South African dockworkers from the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) achieved a victory when they stood firm by their decision not to offload the Johanna Russ, a ship carrying Israeli goods to South Africa, despite both threats to COSATU members from sections of the pro-Israeli lobby and severe provocation.
The Johanna Russ, flying an Antigua flag, is owned by M. Dizengoff and Co., an established “pioneer of the modern era of shipping business in the Middle East” and shipping agent for the Zim Israel Navigation Company.
The workers action took place despite attempted subterfuge on the part of the owners of the shipping company. There was an attempt to confound the plan by arriving earlier than originally scheduled, with dates for the berthing of the Johanna Russ constantly changing. Dockworkers were told that the ship would dock 8 February, but soon discovered that the ship had docked two days prior and was due to be offloaded. When workers realised that it had docked they refused to handle it, despite pressure from management, and attempted to ensure that scab labour would not be used. A few hours later, the Johanna Russ snuck out of the Durban Harbour.
COSATU has decided to intensify its efforts in support of the struggle of the Palestinian people. This recent victory is prompting further action, and other unions are currently in discussion about how to support COSATU resolutions on BDS against Israel. This includes a refusal to handle Israeli goods as well as continuing pressure on the South African government to sever diplomatic and trade relations with Israel.