President Zuma, we need a multipolar approach to foreign policy


THIS week, I was again disappointed to see President Jacob Zuma doing what he’s famous for – tarnishing our image around the world. There are many others who were disappointed too. Not only in South Africa, but also around the world.

The President was invited by the Chinese government to commemorate World War II victory over Japan. President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations, and Vladimir Putin of Russia were also there.

There was nothing wrong about attending the military extravaganza. What frustrated many of us was President Zuma’s meeting with al-Bashir on sidelines of the occasion.

The two spoke of the need to strengthen the relations between the two governments. And Zuma promised to visit Sudan in future.

Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the alleged crimes against humanity in his native Sudan. Even though the arrest warrant was issued in 2009, between then and today, Al-Bashir has travelled freely across the African continent. None of the African countries have held him accountable for the alleged genocidal deeds.

Months ago, he was here in South Africa to attend the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. The Pretoria High Court issued an order barring him from leaving the country pending an application for his arrest. But the President Zuma’s government defied the order and whisked him away before the Judge made the decision on whether to arrest al-Bashir.

Just months after flouting the law and defying the judiciary, the President, the head of the state, sees it appropriate to meet al-Bashir and discuss ways to strengthen the relations between the two governments. I find this reprehensible.

Mmusi Maimane of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is correct when he says “I believe that it’s an injustice to the people of Sudan but furthermore it is an insult to our courts that he [Zuma] is able to now build this relationship with Omar al-Bashir.” This is, really an insult to our courts, and it’s also an injustice to victims of al-Bashir.

All this happens amid significant mutations to South Africa’s foreign policy by the President and his ruling party, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC). They have chosen to become pro—China, and for worse, anti-West.

Of course we do have to work with China. Every country in the world has to work with China. The United States of America is working with China.

The Chinese are the world’s next superpower, the engine of global economic growth, the world’s second largest economy, the world’s most populated nation, and account for more than 15% of global gross domestic product. Its burgeoning global political power becomes more and more visible. So we all have to work with them.

But our trade ties with China and other nations in the East, should not be at the expense of our relationship with the West. Frans Cronje of the Institute of Race Relations says “What South Africa needs is a multipolar approach to foreign policy – as is the case for the majority of other emerging markets. Instead what we are getting is an unnecessary re-run of the Cold War with policy that is unflinchingly pro-Russia and China but vociferously anti-Western.” That is absolutely correct, what is in our interest and what we’ll be beneficial to us as a nation is multipolar approach to foreign policy.

I think President Jacob Zuma should have learned from the gigantic Nelson Mandela on foreign policy.

Mandela managed to work with the Western world, while his cordial relations with Gaddaffis, Arafats and Castros of the world, remained intact. All these people were believed to be adversaries of the West, but Mandela managed to find his way through and did what was in the interest of his country. President Zuma ought to take a similar approach.

We South Africans face a myriad of challenges – the moribund economy, poverty, racial tensions, xenophobia, staggering unemployment, corruption. We can’t afford to taint our image by duck-hunting with al-Bashirs of the world. We need to retain the positive image in order to attract foreign direct investment.

And if we continue the hostility aimed at the West, we’ll be making a terrible blunder. PM


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