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March 18, 2021 3:10 pm

‘Our History Has Been Stolen From Us’: How South African Community Organizer Clive Mashishi Confronts Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial and Hatred of Israel

avatar by Ben Cohen


South African community organizer and Israel advocate Clive Mashishi. Photo: Cuerius Mosala.

“Our history has been stolen from us,” Clive Mashishi protested, as he described the various attempts in his native South Africa to tar Israel as state that practices apartheid. “It’s being used in the wrong way.”

A former South African political activist who spent his childhood under apartheid, Mashishi has worked as a full-time community leader and organizer in the Vaal region, to the south of Johannesburg, for the last ten years. Previously, Mashishi had been involved with numerous South African political organizations, including the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the center-left Democratic Alliance (DA) and the far-left, pan-Africanist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Along that journey, Mashishi frequently encountered the issues of Israel, Zionism and antisemitism. Mashishi goes out of his way to credit his mentor, Arkins Mothale — to whom he became close after he lost his father while still a schoolboy — for introducing him to the ideas and perspectives that changed his way of thinking about the world.

“I was always arguing with my friends in the EFF, because they are anti-white,” Mashishi recalled during an extensive conversation with The Algemeiner on Thursday. “I realized that I was in the wrong party and I left politics.”

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These days, Mashishi spends his time on local community development and advocacy for Israel, activities that are underpinned by his strong Christian faith. He runs a small organization, the Clive Mashishi Foundation, with about 15 volunteers, providing children with free school uniforms, operating a soup kitchen and distributing food parcels to families in need.

Mashishi is acutely aware that while the apartheid system of white minority rule was dismantled over 25 years ago, several of its fundamental inequities remain — most glaringly the acute poverty that still prevails in many Black communities. That is one reason why he disdains the analogy that is drawn by many South African leaders between the apartheid regime and the State of Israel, as well as the cruder antisemitism that often features alongside.

Indeed, over the last year, Mashishi has been fighting the growing distribution of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — the antisemitic fabrication published by the Russian Tsar’s secret police in 1903, alleging a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world — in communities across South Africa.

“During the pandemic, there was too much disinformation about the ‘Elders of Zion’ going around, with people saying that the Jewish community designed the coronavirus so that they can control the world,” Mashishi explained. “I said ‘no.’ This type of information is dangerous and it is misleading people.”

Mashishi said he has personally encountered more than 70 people who came to seek his counsel after being exposed to the “Protocols.” Asked for his insight as to why so many South Africans appeared receptive to its message, Mashishi answered that the relative affluence of the Jewish community and the involvement of many Jews in business made the “Protocols” more believable to the uninitiated observer.

“If people could understand properly, they would realize that we should learn from the Jewish community in order to develop our economies, but they fight them instead,” he observed exasperatedly. “While people in this country are living in squatter camps, their leaders are living in mansions and wearing expensive suits.”

Mashishi then embarked on a robust defense of the free market economy, depicting the alternative as a “socialism of fools” under which corruption, shortages and mass unemployment still endure — and where “the Jews” are held up as the scapegoat for these social ills.

“Socialism is the capitalism of the few, only the leaders are benefiting,” he quipped.

Mashishi’s battle against antisemitism extends to Holocaust awareness and education as well. Throughout 2021, he and his team are promoting “#WeRemember,” an educational initiative that aims to address both ignorance of the Holocaust among ordinary South Africans, as well as its denial and distortion.

“We just released an advert on a local community radio station that explains the campaign,” Mashishi said. “We are organizing showings of the movie ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ for kids. We’re taking students to the Holocaust Center in Johannesburg for tours.”

Unsurprisingly, Mashishi never has enough funds at his disposal for what he describes as his “door to door” educational programs.

“We need more funds for transport to take the kids around, and we also need a camera and a laptop to help us pump content onto social media platforms,” he said. The work is critical, he said, because “many kids don’t know about the Holocaust, and some of them think it’s a lie.”

Mashishi regards the analogy between the apartheid regime and the modern State of Israel in the same way as Holocaust denial — an elaborate, willful lie that is repeated over and again.

“I went to Israel in 2018, it was amazing for me,” Mashishi remembered. “I had been speaking about Israel without knowing it. And then I went there and I saw the difference between the reality and what the media feeds us. Arabs and Jews on the same buses, living in the same neighborhoods, Arabs running their own businesses. And yet we have this narrative about apartheid!”

He continued: “I was a child during apartheid and my parents lived under it. We [the Black majority population] were segregated by law. If you rode a bus, you would see written, ‘Blacks only’. Signs were written only in Afrikaans and English. In Israel, the signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English.”

The apartheid analogy has again been causing ripples in the South African media in recent weeks, in a continuing furor over comments defending Israel made by the country’s Chief Justice Mogogeng Mogoeng — for whom Mashishi expressed full-throated support.

“Mogoeng is a man of prayer,” Mashishi said, as we discussed the chief justice’s continuing refusal to submit to a scripted apology for a June 2020 speech in which he embraced Israel. “What he said was a reflection of his Biblical obligation, as it is for me as a Christian who reads the Bible. I was affected by this, since Mogoeng is standing up for me and for many South African Christians.”

The venom directed at Mogoeng was similar to that faced by Jewish students on South African campuses, according to Mashishi. “They are being victimized for their love of Israel,” he said. His ultimate mission is to bring that grim state of affairs to a definitive end, by educating as many South African children about the dangers of antisemitism before they become adults.

“We are trying to educate our people on the ground about this, so that when they grow up, or they go to university, they have the facts,” Mashishi said.

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