This story was brought to the world by Benjamin Pogrund who for years was a writer and ultimately deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, a fiercely anti-apartheid newspaper in South Africa. After I acquired The New Republic, Pogrund wrote for us during the seventies and eighties, bringing our readers a white liberal's view of the rotten apartheid government and a wise view of the predicaments that would face the black movements that were arrayed against it.
After the R.D.M. collapsed Pogrund moved to England and then to Israel where he is at the center of the struggle for peace with the Palestinians.
But he still writes about South Africa with a skeptical eye.
In fact, Pogrund is in South Africa right and yesterday published a hair-raising story in the Sunday Independent.
During more than 50 years as a journalist, I have reported or heard about every possible human vileness in dealing with other humans. Now, in Johannesburg, in the actions of striking workers, I have found a new low in human behaviour.
So what was It that actually sounds like an atrocity...after atrocity?
The details have been revealed by Gauteng’s Premier Nomvula Mokonyane: she is reported to have told the provincial legislature on Tuesday that some 53 premature babies were left unattended in Gauteng hospitals during the strike. She said she had been told “shocking stories” that the babies were left unattended “when striking workers forced nursing staff to leave their posts”.
She noted: “Some of the babies were literally locked in the wards with no one bothering to make alternative arrangements for their care.”
Not just babies, note, but premature babies who cling to life and need constant care and attention. Denying them nursing care was like sentencing them to death.
How can strikers explain this?
The truth is that South Africa is an ethically repellent place. It's just that it is blacks who are tormenting blacks.
Other reported incidents are also depressing and worrying: such as the nurses who have violently prevented colleagues from going to work to look after patients; or the woman who begged to be allowed through a hospital picket line to visit her dying father in intensive care but who was turned back, with strikers cheering.
Something has gone badly wrong in South Africa. A moral rottenness is evident.
Pogrund argues that South Africa has no moral credentials to criticize Israel.
On a related issue: during my time here I have read newspaper articles which condemn Israel. Some of it is justified: Israel is in occupation of the West Bank (wrongly, in my view) and ugly things are done there and elsewhere. But much of the stuff I have read, from columnists and former government leaders all of whom should know better, ranges from plain ignorance to vicious distortions. They disregard the basic fact that Israel is under constant threat and in a state of semi-war.
What they have in common is that their views seem to come out of underlying dark feelings about Israel and Jews.
But after Ms Mokonyane’s revelations – and the silence which has followed – I don’t want to hear anything about Israel from these pundits. No South African has the right to point a moral finger at Israel, or for that matter, any other fraught conflict in the world.
South Africans must first cleanse themselves of the moral stain of the premature babies before telling the world how to behave.
And as for the very portentous Archbishop Desmond Tutu: why doesn't he shut the f___ up?