President Jacob Zuma addresses the US-SA Business and Investment Forum hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce on Monday, ahead of the US-Africa Leaders Summit. Picture: GCIS

President Jacob Zuma ended a keynote speech to US business on Monday with a strong condemnation of Israel’s use of its military might in Gaza.

“Allow me before concluding to express our outrage at the continued violence that is claiming scores of lives of civilians in Palestine,” he said at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington on the eve of the first US-Africa summit convened by President Barack Obama.

“We add our voice to that of the United Nations in condemning strongly the senseless shelling of civilian shelters by Israel,” he said at the conclusion of a 25-minute address vaunting the attractions of the South African economy to US-based investors.

It was the only overtly political part of his speech and the choice of Mr Zuma’s target — key US ally Israel — was clearly a carefully chosen one. South Africa has been unequivocally supportive of Palestine since 1994 but it was not immediately clear why Mr Zuma chose a high-profile business gathering to make the point.

Gaza officials said 1,831 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave’s 1.8-million residents displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged. Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border rocket and mortar fire that has emptied many of its southern villages.

Mr Zuma’s heavyweight audience was gathered in the US-South Africa Business and Investment Forum. There is an estimated 600 American companies in South Africa, employing 150,00 people, and the joint goal is to expand both numbers dramatically.

He strongly backed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the US legislation passed by Congress in 2000 with the ambition to boost African economic development by allowing a host of products to be exported from eligible countries into the American market without tariffs.

Mr Zuma said the act, which is up for renewal next year, had transformed the economic landscape for many African countries and South Africa.


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