South Africa notching up dubious bedfellows

2015-09-11 10:06

Deputy Foreign Minister Nomaindiya Mfeketo’s comments this week that South Africa would resume oil imports from Iran “tomorrow” if sanctions were lifted are yet another portent of the country’s dubious future foreign policy.

While world powers have agreed to lift sanctions in return for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear programme, Mfeketo’s comments come only days after The Economist, in a damning article entitled “Clueless and Immoral”, stated that “South Africa risks becoming a laughing-stock, not least in Africa itself”.

The piece, built around the ANC’s latest foreign policy paper, pointed out that in an effort to create an “alternative world economic force” with BRICS nations, the government was making every effort to appear hostile to the West in order to counter perceived imperialistic attitudes.

Accusing the country of betraying Nelson Mandela’s legacy, the publication warned that “if the ANC now rejects South Africa’s liberal friends and throws in its lot with some of the world’s nastier regimes, it will be doing Africans a grave disservice”.

South Africa has repeatedly stated that it never supported sanctions against Iran, which is hardly surprising given the tenet of the policy paper. However, what is more troubling is that its willingness to ally with such nations is creating a broader perception that not a continental is given about human rights transgressions.

Not a great deal of attention has been paid in South Africa to the 400-plus days’ imprisonment of American-Iranian Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, charged with espionage and assisting the “hostile” American government.

What makes Rezaian’s case so noteworthy is that no further details about the charges have been revealed by Iran’s judiciary, nor has any evidence been presented, despite four sittings of the country’s Revolutionary Court. Should he be found guilty, the 39-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison.

No less a figure than David Kaye, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, has said that Rezaian’s arrest, detention and secret trial violates his rights and intimidate all those working in the media in Iran”.

“His continued detention violates basic rules that not only aim to protect journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and others but to guarantee everyone’s right to information.”

Yet in the greater scheme of a belligerent agenda, such transgressions apparently are of little import to South Africa.

As further evidence of the country’s flagrancy towards abuses carried out in the name of “revolution”, South Africa has made it abundantly clear that international law comes in a distant second to the interests of African despots by failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in June.

The International Criminal Court has now demanded answers by October 6, but all indications are that South Africa will formally withdraw from the court. The fact that President Jacob Zuma met with al-Bashir to “strengthen diplomatic relations” earlier this month emphasises the position taken by the ANC.

Economically-speaking, such power plays against Western countries surely could not come at a worse time. On Monday, September 7 the rand touched its weakest level ever against the dollar, while against the pound the 20 rand mark has been breached for some time already.

Cocking a snook at the West in order to win the hearts and minds of China and the other BRICS might feature high on the agenda, but it is certainly not helping the country’s cause monetarily.

Furthermore, the country can ill-afford to lose its reputation for preserving human rights in the pursuit of cosying up to autocratic regimes.

From a tourism perspective alone, South Africa has been painted as a land of opportunity and cultural diversity. Already there is no telling what damage has been done as a result of the al-Bashir debacle or repeated failure to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.

Tourists tend to embrace liberal ideals, and will have noted with some concern recent developments.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was often rebuked for his policy of “quiet diplomacy”, but at this point in time it would be advisable that Jacob Zuma’s government tone down the reckless courting of suspect bedfellows. The world is watching.

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