South Africa: Dockworkers refuse to offload Israeli ship in solidarity with Palestine

May 26, 2021
ZIM Shanghai

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) members refused to offload an Israeli ship on May 21, in protest against Israel’s war on Palestine.

The Zim Shanghai, owned by Israeli state-owned company Zim Lines, docked in Durban port on May 19.

Dockworkers were due to offload the ship and handle the ship’s cargo on May 21, but refused. Instead, they were joined by the South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Coalition, progressives and other trade unions in a protest action at Durban port.

A number of trade union federations, unions and other organisations supported the actions in Durban.

The action followed a call by the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) for workers and trade unions to “refuse to unload [Israeli] ships and goods from sea and airports”.

Zim Lines is not an impartial maritime company: it has a history of shipping Israeli armaments and supporting Israeli apartheid. The company was established after WWII as a carrier of Jewish settlers to ports in Palestine and played a significant logistical role in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  During the 1947–49 war, Zim Lines supplied freight and military equipment to the State of Israel.

The Durban action was part of a global suite of actions against Zim Lines. Dockworkers in the Italian port of Livorno protested on May 15, refusing to unload a Zim Lines cargo ship loaded with high-precision rockets bound for the Israeli Defense Forces.

In the port of Oakland, in the United States, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Arab Resource and Organizing Centre (AROC) mobilised communities and workers to block a Zim Lines ship that was due to dock there on May 17. The AROC rebooted their 2014 campaign #Block the Boat which had successfully barred all Zim Lines boats docking in Oakland during (and since) the 2014 war on Gaza.

Durban dockworkers previously took action against Zim Lines in February 2009, when SATAWU members refused to offload a Zim Lines ship in protest against the 2008–09 Israeli attack on Gaza.

The Durban protests also target Transnet — a South African parastatal in control of rail and port infrastructure. The protesters demanded that Transnet block goods to and from Israel from passing through South Africa.

Transnet has dubious trade ties to Israel — it is affiliated with Israeli technology companies NCE and Orsus, which develop surveillance technology and high-tech “security systems” often used against Palestinians under occupation.

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