SA for a long time boxed beyond its weight in the field of international relations. No longer. It’s become the diplomatic ingénue on the block, fumbling and stumbling from one diplomatic blunder to another. After two decades of ANC ambiguity regarding South Africa’s role in the world, we are now outwitted, outfought and outclassed by new young contenders in Africa. That’s partly because South Africa is still picking sides on the basis of pseudo socialist loyalties, rather than clinically according to our interests.
An example is this week’s US travel warning to its citizens over the possibility of terror attacks at malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The US advisory was followed by similar ones from Britain and Australia. Of course, no country wants to be the subject of such an advisory.
However, the real politik is that everyone understands that other nations have a duty to protect their citizens, wherever they might go in the world, and to do so as best they are able.
Indeed, this is tenor of the mild response from State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who issued a statement noting that the US warning was merely a “standard precautionary recommendation”, that his ministry was doing its job in keeping SA safe and giving the assurance that there was no imminent danger. But this was followed within 24 hours by a statement from the department of international relations and cooperation that upped the ante from quizzically raised eyebrows to a spittle-lipped grimace.
It read in part: “The SA government rejects attempts by foreign countries to influence‚ manipulate or control our country’s counterterrorism work. We reject attempts to generate perceptions of government ineptitude‚ alarmist impressions and public hysteria on the basis of a questionable source.” SA went on to dismiss the warnings as being unsubstantiated and based on dubious intelligence.
To indicate the SA government’s extreme displeasure, international relations escalated the matter, summonsing the ambassadors of the three offending countries to present them with a formal diplomatic protest. So why the dichotomy? It is not unreasonable to speculate that Mahlobo’s pragmatic approach to working with the US is grievously offensive to hard-line ideologues at international relations. After all, anti-Western feelings run strong in the ANC.
Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe last year accused Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of being an “enemy agent” for the US Central Intelligence Agency. And earlier this year, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe articulated the opinion that US was hell-bent on “regime change” in SA.
At the heart of such foolish statements is a political naivety. It is naive because the SA government apparently simultaneously holds the view that China, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil and Cuba – its new best friends – are different.
All nations act in their selfish best interests. There is no altruism in international relations. Terrorism is one of those issues on which one wants as many allies as possible on one’s side. It not only may happen here, it already has, with the 1998 Islamic-extremist bombing of Planet Hollywood in Cape Town.
Disclaimer: Saunderson-Meyer writes in his personal capacity and his views are his own, not representative of The Citizen or the Caxton Group.