Shoks Mnisi Mzolo – Cii News
Long after the end of Woolworths annual general meeting (AGM), the question that will linger in the investment community’s minds is why the company is determined to protect a R12m deal with a country whose Zionist policies are discriminatory. The local lobby, advocating for the freedom of the people of Palestine and an end to protracted Israeli genocidal project, took its struggle to a new territory when it attended the retailer’s AGM yesterday. It was here that the activists posed difficult questions that put Woolworths managers in a tight spot.
Meanwhile, the court battle between the retailer and the local branch of Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanction (BDS) – over whether the latter can stage “die-ins” protests in and around Woolworths – has yielded no results. The courts decided that the two parties should find other avenues to resolve the dispute. At the crux of the matter, which in turn sparked a series of protests that have hit Woolworths branches in many other centres, is that the retailer trades with Israel. This, allege BDS and other anti-Israeli apartheid campaigners, makes Woolworths a party to the oppression in Palestine.
With fewer other options in place, having failed to get an appointment with Woolworths, BDS made use the AGM to express its opposition. Scores descended on the venue in Cape Town. “By the time we came out (of the AGM venue), the atmosphere outside was really great. And the number of organizations, the number of people that were outside demanding that Woolworths terminate its trade links with Israel,” BDS spokesperson Kwara Kekana told Cii.
“If anything, it sends two messages that, definitely the Boycott Woolworths Campaign is in the hands of the people but secondly that consumers who used to shop at Woolworths, no longer shop at Woolworths. (They) are now in the picket lines demanding that retailers, like Woolworths, terminate their trade links with Israel – and, multi-national corporations cannot continue to without repercussions to profit from the occupation without repercussions,” she added.
In an interview with Sabahul Khair, Kekana also noted that, at the height of apartheid in SA (which endured global sanctions due to its pre-1994 racist policies) companies such as Barclays Bank, Polaroid and General Motors also downplayed the impact of consumer boycott. Consumer boycotts shunned these companies because of their links with apartheid SA. Like them, Woolworths tends to cite market conditions for their depressed sales.
“One thing Woolworths (has conceded) is that this campaign has an effect. The dispute here is the extent of the effect.” Kekana said. “What they are arguing is that the effect has been very minute. There’s one thing they fail to understand: the perception of consumers around the retailer itself. This speaks directly to the goodwill of the company, how consumers perceive the company. Is it an ethical company? Those questions are now in place where consumers are concerned – the integrity of the management of Woolworths. Very shady things went down at the AGM yesterday. The management of Woolworths was exposed thoroughly.”
The reality is that, as BDS and its protagonists in retail concede, the retailer buys just a handful of products from Israel. It can be argued that the anti-Woolworths campaign’s response is over the top. While noting that it could procure some of these agricultural products in question from SA, the BDS spokesperson argues the issue is not quantity or volumes.
“It’s about the Israeli trade relationship. For all that matters, they could be buying one fig a year but if that fig somehow sustains the economy of an apartheid state of Israel, that is the problem because that’s where you draw the connection,” Kekana argues. “The trade relationship that many economies and many retail stores, and different economies from different parts of the world, continue to have with Israel – that kind of economic trade relationships continue to give Israel that kind of oxygen that it needs to sustain the occupation. That is the fundamental problem.”
That considered, the question is why has the local retailer relentlessly held on rather than given up this relationship, as demanded especially by pro-Palestinian groupings opposed to Israeli apartheid and the state’s unjust laws.
“(They) continue to maintain a trade deal worth about R12m annually but currently lose R8m monthly – according to the Boycott Woolworths Impact Report that was commissioned by an independent researcher. It’s a very conservative number: about R8m monthly. Compare that with the kind of actions (they’ve employed such as) hiring more security, in response to the Boycott Woolworths Campaign, taking BDS South Africa to court,” Kekana said.
“All these attempts to maintain a R12m trade deal is very suspect. The question we raised inside the AGM was to say: do you know whether or not the management of Woolworths, themselves, do they a special relationship or a particular interest in wanting to maintain this trade link with Israel? These questions they failed to answer,” said Kekana. Not a voice came from pro-apartheid apologists or Zionist voices. “The activists really set the tone for the discussion. I think we threw the entire AGM off course.”
The BDS team action in Cape Town yesterday coincided with the arrival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in South Africa. Speaking at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Abbas said Israel should realize that global recognition for Palestinian rights was growing steadily and this should be sufficient course for the Zionist State to promptly amend its ways.