An eventful month

2010-06-01 00:00

THE month of May has been an eventful one with regard to foreign policy matters. I know that this is not what must be at the top of our minds right now. Probably, the shenanigans taking place at the conference (or nonconference) of Congress of the People (Cope) in Pretoria over the week-end, which are likely to continue for weeks to come, fascinate readers right now. However, I have decided not to try to make sense of the recent turn of events at Cope’s conference because it is hard to understand how leaders who were preaching clean politics a mere 18 months ago have become masters of the complete opposite.

Some readers may have noticed that the Democratic Alliance has gained PR mileage out of its wins in the recent by-elections, taking two wards from the African National Congress in black-dominated areas of the Western Cape, the province it already indisputably governs. Hellen Zille’s message is that this is irrefutable evidence that the DA is now a multiracial party. It wants us to believe that it is not merely benefiting from disgruntlement within the ANC, a protest vote, perhaps. I will not analyse this either because it is pretty obvious what is happening in the Western Cape: racialised politics is alive and the DA is benefiting from it for now. I would not like any political party to provide a home to racism, by design or default, because I am convinced that nonracism is the future for South Africa­. However, it takes serious work to build an environment of nonracism.

For some readers, the World Cup is the most fascinating story. My German friends tell me that in reality no country hosts the World Cup — Fifa leases a land where it hosts the World Cup at the landlord’s expense. Fifa then smiles all the way to a Swiss bank. Don’t ask me why not FNB, which is an official sponsor. Probably for the same reason that the SABC, Fifa­’s official broadcaster, will get its images from some obscure Swiss TV company, I am told. My German friends want Fifa to be forced to join the United Nations as the 193th state so its powers can be contained, as all companies tend more towards dictatorship than democracy. If I analyse this issue, I will be blamed for spoiling the party so close to kickoff time.

I am not going to try to speculate on when the Inkatha Freedom Party will finally hold its national conference­ and elect a new leadership to assist the pre-elected president press forward with reforms in preparation for the 2014 elections. I am not quite sure. I do not know if the party is ready to contain the militancy of its future leaders, the youth brigade. However, I think that rather than containing the brigade, the party should create even more space for it to infuse a new spirit and energy into a party many believe is dying, so that it can get a new lease on life. The party known for playing “pragmatic” politics in the past must see the exuberance of youth as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Partly out of interest and partly because the matter is of long-term significance to South Africa as an emerging power, I would like to comment briefly on international relations during the month of May. They are not popular issues, I know. The month began with a five-nations visit to the Middle East by the deputy minister of International­ Relations and Co-operation, Ebrahim­ Ebrahim. He observed that the region suffers from a dearth of innovative ideas about how to pursue peace between Israel­ and Palestine. South Africa favours a negotiated settlement towards a two-state solution. Of course, Israel is doing anything (from creating Jewish settlements to assassinating Palestinians it does not like) to make sure that that desired end is impossible to achieve.

South Africa also participated in the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in Washington, United States. In spite of the much-vaunted agreement between Russia and the U.S. committing the two nuclear states to reduce nuclear weapons in their keep, the talks are failing to produce a commitment from nuclear states to disarm in order to discourage nonnuclear states like Iran and North Korea from arming themselves.

Africa Day was celebrated last week with much aplomb, but we really celebrated what used to happen, not the current developments. Instead of making progress, we have actually lost some ground since the Nigeria-South Africa partnership weakened in 2007. The African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) initiatives have lost momentum. Regional­ bodies are focused on their own and overlapping work. The European Union’s trade agreements have created new regions, further dividing an already divided continent. I have heard nothing new and innovative come from our leaders in South Africa and on the continent about how to regain the lost ground and take advantage of the changing global environment to stake Africa’s claim on the 21st century.


• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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