Time to rethink our foreign relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In our foreign policy, we have to balance our interests. There is nothing wrong with rethinking our relationships with countries that were on our side in the fight against apartheid, writes Phumlani Majozi.

Looking at South Africa's foreign policy today, spearheaded by the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), it's very clear that the communist countries the party associated itself with during the Cold War and the apartheid struggle, remain the country's allies.

South Africa has kept warm relations with Russia and Cuba. Even Libya's Muammar Gaddafi was a close friend of the ANC and South Africa till his death in 2011.

To an extent, it is understandable that the ANC kept the warm ties with countries like Cuba and Russia; and Gaddafi's Libya, after 1994. These countries supported the ANC's struggle against apartheid – the Western countries weren't there. They, the West, had abandoned the ANC – and the United States of America had designated Nelson Mandela a terrorist. It was only in 2008 that Nelson Mandela was removed from the US terrorist list.

But the time to question our relations with these countries is long overdue. The Cold War and South Africa's apartheid both ended almost 30 years ago. It is time to reflect on our ties, and choose to stand with those who advocate for democracy and openness in these countries.

These nations aren't prosperous – because over the decades after World War II, they pursued destructive socioeconomic policies that left their people poor. They were, and they still are, ruled by dictatorial leaders who suppress civil liberties.

For decades the Soviet Union, led by Russia, experimented with destructive communist ideas, to no prosperity. The Soviet Union government decided everything about the economy: what to produce; when to produce it; by whom it should be produced; at what price it should be sold and bought. The government planning committee that was known as Gosplan supervised all aspects of economic activity. Even television programs were under the government's control – and were all communist propaganda.

During this era in the Soviet Union, millions were murdered under the communist oppression – by their governments. It's estimated that 20 million people were killed in the Soviet Union alone. Add to that the millions more killed in other communist regimes around the world, you have a total estimate of 94 million people killed in the 20th century, under this disgusting ideology.

In his piece published in the Daily Signal, writing about a despicable and ghastly book, titled Communism For Kids, Jarrett Stepman writes that violence or use of force is a feature in a communist system, not a bug. He's right. Because people rightly and understandably, resist government's seizure of their assets – government then uses the military or police to enforce its policy. The result is horror.

The communist Soviet Union disintegrated a long time ago, but Russia hasn't significantly reformed over the past 30 years – from a political as well as economic perspective. Vladimir Putin and his friends still use repressive methods to run that country. This indicates that there is still a lot that needs to take place from a political reform point of view in order to bring change in Russia. That change of course will only be brought by the Russian citizens themselves.

Still today Cubans are oppressed in many ways – severe government controls, some similar to those of the Soviet Union – persist. Relooking our ties with this country and Russia is something that we must think about – that the ANC must think about.

There is very little we can do to bring change in these sovereign nations. The only impact we can make is through the United Nations resolution votes – where we can condemn these countries on their repressive practices.In our foreign policy we have to balance our interests.

There is nothing wrong with rethinking our relationships with countries that were on our side in the fight against apartheid. We cannot be friends with them when they continuously oppress their own people. Times have changed – and our thinking on foreign policy must evolve in tandem with these global changes.

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

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