South African President Jacob Zuma
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma addresses his party delegates during their party's policy conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Photo by AP
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Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus burn boxes of Israeli produce during a protest calling for a boycott of Israeli products . Photo by AP

On Thursday, a march is scheduled to set out from the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the executive seat of government in South Africa, to the Department of Trade and Industry about 1.5 kilometers away.

The plan, marchers say, is to rally against a decision by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies that items manufactured in the West Bank cannot carry the label "Made in Israel."

But although he's reputedly a workaholic, Davies won't be at his office and it's uncertain how much attention, if any, the march will get. That's because the only game in town, or in the country for that matter, is the ruling African National Congress's Policy Conference in Midrand, a suburb of Johannesburg.

The media have no eyes or ears for anything else and the country is practically in shutdown mode as President Jacob Zuma fights to put the stamp of his authority on a fractious and troubled ruling party, thereby paving the way for a second term as ANC president in December. Barring disaster, that would make him president of the country in 2014 for the second time.

Cameras or no cameras, the march will march on. It has been organized by a coalition of groups calling themselves "Africans for Israel" whose goal, they say, is to "stop attempts to crush Israel."

The coalition appears to comprise, first, the African Christian Democratic Party, a political movement consisting mainly of conservative Christians whose focus revolves around social issues such as abortion, homosexuality and pornography.

The party, which has three members in the 400-member National Assembly, is led by Rev. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe (pronounced "mesh-we").

Cheryllyn Dudley, an MP from ACDP, said, "The ACDP calls on public to protest labeling of products originating from Israel as 'Made in Palestine.' The ACDP says this act of racism is shocking behavior, especially for South Africa."

MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who, notwithstanding his name and provenance, is the Inkatha Freedom Party's spokesman on Trade and Industry, has also spoken out against Davies' decision.

The IFP is a Zulu nationalist political party that has, since its founding, been led by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Zulu royal family and until 2009 was one of the ANC's biggest headaches. Yet despite being the fourth-largest party in the National Assembly, its power slumped in the 2009 election and it only won 18 seats.

MyShtetl: Yids are joining in too

Oriani-Ambrosini, a constitutional lawyer, said, "I wonder what possesses Minister Rob Davies and prompts him to issue a formal notice of his intention of requiring that products imported from Gaza and the West Bank be marked as coming from the 'Israeli-Occupied Territories' rather than from 'Israel.'

"There are no legal bases in our law or in international law to require that products coming from the West Bank or Gaza should be marked as coming from Israeli-occupied territories. This is obviously a provocation aimed at promoting a consumer boycott of such products," he said.

Also joining the march is The Nazareth Baptist Church (best known as the "Shembe Church"), an indigenous African church founded by Isaiah Shembe in 1910. It claims to have approximately 4 million members, strictly bans smoking, drinking and fornication, and is considered to be a mixture of Zulu tradition and Christianity.

Lastly, interested members of the Jewish community have been asked to join in the march. A notice on a local Internet site called MyShtetl reads, "Still the Relabeling Spat. And it will be for a while yet! Massive support is building up for the AFRICANS FOR ISRAEL Protest March in Pretoria. The March is an initiative of the ACDP and IFP (both of whose leaders will be there), joined by various Christian Zionist Church groups. Yids are joining in too. Buses will be provided from Beyachad [headquarters of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and Zionist Federation]. SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!"

Kairos Southern Africa, an ecumenical organization, has attacked ACDF's Meshoe.

"We believe that Rev. Meshoe is totally off the mark on the issue and with regards to his understanding of the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people," the organization said in a statement.

Reverend Edwin Arrison said Meshoe had given uncritical support to the "apartheid state of Israel" and has bluntly ignored facts and figures on human rights abuses in Israel.

"As South Africans, we understand this completely. Bantustan leaders and some Church leaders in apartheid South Africa were blindfolded and corrupted by the previous regime in much the same way and you are unfortunately falling into this same trap, and we regard it as our duty to warn you against this," Arrison said.

Meshoe responded that he didn't know about Israel's policies, in particular those allegedly discriminating against Palestinian or Arab people. "I am unaware of Israel's policies. I have not made time to look into that and I don't think it will help me, being busy as I am, to study Israel's policies," he said.

Brenda Stern, an international trade lawyer and Jewish activist, said that part of the problem, in her view, was that the Israeli Embassy and Zionist Federation had not properly "understood the rules of engagement in the South African context."

"Fact is that, for example, Ahava products come from settlements that are designated to be under Israeli rule in terms of international law. Read my lips. They are not from occupied territory or from areas under military rule, but under Israeli civil rule. That's international law."

She said, however, that whatever he might say, Davies was also playing political games.

"I would say that we have a case of ministerial misconduct when you have a minister whose agenda is being set for him by the anti-Israel BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement," she said.