An exhibition of 86 rare photographs of Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat with anti-apartheid freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada is on display at the National Museum of Cultural History in Pretoria. The exhibition marks the 10th anniversary of Arafat’s death. It also commemorates Palestinian Cultural Week, which runs until 20th November.
Kathrada launched the exhibition, along with the Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa, Abdul Hafeez Noufal. Tamer Almassri, the embassy’s Media and Culture Officer, explained that the photographs covered a period from 1929 to 2004.
“There are photos of Arafat as a child in Jerusalem, as a student in Cairo, before the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and after. Some of the photos were taken in Lebanon, and others in Tunisia and Jordan. Former President Nelson Mandela is also captured with the Palestinian leader in one of the pictures. Also on display will be photos taken during the siege (of Arafat’s compound) in Ramallah in 2002, and following his death.”
Almassri indicated that the pictures were captured by various photographers, and were made available by the Yasser Arafat Foundation.
Neeshan Balton, director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said the exhibition provided an ideal opportunity to celebrate Palestine’s cultural heritage.
“This comes at a time when Israel is trying to eradicate that heritage through its occupation policies – an example of which can be found presently in Israel’s actions in Jerusalem,” he stated.
Balton added that this is the first time that Arafat’s death will be publically commemorated in South Africa.
“This occasion provides South Africans with a unique opportunity to commemorate the life of a leader, who was popular with his people, and supported liberation struggles outside his own, such as that of South Africa. Arafat and Mandela were contemporaries, and this event is particularly significant as it commemorates the 10th anniversary of Arafat’s death, just weeks before the 1st anniversary of Mandela’s.”
Balton’s comments were echoed by Palestinian diplomat, Majed Bamya, who said that the memory of the two leaders continues to strengthen the ties between South Africa and Palestine.
“Yasser Arafat supported the struggle against apartheid. He understood the symbol that Mandela would represent decades later – he saw it before the others. He had the ability to understand that the struggle against apartheid was not only about South Africa, it was about the world we were shaping at that period of time. For us, it is important that South Africa has seen in Yasser Arafat that symbol of the same struggle for freedom.
“When we saw the mobilisation of South Africans during the massacre in Gaza, we understood that our struggles continue to be everlastingly joined. We know that South Africans will continue supporting our struggle, as we have supported theirs. At the end of the day, it is the same struggle that we are leading.”
Bamya, who is responsible for the Palestinian prisoners’ portfolio, also drew links between Arafat and jailed Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouthi. He noted that one of the toughest moments for Barghouthi in prison, was when he learnt of Arafat’s death.
He explained that Barghouthi is a “grassroots leader”, and was an important connection for Arafat to the ground during the two intifadas, as well as following the Oslo Accord.
After Barghouthi was arrested in April 2002, Arafat called for his release – a campaign, which in October 2013, became a global one, following its official launch in South Africa.
Bamya added that although the two leaders had their disagreements, they shared “a big understanding in terms of political vision”. Barghouthi, he explained, was a representative of a struggle that Arafat had come to symbolise.
Commenting on this symbolism, Balton said, “Arafat came to embody the Palestinian struggle, whether it was in the form of the negotiations or armed struggle, internally or externally. That is what we must celebrate today.” VOC