John Vorster, the Prime Minister of Apartheid-era South Africa (left) and Yitzhak Rabin, the ex-Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces who was Israel's Prime Minister.
John Vorster’s four-day state visit to Israel in April 1976 was the first visit by a South African premier for over 25 years. South Africa had been one of the first countries to recognise the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.
Among the places Vorster visited was Vad Yashem, the Holocaust Museum. He also visited the town of Bethlehem. At Vad Yashem, Vorster had said "I cannot understand how that tragedy happened. I feel what you have built here is Israel is the answer to that holocaust."
This was ironic because Vorster had been a Nazi sympathiser who was a member of the neo-Nazi Ossewabrandwag which empathised with Adolf Hitler. Vorster was also a commander of the group's militia who were known as Stormjaers (Stormtroopers). According to the book Apartheid: A History by Brian Lapping, the Stormjaers “adopted the Swastika badge, gave the Hitler salute, threatened death to the Jews and provoked fights with army volunteers.”
Vorster was detained by the British for being a security risk during World War 2.
At a state dinner, Rabin toasted "The ideals shared by Israel and South Africa, the hopes for justice and peaceful co-existence."
The visit elicited speculation that both countries would strike a deal related to the supply of arms and weaponry by Israel to South Africa. These included the Kfir or Lion Cub jet fighters and possibly anti-insurgency weapons.
By the late 1970s, it was understood that both nations had been engaging in a secret collaboration on nuclear weapons. In 1979, the Apartheid regime tested a nuclear weapon in the South Atlantic using a delivery system which they had developed with the Israelis. The South Africans also supplied Israel with uranium for its nuclear establishments.
. General Moshe Dayan made a secret visit to Pretoria in 1974 to enquire as to the possibility of Israel conducting an atomic test on South African territory.
. Shimon Peres had made at least one secret visit to Pretoria over the question of nuclear cooperation. One accounted visit occurred in early 1976.
. Apartheid South Africa initially resisted formally entering diplomatic relations with Israel because of Israel's connections with many African states during the early years of decolonisation. However, after the United Nations General Assembly vote in 1974 which declared Zionism to be a form of racism, South Africa, in an act of solidarity, sent an ambassador to Israel in November 1975.
. Israel abstained from UN votes which condemned South African Apartheid.
. “there is a certain sympathy for the situation of [white] South Africa among Israelis. They are also European settlers standing against a hostile world.”
- Seymour Hersh in his book The Samson Option.
. "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples."
- Official Yearbook of the Republic of South Africa, 1978.
. "(The blacks in South
Africa) want to gain control over the white minority just like the Arabs here
want to gain control over us … And we, like the white minority in South Africa,
must act to prevent them from taking over.”
- General Rafael Eitan, Chief of the Israeli Defence Force (1978-1983).
. “The people of South Africa
will never forget the support of the state of Israel to the apartheid regime.”
- Nelson Mandela, shortly after his release from prison in 1990.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2024).
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer
based in London, England.