South Africa's Betrayal of Mandela's Legacy

2011-12-17 17:36

In 1993 Nelson Mandela penned an important article on the future foreign policy of a post-apartheid South African state which appeared in the influential journal Foreign Affairs. Here Mandela noted, “Because the world is a more dangerous place, the international community dare not relinquish its commitment to human rights. This appeal also has a special significance for South Africa. The anti-apartheid campaign was the most important human rights crusade of the post-World War II era. Its success was a demonstration, in my opinion, of the oneness of our common humanity: in these troubled times, its passion should not be lost. Consequently, South Africa will not be indifferent to the rights of others. Human rights will be the light that guides our foreign affairs”.

The post-apartheid state in a clear betrayal of the twin legacies – that of Mandela and the global anti-apartheid movement – has chosen to follow a different course, away from that of human rights and democracy. If there is one consistency between the Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma administrations it is the fact that both South African Presidents have chosen to endorse the status quo whilst ignoring the will of down-trodden citizens. During Pretoria’s first tenure on the UN Security Council from 2007 to 2008, it chose to protect pariah regimes like Burma (Myanmar), Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe from censure. During the course of the Arab Spring, South Africa chose to uphold Gaddafi’s tyranny as opposed to side with the long-suffering citizens of Libya. During the course of 2011 we have also witnessed high-level delegations cementing ties with Burundi whilst members of the political opposition and civil society are disappearing, never to be seen again. In similar fashion, South Africa’s proximity to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Joseph Kabila despite the flawed elections which brought him to the presidential palace for a second term also constitutes a betrayal of Mandela’s promise.

It is in this context that we need to view ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe’s recent offer to assist ZANU-PF with strategies to win the next elections scheduled for early next year. The fact that South Africa was supposed to mediate between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) did not seem to cross Mantashe’s mind. Indeed, in such mediation the impartial credentials of the third party are absolutely essential for the legitimacy and success of the mediation effort. Neither is this the first time where Pretoria tried to be a referee and a player at the same time. In the Ivory Coast, former President Mbeki’s mediation efforts failed on account of his perceived partiality towards the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo

But why should we be surprised? After all, Pretoria’s penchant for dictators only reflects the internal dynamics in South Africa itself – with an ANC increasingly growing more authoritarian.


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