A Key Revelation about SA Foreign Policy

Cape Times (South Africa), July 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Key Revelation about SA Foreign Policy


WAS IT just in an unguarded moment that Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim advised Swazi democrats to "rise and take control of the situation"?

Or was he revealing nuances of foreign policy hitherto not clearly detected?

Ebrahim was addressing the SA Institute of International Affairs on South Africa's policy towards the Middle East and north Africa where democrats have been rising up against autocratic leaders all year.

But he was also asked what South Africa intended to do about serious human rights violations within southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Swaziland.

With particular reference to Swaziland (though with possible reference to the others), Ebrahim said: "We tell those people they must rise and take control of the situation. It's your responsibility. We can't liberate you."

He said although the ANC had got lots of international support for its own liberation struggle, "we took our own initiative to liberate ourselves", adding that many Arab people were now doing the same.

These remarks did suggest some inconsistency in the government's approach to the problems of democratisation, liberation and conflict resolution in Africa, as much of the rest of Ebrahim's speech was devoted to what was ostensibly a very different approach.

"Our overriding mantra when it comes to dealing with vexing international questions remains the same, and that is political dialogue," he insisted. This was very much in the context of delivering some of the sharpest criticism so far by anyone in government of the Nato powers for continuing to bomb Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces instead of supporting the AU's demand for political dialogue to end the civil war.

By contrast to such reasonable advice, "rise and take control of the situation" sounded much more like an exhortation to revolution and indeed, God forbid, to "regime change", that supreme bogeyman of the government's foreign policy.

And a German diplomat in the room did in fact point to the contradiction, suggesting to Ebrahim that a call for political dialogue would not have got rid of the architect of apartheid HF Verwoerd, nor Adolf Hitler - and nor, by implication, would it consign Gaddafi to history. …

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