Cape Times, 20 September 21 2015
By Michael Mayalo (18)
(Mayalo is a Grade 12 pupil at Trafalgar High School in Cape Town)

Woolworths and Pharrell Williams are using their domestic charity endeavours to mask anti-Palestinian propaganda, so join the boycotts and protests, writes Michael Mayalo.

“Happiness may have different meanings for different people. But we can all agree that it means working to end conflict, poverty and other unfortunate conditions in which so many of our fellow human beings live. The pursuit of happiness lies at the core of human endeavours.” – Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN on International Happiness Day

US artist Pharrell Williams claims to care about making people happy. In fact, he has penned a world-famous song about it called Happy. And from Gaza to Los Angeles, South Africa to Istanbul, world citizenry have made remixes of Pharrell’s song, uploading them to YouTube to demonstrate what happiness means to them.

Pharrell also supposedly cares about making children happy, and about the education of young learners. So much so that Woolworths, the self-proclaimed “ethical” supermarket, has sponsored him as their spokesperson for charity and social commitment.

A question remains that seems to have been swept under the rug, though. Happiness matters, yes – but for whom? Does the “happy” Pharrell preaches speak to the conditions of Palestinians surviving under the boot of Apartheid Israel’s racist state violence? Does the happy-ness of Palestinian children not count?

If we take seriously UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s assertion that happiness has different meanings for different people, then we quickly realise that not all “happys” are the same. When we contextualise what types of happiness Pharrell and Woolworths support, we find that many may not be happy with the way they walk the walk.

As South African schoolchildren and global citizens dedicated to universal human rights and dignity for all, we find deeply troubling Woolworths’s trade relations with Apartheid Israel. Woolworths sells consumer goods and products that directly profit off the degradation of Palestinian life and land.

According to media reports, Pharrell has given support to playing in Israel in violation of the cultural boycott call issued by indigenous Palestinians – Palestinians who find no joy living under a brutal Israeli military occupation which Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared to conditions we lived under during apartheid. Additionally, Pharrell has been signed up by Woolworths to be their public face for supporting their so-called socially conscious image and charity endeavours.

Given Woolworths’s and Pharrell’s track records of being complicit in a violent Israeli regime, how seriously should we take their attempts at improving education for South African young learners?

It’s great when companies and groups dedicate themselves to doing upliftment work, especially pertaining to education of our children and youth. But when a husband goes home to abuse his wife after giving charity to a school, can we really forgive him just because he has given charity to children? No! Likewise, just because Woolworths and Pharrell claim to be assisting South African children we can’t forgive them for ignoring the cries of Palestinian children.

Israel continues to abuse and systemically erase the land and life of millions of indigenous Palestinians. How can pro-Israel corporations such as Woolworths and pro-Israel artists such as Pharrell Williams support the education of young learners in South Africa one day, yet go home to stay silent or support the abuse of Palestinian children’s livelihood and happiness in Gaza and the West Bank? Palestinian children who lost 551 of their friends when Israel bombed the Gaza Strip last year.

It is unethical and unjust to support Apartheid Israel in any way. For this reason, in 2005, Palestinian civil society called on the world to participate in the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which is based on the successful South African model of calling on the international community to help in ending apartheid.

BDS is a non-violent movement that calls on the international community to engage in boycotts of Israeli goods and services, divest from companies that are complicit in Palestinian human rights abuses, and leverage diplomatic sanctions against Apartheid Israel.

We realise that the freedom of Palestinians is inextricably linked with the freedom of South Africans, just as Tata Madiba proclaimed: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. On the instruction of Mandela, we are committed to fighting for the freedom of Palestinians! Just as they were committed to aiding us in our fight to overcome apartheid.

One aspect of the BDS movement is the cultural boycott. Just like the world boycotted South African and other international sports teams and artists who stayed silent or approved of South African apartheid, Palestinian solidarity activists are targeting Pharrell for his “happy” approval of Apartheid Israel.

Woolworths is also currently the target of the largest consumer boycott that South Africa has witnessed since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The BDS movement in South Africa has initiated and successfully sustained the Woolworths boycott so as to remind our people that we will not let our brothers and sisters in Palestine suffer while we enjoy eating fruits and vegetables that rob Palestinians of their self-determination and sacred happiness.

The #BoycottWoolworths campaign forms part of the many various campaigns that the BDS movement runs in this country, and has the backing of various civil society organisations and political groups.

Today Pharrell is scheduled to perform as part of Woolworths’s propaganda campaign to save its public image by whitewashing it with a domestic charity campaign for us young South African learners. But we are not fooled.

It is in recognising that happiness matters to all – and not just a select few – that the #?BoycottWoolworths Pharrell Williams music concert protest has been organised.

The liberation of Palestinians is the liberation of Israelis. With this in heart and mind, could we not also say that the happiness of Palestinians will lead to the happiness of Israelis?

Only when we stand on the right side of history and justice can happiness be redeemed to all, South African and Palestinian, Jew and Muslim, white and black – are you with us?

This article was first published by the Cape Times on the 20th of September 2015: http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/anti-woolies-calls-about-more-than-palestine-1.1918686#.VgP-jmAsYRw