South Africa's genocide case is a diplomatic win, after 'damning' verdict

South Africa's genocide case is a diplomatic win, after 'damning' verdict

South Africa's genocide case against Israel may have ruffled feathers in the capitals of vital Western trading partners, but it has boosted the country's standing as a champion of the downtrodden Global South. That gamble is likely to pay off, thanks to renewed rivalry for Africa's minerals and U.N. votes between the West, China, and Russia, turbocharged by Russia's war on Ukraine.

Turning Point in Diplomacy

Diplomatic Triumph

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected Israel's petition to throw out the case on Friday, telling it to prevent its troops committing genocide against Palestinians, although it stopped short of ordering the ceasefire South Africa demanded. It did not decide the merits of the genocide allegations, which could take years. "It was reasonably damning," said Susan Booysen, Director of Research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection. "It was quite unambiguous ... in highlighting the abuses ... so I think it gives them (South Africa) quite a bit of esteem as an international spokesperson for human rights," she added.

Pro-Israel allies might grumble, but they can scarcely afford to alienate Africa's industrial and diplomatic heavyweight—especially with China wooing the continent with investments. "If you're going to start punishing South Africa for going to the International Court of Justice, then you're going to have to start punishing a lot of other African countries (for supporting the Palestinians)," said Steven Friedman, director of South Africa's Centre for the Study of Democracy.

Global Repercussions

Impact on International Relations

Underscoring the point, on a visit to Angola, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of South Africa's ICJ case, "whether or not we have a disagreement, one particular matter doesn't take away from the important work that we're doing together in so many other areas."

The Gaza war has displaced some 1.9 million Palestinians, killed at least 26,000, according to Gaza officials, and inspired global outrage. But in a world so bitterly divided over the issue, moral backing from the World Court goes a long way. "The ICJ didn't give South Africa all it wanted, but this ruling is a resounding vindication of Pretoria's decision to bring the case, and a powerful indictment of Israeli policy," Human Rights lawyer Reed Brody said.

South Africa's Stance

South Africa projects itself as a critic of a world order it sees as mainly serving the interests of the United States and its rich-country allies. The ICJ case is another indication of the important place South Africa seeks to occupy as one of the continent's leading voices on global affairs.

South Africans are proud of the strong rule of law that emerged from their anti-apartheid struggle, which often resolves rancorous domestic political disputes. "Seeing their judges on the bench of the ICJ wearing South African scarves is like watching the Springboks (national rugby team) win the world cup," said Chris Vandome, a senior southern Africa researcher at Chatham House. "It's a point of pride."