The Congress of South African Students (COSAS) has apologized for an incident that took place on Saturday, in which a pig’s head was placed in the halal food section of a Woolworth’s store in Sea Point. The act, seen as a form of protest for the retailers continued stocking of Israeli products, provoked widespread outrage on social media. Several images appeared online over the weekend, showing COSAS members posing next to a pig’s head.
The incident placed a notable shadow over the weekend’s National Day of Action against Woolies, which was aimed at raising awareness to the plight of the oppressed in Palestine, as well as pressuring Woolworths into cutting ties with Israeli based companies.
COSAS secretary general, Sitheno Makeleni, expressed the group’s sincerest apologies to Woolworths and all others concerned, conceding that the chosen form of protest action may not have been the most appropriate. However, he stressed that the incident was a result of the actions of an individual, and not that of COSAS in its entirety.
“The incident that was done at Woolworths, we apologize for it because it was a cruel thing to have happened there,” he said.
Furthermore, he said COSA’s actions did not reflect the view of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the organizers behind the Boycott Woolies campaign. He said the student body had chosen to take part in the National Day of Action, and would continue to protest the Israeli occupation within their own capacity.
BDS coordinator, Kwara Kekana, also distanced her organization from the incident, despite several BDS aligned individuals initially tweeting their support for the action.
“The tweet issue is absolutely bogus. I think there was a retweet, but the problem is there wasn’t a disclaimer, and so we took responsibility for that. But BDS SA completely distances itself from the pig incident,” she said.
The National Day of Action caused a fair bit of controversy, with several flashpoints taking place nationwide. Most notable was an incident in Killarney, Johannesburg, where 57 protesters, including minors, were arrested and charged with public disturbance. This was in relation to the staging of a ‘die-in’ inside the store itself.
But Kekana defiantly stated that the protest had been peaceful, and that the heavy police presence had only taken action once the group was attempting to leave the mall.
“It is true that children, between the ages of 14 and 17, who were also detained. Some of them were released within an hour of being detained, as opposed to the other activists who were released after four hours,” she noted.
NC4P condemns ‘extreme tactics’
The incident’s has also provoked a response from the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P), who condemned the pig’s head protest.
Coalition spokesperson, Rev Edwin Arrison, said they understood the enthusiasm shown by people towards the boycott of Woolworths, but stressed that they did not accept such forms of ‘extreme tactics’.
However, he refused to place the blame on the protesters themselves, but rather on Woolworths like of cooperation on the broader issue at hand.
“I personally think it’s because the Woolworths people have not been open to negotiate with us. I’ve written two letters to the CEO of Woolworths, and he has just refused to meet with us,” he noted.
“When that begins to happen, then people start taking measures that none of us really approve of.”
The weekend’s incidents have given further fuel to the narrative of several pro-Zionist lobbies, who claim the NC4P and all affiliated organizations are anti-Semitic. Arrison said such talk was nothing new, noting that such suggestions would mean pro-Palestinian supporters such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu were also anti-Semitic.
“There are certain incidents of anti-Semitism that creeps up every now and then within the movement, but what we have done is to actually call people out at the particular moment when it happens,” he said.
Despite media coverage on the happenings in Palestine having slowly died out in recent months, Arrison stressed there was still incidents taking place on a constant basis. As a result, the Boycott Woolies campaign would continue to remind people that the situation in the region was far from normalized. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)