SA’s quiet diplomacy is now deafening

2011-12-17 13:10

The execution in China and the arrest in Thailand of South African drug mules shine the spotlight on the areas of policymaking that leave much to be desired – foreign policy and drug dealing.

It is clear that there has been a foreign policy failure. The state is thoroughly unconvincing in its protestations that it did all it could to prevent Janice Linden from being executed. What comes through is that once again the South African ­government pandered to China’s paternalistic ­foreign policy. It is true that the government did not have the means to stop the execution, but it could have protested louder.

This should not be confused with wanting to impose our own rules on another sovereign state’s criminal justice system. It is about the state ­ensuring that the rights to life and dignity of all South Africans do not cease the moment they cross the border.

Unlike with other matters of international ­diplomacy, where a loud hailer is a potential quiet barrier to a desirable outcome, South Africa chose quiet diplomacy where it was fatal to its citizens.

The other question raised by developments in the criminal justice system in East Asia is ­whether our own systems have placed the scourge of drugs high enough on the list of crimes that are wreaking havoc on our society.

The slap-on-the-wrist sentences meted out on drug dealers – Glenn Agliotti’s fine and a ­sentence, which spare him from even a single day’s jail, comes to mind – suggest that we do not seem to fully appreciate the effects of drugs on society. That the national police chief would with a straight face say he is friends with a known drug peddler speaks to our mores and attitude ­towards drugs and drug dealing. It is shameful ­indeed that the minister of state security’s own wife was a drug dealer at the time she lived with the minister.

Only when local drug lords and the runners start getting used to seeing drug dealing being punished severely in their own back yard will they start calculating whether the risk is worth taking here and abroad.

We may choose to condemn the woman ­executed and the woman arrested this week, but we have no basis to feign shock. Ours is ­unfortunately a country that – because of its ­indifference to enforcing the relatively lenient laws we have against drugs, and the social spaces that create users and mules – feeds the habit.

Still, the South African government must never allow another state to summarily execute one of its own without as much as a murmur – as was the case with Linden.

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