A Damaged Reputation

2015-11-30 10:42

I am certain that when it comes to politics that the adage “Any publicity is good publicity” does not always apply. Certainly not when it comes to South Africa and its visible position on the global stage. As 2015 (thankfully) splutters to a horrible end, anyone who has taken the time to follow the plummeting of our currency will have been able to plot it neatly against the plummeting of our reputation. Only basic mathematics required.

But the year is not quite done, and with only four weeks to spare, the South African government can afford to waste very little time if it wishes to complete the ambitious task it has set itself. That being the total destruction of the SA reputation (and currency). We might (if we set our minds to it), be able to wring out just one more scandal (if one is serious about it) but any attempt at more than that would be greedy. Or even overachieving. And no one could accuse our leadership of that.

The year that was, saw some very ambitious projects. In no particular order, the one that leaps first to my mind is the Very Grand Visa Initiative – brought to you by our own Department of Home Affairs. This was when South Africa succeeded in chasing away any tourist wishing to grace our magnificent shores. Based on a premise to do with the slave trade or something, our naïve government assumed that no one would contemplate walking across our porous borders, (cause it’s wrong to do that) and would only smuggle people through the major airports (duty-free shopping being as attractive as it is). So we closed those airports to foreigners, confused the locals to the point that most people started to travel with legal council and a fire proof document cabinet (just to be safe) and then wondered why tourism had dropped.

But the Visa story didn’t end there. The Dalai Lama was refused one, Omar al Bashir was given one (entry and exit) and Leila Khalid (past terrorist) along with Hamas (current and active ones) were handed ones (faster than they distribute sweets celebrating the death of Westerners).

But when the government realised that the Grand Visa Initiative (brought to you by Home Affairs) could only damage our reputation as far as those people interested in actually visiting South Africa were concerned, they became more creative. Enter (and exit) Omar al Bashir. As signatories to the ICC charter one would have thought that given the fact that he is wanted for somewhat major crimes against humanity (like genocide), he would not find safe haven in our fledgling democracy. Not so fast. Against the ruling of the Pretoria High Court he was spirited smartly out of the country before anyone had the opportunity to debate the merits and was invited to return for the December holidays (an invitation he apparently declined with some thanks).

By now we had the world’s attention (and not in a good way). Our President’s State of the Nation address, his Nkandla outrage, the Eskom and Prasa debacles and of course the xenophobic violence that saw foreigners murdered in our streets could now only solidify our reputation. To the world we are quite clearly a nation without leadership and a country in which truly anything can happen. And no amount of Trevor Noah could outweigh the negativity that we have invited on ourselves.

As the rand wallows at depths we have not seen, it must have occurred to Government that this could all go wrong way. What if the world actually saw the country as being a good investment at a cheap price? No one would want that. And so, last week, we went to the United Nations and we made it very clear where we stand.

And so, on Wednesday South Africa chose to vote alongside Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, Russia and China with regard to a Human Rights declaration. We chose our bedfellows and it was them that we lie, much to the disappointment of the SA Institute of International Affairs and pretty much everyone else. The declaration South Africa refused to endorse simply recognised the extreme importance and legitimacy of human rights. A foolish decision only if our goal is international standing, a robust currency and economic investment. And it clearly is not.

It has not been a sterling year for South Africa. In fact 2015 has been one that we should not be proud of. We haven’t stood on the side of the good guys, we haven’t enriched the morality of our country or the world, we haven’t cared for our citizens and we have made decisions that have been silly, outrageous and completely nonsensical. And only a recognition of how poorly we have performed as a country will allow a better 2016.

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