SA's hysterical reaction to 'Western imperialists' will simply drive away investment

2019-02-05 11:03
Lindiwe Sisulu (Gallo)

Lindiwe Sisulu (Gallo)

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The confidential cables detailing South Africa's disastrous and knee-jerk reaction to a discussion document prepared by the heads of five missions to the country ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa's investment summit last year have probably already reached Washington, London, Berlin, The Hague and Geneva.

It would have told the foreign ministries and secretaries a couple of things: the election campaign in South Africa is in full swing, with the ANC more jittery than usual. The party is clearly worried about the upcoming election and is resorting to populism to shore up support. The evidence for that is the style, tone and content of both the department of international relations and cooperation and ANC's statements on the "demarche" issued to the representatives of the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland by Lindiwe Sisulu, minister of international relations. (For context: These countries represent around 75% of the total foreign direct investment in South Africa.)

Those cables would probably have concluded that although Ramaphosa has told the international investors' community that South Africa is open for business, the fact is that there is still uncertainty about this government and country's commitment to foreign direct investment. It does not take kindly to advice from countries who want to help it emerge from what Ramaphosa has called "nine wasted years" under Jacob Zuma and it cannot give any guarantees about the prudence of foreign capital inflows.

READ: Dirco slams 'undiplomatic' letter to Ramaphosa by five countries

Dirco and the ANC's reactions have now caused enormous damage to Ramaphosa's vision of putting distance between his government and that of his predecessor. Diplomats, and not only those of the five countries given a dressing down by Sisulu and the ANC's spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, have taken note of the hysterics and dismissive attitude, which was the standard manner of communication in the recent past.

There was a hope that there was to be a softening of the antagonism shown by South Africa towards the West, but many on the diplomatic circuit in Pretoria now believe that relationships have suffered more damage than originally thought.

The document that, according to the ANC is evidence of the five countries' interference and a new form of state capture (one diplomat on Monday quietly enquired whether or not Kodwa's statement was the real thing), had no official status and was even referred to as a "non-paper". It wasn't printed on an official letterhead and was never officially presented to the Presidency.

Its purpose was to serve as joint talking points when officials from five embassies spoke to some of the president's people, including Jacko Maree, one of his five investment envoys, Trudi Makhaya, his economic adviser and Khulu Mbatha, an adviser in the Presidency. Those conversations all took place ahead of the investment summit where Ramaphosa implored big business from across the globe to invest in South Africa.

Among the talking points Dirco and the ANC have taken exception to is a commitment from these countries that they share South Africa's vision "of a united and democratic, equal and non-racist constitutional South Africa". It goes on to state: "After years of stagnation and regression of foreign direct investment and transformation parameters we are optimistic that trust and confidence can be restored and foreign investment can pick up step by step to reach and outperform levels of the past."

The ANC however, views this as part of an imperialist plot to recolonise the country and impose a new form of state capture on it, as Kodwa's flowery and sweeping statement explained.

It also seems as if the five heads of mission attended a different meeting to the one Dirco's director general Kgabo Mahoai and his deputy attended on Monday, given the differences in the statements by the two sides.

It was unusual that they didn't issue a joint statement, given that there was general agreement that the talks were positive.

But the real sting in the Dirco statement was the reference to the "demarche" (a diplomatic term that refers to a host country reprimanding a mission or representative), the reference to Dirco's "displeasure" and the apparent "agreement" about the way forward.

The Gang of Five then responded with a statement of their own, not making any mention of the agreement mentioned by Dirco.

The cables sent to the capitals of some of the biggest economies in the world would have been clear: Ramaphosa is seemingly willing to sacrifice the goodwill he has built up over the last year so he may appease the conspiracy theorists, reactionaries and Zumaites in the ANC.

And for big companies considering an investment in South Africa? They're just going to look elsewhere.

Read more on:    dirco  |  cyril rama­phosa
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