Inferiority complex is no policy

2012-03-10 11:17

Those who saw South Africa’s Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim apologise to the Nigerian federal government for the deportation of its 125 nationals, agree that a senior South African diplomat all but grovelling was a sad sight to see.

Ebrahim this week apologised for the treatment meted out to the West African state’s citizens who had arrived at OR Tambo International Airport apparently with forged yellow fever certificates.

He could not say that the SouthAfrican customs officials were incorrect in their conclusions that the certificates were fake.

The Nigerian government retaliated by deporting 28 South Africans when they landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on Monday.

There can be no question that customs officials have a duty to treat all visitors to South Africa with the utmost respect and dignity regardless of where they come from.

If Nigerians were treated worse than they ought to have been, then the customs officials guilty of this misconduct must account for their actions.

The nature of things dictates that it will not have been the last time that we receive guests at our borders who did not prepare adequately and legally for their visit.

Ebrahim and his Home Affairs counterpart must now tell customs officials how they ought to treat such guests and not make them scapegoats of a foreign policy based on South Africa’s own inferiority complex.

South Africa’s desire to play an increasingly important role on the affairs of this continent and that it struggled with the perception that it sees itself as superior to other African states is valid.

But South Africa must stop behaving as if it is the continent’s unloved step-child.

If the actions of the customs officials were in line with policy, then South Africa must continue asserting its authority on matters of territorial integrity.

We must develop a foreign policy that, while it recognises the vagaries of realpolitik must also assert South Africa as a fully-fledged African state that does not need the approval of other African states to claim its African-ness.

It has been suggested that the apology has more to do with South Africa’s expressed intention to install current Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as head of the African Union.

But the desire to play a more constructive rolein Africa must not come at the price of the self-flagellation we witnessed this week.
 
A foreign and an Africa policy position premised on a desire to demonstrate South Africa no longer sees itself as a regional bully and that it no longer sees itself as an omniscient player it was perceived by other African state as after 1994, is to be welcomed.

But a self-effacing posture sends the message that South Africa is weak and uncertain of itself. This is not what we should sell to a continent we desire to lead.

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