Guest Column

Make South Africa's foreign policy something to be proud of

2019-02-27 05:00
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa (File,AFP)

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa (File,AFP)

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It seems President Ramaphosa's administration will continue on policies that, for the most part, failed to condemn human rights abuses across the globe during the Mbeki and Zuma eras, writes Phumlani Majozi.

Foreign policy is crucial for any government determined to strengthen and improve its relations with the rest of the world. What can be said about South Africa's foreign policy? Has it succeeded in improving South Africa's image around the globe post-1994? I'd say no.

Upon Jacob Zuma's arrival at the Union Buildings in 2009, there was already a mess on his table bequeathed by his then predecessor Thabo Mbeki – and that was Zimbabwe. After years of brutality under Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe was in desperate need of a road to better economic governance and the restoration of political freedoms. But through the brutality Zimbabweans endured, South Africa chose "quiet diplomacy" as an approach to dealing with that country's problems.

Under Mbeki, we took no significant measures to condemn Mugabe's despotic rule. This action shamed us in the eyes of the world.

Many around the world believed the post-apartheid South Africa would be on board in fighting human rights violations through institutions such as the United Nations and the African Union. But, sadly, this has never really been the case. 

In her paper titled "Understanding South Africa's foreign policy: the perplexing case of Zimbabwe", Merle Lipton, former associate fellow in the Africa Programme at Chatham House, writes about inconsistencies and puzzles on South Africa's then stance on that country. 

South Africa justified its policy on Zimbabwe on, among many points, the claim that South Africa's alternative strategy of "quiet diplomacy" would be more effective than the West's "megaphone diplomacy" in resolving Zimbabwe's then deadly political impasse. These claims seemed naïve in the face of ordinary citizens who endured brutality from their government. During Zuma's presidency there was no change on Zimbabwean policy. South Africa never played an effective role – exercising its power in the southern region that would culminate in free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. 

In the paper, Merle shares her dismay on actions we've undertaken in our post-1994 foreign policy, which were to oppose resolutions on behalf of victims of violations in Sudan, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Belarus and North Korea.

Cyril Ramaphosa is now in power, and it seems under his leadership, this shameful foreign policy will persist.

In November last year, South Africa abstained from voting for a United Nations resolution condemning human rights violations by Myanmar against the minority Rohingya. It was only after a public outcry that South Africa reversed its decision and backed the resolution when it came up in the plenary of the General Assembly. What on earth were we doing in the first place?

Venezuela, located in Latin America is currently mired in a serious political crisis. After the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, Nicolas Maduro took power and continued to run the oil-rich country into the ground – through socialism that has left people of Venezuela dirt poor. Having had enough of a repressive regime and grinding poverty, Venezuelans took to the streets in protest. The response from Maduro's regime has been deadly force.

Last January, the leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó declared himself acting president after the opposition-controlled legislature concluded that Maduro was fraudulently re-elected last year. Now the country is led by two men who independently declare themselves president of Venezuela. About 50 countries recognise Guaidó as interim President of Venezuela. China, Russia, Syria are behind Maduro's regime. Guess which country also seems to be backing Nicolas Maduro's dictatorial regime? Cyril Ramaphosa's South Africa.

Again, here we have chosen to support people who disregard human rights and democratic values. Another shameful act in the eyes of the world.

It does seem Ramaphosa's administration will continue on policies that, for the most part, failed to condemn human rights abuses across the globe during the Mbeki and Zuma eras. It's likely to be so even after the election scheduled for May 8 this year.

We have to pursue a foreign policy that upholds human rights. That will require us to depart from the practices that seem to endorse dictators around the world. A foreign policy centred on human rights is in the interest of our country – and will put South Africa amongst the respected countries in the world.

- Phumlani M. Majozi is a political and economic analyst, a senior fellow at, radio talk show host, and non-executive director at Free Market Foundation South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.

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Read more on:    zimbababwe  |  venezuela  |  foreign policy

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