Of course, there are some South African companies which are operating in mining activities. And from far, the diplomatic relationships can be somehow bizarre to an observer from far and can be taken for granted. But the truth might be different especially by looking into the biography of the Ambassador and the ruling Junta. Ambassador Tesfamichael is good in this kind of diplomatic friendships and indeed his mission to South Africa is still on ground.
In an interview done with Somaliland Times on January 16, 2004, the website has also recorded Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay’s background as, “A director of Johannesburg-based Institute of Global Dialogue and is also convener of the Middle East study group at the South African Institute of International Affairs.” This shows that the professor’s presence in Eritrea is beyond his official diplomatic mission.
Eritrea has a sanction imposed by UN in relation to its link with Al-Shabab and other forces that override the peace of the horn of Africa. I do not have any information whether South Africa involves in Somalia or in other horn African countries, but the presence of this ambassador in Eritrea is something that has to be investigated further.
What the Communist Party of South Africa is doing in Eritrea?
I thought South Africa is a liberal democratic country with political parties who favor human rights. After experiencing a system of extreme racial discrimination, it is hard to imagine anyone from South Africa ignores what a dictatorial state is. Unfortunately, one of the oldest political party from South Africa is seeking alliance with one of the most brutal regime Africa has ever faced after the end of cold war.
Communist Party of South Africa was founded in 1921. For its role in the struggle against aparthaid, it was banned as a legal political party in South Africa but has played a role in the termination of Aparthaid system by allying itself with other political forces, called the Triparthite Allaince. Nevertheless, it managed to strive throughout the Aparthaid period and some of its leading members were part of the post-aparthaid government. And the party was abandoning its socialism concept and came to conclude that that Stalinism had failed. As a party it continued to exist by sharing power with African National Congress and Congress of South African Trade Unions.
Though its political influence is insignificant, the intention to expand its alliance with the Eritrean totalitarian regimes is a sign of the revival of its old political ideology. Such kind of alliance unique and it deserves full scrunity. The visit was accompanied by Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay and three other SACP members.
With the coming of Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay there was a semi-transparent relationship between SACP and its alliance with the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice(PFDJ) as it was highlighted above. What makes this relationship unique is that eventhough Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay was an ambassador who represented South Africa, what he did and still continuing to do is too strengthen the relationship at a party level.
It might seem a conspiracy theory but with the on-going geopolitical development of the horn of Africa in general and Somalia in particular, SACP and PFDJ could have a share in the affairs of Somalia. But this may seem to far. Of course, with the declining power of PFDJ, to get such kind of party to party relationship has an advantage, especially to PFDJ. As a consequence, it might have an impact on the political landscape of Eritrea. Not only this, it may also strength PFDJ’s dirty role in Ethiopian internal politics via the Somali region and in the making of Somaliland.
Observing this kind of diplomatic relationship, as an Eritrean, Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay and SACP’s alliance I can imagine its awful impact. I am saying this based on South Africa experience during the high time of oppression. Any party or organization that moves to create alliance with PFDJ can be considered either as unconsciousness about Eritrea situation or does not care about the human rights situation of citizens. And when such move comes from South African political party, it gives an alert how fast history can be forgotten.
Of course Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay will continue his dirty business, both in Eritrea and in Somalia. But, as a people and those who are fighting for our rights to be respected, any kind of alliance with the oppressor leverages to suspend our suffering. On this occasion, I call Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay and South Africa Communist Party to distance from PFDJ. Otherwise, it is against what South Africans, including SACP, fought for and against humanity. Therefore, I call them to refrain. Not only to refrain, but to help Eritrean people to fight against injustice that has been continuing since 1991.