West Looks Down on Mandela for Befriending 'Pariah' States Foreign Investment at Risk over S. African Chief's Loyalty to Cuba, Libya

By Judith Matloff, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 1996 | Go to article overview

West Looks Down on Mandela for Befriending 'Pariah' States Foreign Investment at Risk over S. African Chief's Loyalty to Cuba, Libya


Judith Matloff, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Loyalty to one's friends is an honorable thing; it normally wins respect and admiration. For Nelson Mandela, it is creating problems.

South Africa's first black president is a gentleman who remembers favors, particularly those rendered by countries that helped his African National Congress when it was a persecuted liberation movement and he was jailed under apartheid-era laws.

The problem is, some of these countries are pariah states for the West: Cuba, Iran, and Libya. And Mr. Mandela's refusal to renounce such long-standing close ties is alarming the United States and possibly jeopardizing foreign confidence and investment at a time when the rand currency is losing value.

Critics say that South Africa, having been accepted into the fraternity of nations after years of isolation, has a blurred focus when it comes to diplomacy. They question the wisdom of placing historical sympathies above pragmatism and say there is no coherent foreign policy strategy. Too much emphasis is placed on siding with Africa or old friends, whether or not it is in the economic interests of the country.

"It's like wanting to have your bread buttered on both sides. They think they can have relations with the outcasts of the world and not have problems," said Glenn Oosthuysen, a researcher with the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg.

"The government doesn't have a clear-cut, long-term strategy. We don't have a foreign policy, it is more like a guideline. People don't know where we stand," said Mr. Oosthuysen.

South Africa as a sovereign nation should not have to base its foreign policy on the approval of the European Union or Washington, the Foreign Affairs Ministry reiterates time and again. "This is the price we have for our new independence," said one ministry official. "The president has said clearly that he has allegiances to friends during the apartheid era. He feels no one should dictate to us ideologically."

But to make what some consider naive statements and ad hoc policy, or to ignore Libya and Iran's role in destabilizing the Middle East is another matter, South African critics say.

Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo's biggest blunder to date was during a visit to Libya in April. He endorsed a statement expressing tacit support for Tripoli over the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight that killed nearly 300 people over Lockerbie, Scotland. After criticism from Britain and the United States - and even back home - the government backtracked, claiming that the press had misinterpreted the statement. But the damage had already been done.

Likewise, potentially damaging is a scheme to store Iranian oil, which has been temporarily shelved.

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West Looks Down on Mandela for Befriending 'Pariah' States Foreign Investment at Risk over S. African Chief's Loyalty to Cuba, Libya
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