Relations with Angola

2008-03-29 00:00

History is dangerous in the hands of politicians. The 20th anniversary of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale produced predictable claims that it was a defeat for the South African army. It was, more accurately, a stalemate with significant long-term consequences: Pretoria realised it had no military future in Angola.

African National Congress president Jacob Zuma used the commemoration to suggest that the battle marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. There is little hard evidence for this. He also proposed closer links with Angola. In theory, South Africa has every reason to strive for good relations with all neighbouring states. However, Angola is the very opposite of good governance: journalist Hamilton Wende described it as “the heartbreak of Africa” and it provides lessons only of what to avoid.

It has the world’s fastest growing oil-based economy, but this has not benefited the mass of the people. Not long ago Unicef declared Angola the worst place on Earth for a child. Development, as in its ally China, is based on a command economy and has scant respect for civil rights. The last meaningful elections took place in 1992, which explains why it is a highly corrupt and bureaucratic country.

Sources within the South African intelligence community allege that Angola has funded Zuma. If this is true, his interpretation of closer relations with this country might be worrying for those who value democratic constitutionalism. The only feasible exchange is one that results in the acceptance of greater levels of transparency, accountability and democracy in Angola.

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