Enemy at the gates: Let's talk about regime change

2017-07-05 09:19
State Security Minister David Mahlobo. (File, Netwerk24)

State Security Minister David Mahlobo. (File, Netwerk24)

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The journalist Thomas Friedman wrote an important book that should be on the must-read list of politicians who wish to change South Africa for the better. 

In his study of globalisation, he had given himself a simple task: to find out where his Dell Inspiron 600m notebook was made. Dell gave him a list of the parts of the notebook, where they were manufactured and the owners of the factories. 

The response revealed what Friedman in the best seller, The World is Flat, described as the “supply chain symphony – one of the wonders of the flat world”. 

Factories owned by South Koreans, Chinese, Malaysians, Taiwanese, Americans, Britons, Irish and Japanese among others and located around the world produced different parts that made the notebook. It had been co-designed by engineers in Austin and Texas. Other engineers were from Taiwan. 

Friedman used the information to develop “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention”. The theory is about the role of companies in fostering cooperation instead of conflict among countries that exchange trade and investments.

Countries which share investments and supply chain networks, so goes the theory, are unlikely to fight each other. The supply chains help to prevent conflict.

I was reminded of the theory when chairman of the ANC’s political education subcommittee Nathi Mthethwa said South Africa faced threats of “regime change”. He was presenting a report on the strategy and tactics document at the party’s policy conference in Johannesburg. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe also referred to “regime change” in his diagnostic report. 

The two were echoing what has become part of President Jacob Zuma’s chorus. When he defends himself from scandals he refers to unnamed countries that want to run South Africa. As if he’s protecting the country from foreigners. His State Security Minister David Mahlobo has also said things about “regime change”.

Mthethwa, Mantashe, Mahlobo and Zuma are, however, ignorant of the fact that South Africa is part of the global supply chain that prevents us getting into conflict with other countries. Although we don’t supply any of the Dell parts, we are part of many global supply chain networks such as vehicles and defence equipment.

South Africa is linked to global networks that feature multi-national companies which cut their corporate teeth from around the world. Some of these companies are South African.

As a result, none of the major countries in the world, including the West, would want regime change in South Africa. To suggest otherwise shows lack of understanding of the workings of the global political economy. 

Regime change is the illegal replacement of a government. The chaos caused by it would disrupt global supply chains. This is why investors prefer policy certainty and political stability rather than the lack of political direction we are witnessing.

South Africa has a two-word formula for stability: constitutional democracy. The governing party of the day can be removed from power without the fundamental constitutional design being overthrown. This, obviously, is not regime change. 

It’s only when political parties alternate at the seat of government that the constitutional democracy is strengthened. The ever-present threat of being removed from power enhances delivery, accountability and citizens’ participation.

Regime change is an expensive military undertaking. It costs resources to invade a country, install a new administration and maintain it by force. 

Democracy is cheaper. A democratically elected government doesn’t need to spend money to buy and enforce acceptance by the people. It is, after all, the people’s government that is in charge at any given time. 

A government that doesn’t have the necessary legitimacy, is not put in power through an election or constitutionally permissible procedure, would be expensive to run. It involves buying the loyalty of army generals, torturing citizens into submission and administering patronage. 

In terms of international conventions, foreign governments can only intervene militarily in another country for moral reasons such as the “responsibility to protect”. This relates to protection of human rights, prevention of genocide and restoration of democracy.

So, why would foreigners risk their resources to undertake such an expensive operation against a legitimate, democratic administration in South Africa where there’s neither wide scale violation of human rights nor genocide? 

The current political problems in South Africa do not require regime change. And it won’t happen. What has happened, however, is a strange form of regime change.

The new regime change involves neither military force nor any coercion. It’s about voluntary giving away of political power to foreign citizens who don’t represent their country of origin. This cheap regime change was invented in India and Dubai, flown into South Africa and accepted by Zuma.

It doesn’t seek to change the democratic formalities. But it substantially reverses the democratic system. Its aim is to capture elected representatives of the people, steal their resources while the veneer of democratic legitimacy remains. 

Captured ANC functionaries and public office bearers no longer serve the people. They silently renounce their oath of office. They are encouraging members of Parliament to do the same.

If Mthethwa, Mantashe, Mahlobo and Zuma are concerned about regime change, they must investigate how the Guptas became a coalition partner of the ANC in Cabinet. Once that question has been resolved, we can have a conversation about some mysterious foreign powers and their alleged intentions.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. He wrote this column on a Dell Inspiron 13.

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