The community center, located in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the town of Soweto, on the outskirts of South Africa's biggest city, was unveiled despite the tensions between the two countries, which culminated last May when the African state recalled its ambassador in Israel.
The project in Soweto—considered the symbol of the struggle against the apartheid—was completed within several months.
Since May, Israel's ambassador to Pretoria has been promoting social projects involving the local population all across the country in the fields of agriculture, women's empowerment and more.
The project in Soweto was initiated by Danny Adeno Abebe, a former Yedioth Ahronoth reporter who serves as a central emissary of the Habonim Dror movement and the Zionist Council.
As part of the project, titled "Your Neighbors," Abebe organized monthly meetings between hundreds of Jewish children and Israeli emissaries and local children living in the slums. In the meetings, the kids did homework together and danced, among other activities.
However, the fact that the community center lacked a roof became a significant obstacle in holding activities there, especially during rainy days. The makeshift roof became moldy, and the musical equipment was destroyed by the water.
Abebe invited Lior Keinan, Israel's ambassador to South Africa, to visit the neighborhood and meet with the local leadership, who asked for help in repairing the roof.
Keinan agreed to assist, but once the local BDS activists became aware the project is being sponsored by the Israeli government, they attempted to put pressure on the local leadership to halt the renovation plans.
"It’s a public relations stunt financed by the apartheid state in the Middle East," stressed the activists in an official statement.
Nevertheless, the residents of Soweto decided to cooperate with the Israeli aid since the project was meant to greatly benefit the local population.
Last Wednesday, the renovated center—which now boasts a sign noting the contribution of the Israeli embassy—has been officially unveiled. Keinan and Abebe, who were both in attendance, performed a traditional dance along with the locals.
Abebe said the community center plays an integral part in the lives of more than 400 children living in Soweto, where they can now spend their time doing homework without the dangers of getting drenched by rain.