On 15 May 2017 during lunchtime in the Johannesburg CBD, a picket took place that was aimed both as a build up to a rally scheduled for later that evening, and as a way to raise public awareness regarding the plight of Palestinian political prisoners. The picketers lined up outside the Gauteng Legislature near the Johannesburg Library Gardens. They held placards and displayed banners with messages in support of the imprisoned Palestinians who went on a mass hunger strike on 17 April.
The prisoners’ protest is about raising awareness about unfair treatment and challenging humanitarian conditions in Israeli prisons. According to statistics reported by one of the picket organiser, Kwara Kekana of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, there are a total of 6 300 Palestinian ‘political prisoners’ held by Israeli authorities, 300 of which are below the age of 18. One of the arrested serving a life sentence, Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who was sentenced for allegedly killing five civilians, was offered space in the New York Times to detail the grieviances of the Palestinian prisoners.
The picketers handed out pamphlets listing the prisoners’ grievances and demands; including regular family visits every two weeks without interference or cancellation, an end to the policy of medical neglect of prisoners, securing the humane treatment of prisoners during transportation and movement, ending the policy of solitary confinement, ending the policy of administrative detention, and providing access to education.
The picketers had embarked on a solidarity hunger strike which was to last 24 hours, from Sunday 14 May 18h00 and was scheduled to be broken at 18h00 the following day. A rally was held in the Women’s Jail Atrium, at Constitution Hill when the hunger strike was broken (15 May). Speakers at the rally included Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Nomaindia Mfeketo; former Robben Island prisoner Ibrahim Ibrahim and slam poet Natalia Molebatsi, and reflections on Palestine ensued afterwards.