As the president of the Republic of South Africa, who is empowered by our Constitution to be ultimately responsible for our foreign policy and our international relations, Cyril Ramaphosa has been issuing apologies to the people of Africa and the world for what is supposed to be our greatest cruelty against foreign nationals. Albeit without our consultation on the matter, he has done so – as he declared – on our behalf. He didn’t see fit to consult with ordinary South Africans for their feelings and opinions on this important question. He seems out of touch with ordinary people who must live in squalor with foreign nationals and compete with them for scarce resources.
It is ordinary people who must contend with the crime that is perpetuated by some foreign nationals in their midst. It is ordinary people whose children are fed nyaope and turned into roaming zombies by some foreign nationals. It is ordinary people whose young girls are abducted and turned into prostitutes by some foreign nationals. It is also ordinary people whose children are killed for illicit trade in body organs.
But President Ramaphosa and his government, in their wisdom, find it apposite to ignore these ordinary South Africans and appease foreign interests at the expense of our national interests. The government’s long-lived approach that ensures that our foreign policy is first and foremost informed by our domestic interests in our quest for mutually beneficial international relations, has seemingly been abandoned at the altar of political expediency. We are now expected to go around the continent and the world, cap in hand, apologising and explaining ourselves like a pitiful naughty child.
From the beginning of the democratic state in South Africa, our approach to foreign policy has always been to ensure that our national interest guides our interaction, cooperation and participation in the Southern African Development Community, and the continental and international communities. We understood that the new world order had both promises and uncertainties that would require us to promote mutually beneficial bilateral relations as dictated by our national interests.
In this regard, the first minister of foreign affairs in democratic South Africa, Alfred Nzo, in September 1995, approached this question thus:
“The new world order, if it exists at all, is fraught with uncertainties and insecurities. Ideological conflict has, to a large extent, been replaced by economic competition, the rules for which have not yet been fully agreed upon. The ground beneath our feet is not firm: it is volatile and unpredictable. Yet it is our primary task to secure and promote the sovereign integrity of the South African state, as well as the security and welfare of its citizens. These are the considerations which ultimately determine everything we do in the conduct of our foreign relations.”
This is the approach that has guided us ever since, even as domestic economies started to globalise rapidly, irrespective of their size and shape. We have always made sure that our commitment to Pan-Africanism is dictated by such national interests as the sovereign integrity of our democratic state, the security and welfare of our citizens, and an African continent that is at peace with itself. We sought to do this not as a regional or continental superpower, but as an equal member among the African states, respecting the need for mutual cooperation for mutual benefits.
What the president has done in going around the continent apologising on our behalf has undermined this mutual cooperation in the conduct of our affairs with other African countries. It has effectively absolved these other countries of their responsibility to ensure an African continent that is prosperous and at peace with itself. The fact that the leaders of these other African countries have contributed to the worsening conditions in their countries, leading to their citizens’ departures from those countries and flooding South Africa, is now lost in the president’s apologies.
Consequently, South Africa has now missed an opportunity to ignite and lead a public debate about what these African countries bring to the table in resolving these mutual challenges; because these countries cannot only benefit without taking responsibility for the mutual challenges facing all of us. Otherwise the balance of convenience in such bilateral agreements favours those countries at the expense of South Africa’s national interests.
South Africa needs to be careful not to be blackmailed into a kowtowing, obsequious apologist by such narratives and accusations of being xenophobic and behaving like a superpower in the region and continent. We have to stand principled and resolute in conducting our bilateral and international relations, ensuring at all material times that we are guided by our national interests in achieving mutually beneficial relations with foreign countries and multilateral bodies. Otherwise, if we are not careful, the blackmail about our being xenophobic and behaving as regional and continental superpowers will turn us into a weak nanny state nursing the whole continent.
Lastly, as has been seen before, any president or governing party that promotes foreign interests at the expense of domestic interests risks losing state power. Unless the president reconsiders this approach and starts to promote our national interests in our quest for mutually beneficial bilateral relations, the president’s ambitions of a second term might be dented, leaving the ANC vulnerable at the next polls.
So, it is not too late Mr President; acknowledge our pain as South Africans and apologise to us too.
Makatse is an attorney and a member of the ANC
Get in touch
|Rise above the clutter | Choose your news | City Press in your inbox|
|City Press is an agenda-setting South African news brand that publishes across platforms. Its flagship print edition is distributed on a Sunday.|