South Africa should learn to admit its policy blunders


AS a nation, South Africa needs to learn to unashamedly confront and admit its post-1994 socioeconomic failures. The confrontation and admission of these failures need to be visible right from the top echelons of the African National Congress (ANC)’s government, down to ordinary citizens on the streets.

Since the dawn of its democracy in 1994, South Africa, under Nelson Mandela’s ANC, has gone through a great deal of policy blunders; domestic and foreign.

Socialist economic policy has harmed the economy

The fondness for socialist economic policy has produced shocking rates of unemployment – especially amongst the youth. Crime rates are staggering even by global standards. Poverty is still rife. And the country’s basic education is an embarrassment; this when the ANC’s government spends way more than other African countries on education.

The destructive, socialist economic policy reached its zenith under the corrupt Jacob Zuma’s administration. Hostility towards business, government’s ever-expanding role in the economy accompanied by corruption, were all contributors to the reversals of the country’s post-1994 prosperity gains.

A foreign policy that has tainted the country’s reputation

The post-Cold War foreign policy is something the ANC’s government has gotten horribly wrong over the past twenty-five years. It has been, and remains, a foreign policy characterized by tacit support for dictators around the world. This policy approach, inspired by the outdated ideology, has done enormousness harm to the reputation of South Africa.

After attending an event about South Africa’s Presidency at the United Nations (UN) Security Council at Wits University last week, organized by Wits’ Department of International Relations, I couldn’t help but think South Africa’s intelligentsia can sometimes be very ignorant on matters of foreign policy.

Since the event was about South Africa’s Presidency of the UN Security Council this month, it was crucial that panelists mention how South Africa can capitalize on its one-month presidency to restore its tarnished reputation. With the presidency, the country has an opportunity to pick up the pieces.

To my disappointment, the distinguished panel, comprised of Dr. Sithembile Mbete from University of Pretoria, Aditi Lalbahadur from South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), Zaheer Laher from Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), German Ambassador Dr. Martin Schaefer and Ambassador Welile Nhlapo, never mentioned South Africa’s controversial voting record at the UN Security Council, and the tacit support for repressive regimes from Zimbabwe to Sudan, to Venezuela, to Cuba, to China, and to Russia.

When it comes to lessons from the previous terms, panelists overwhelmingly pointed to the fact that there is now transparency by South Africa’s DIRCO on the country’s daily conduct at the UN. That’s the main thing I picked up on lessons learned from the previous terms.

Transparency is fine – there isn’t anything wrong about it. But I think there are more vital, urgent, and pressing matters the panelists could have raised and discussed as lessons from the previous terms. These would, I believe, include our voting record and our policy conduct at the UN.

The veteran diplomat Ambassador Welile Nhlapo came out defensive of South Africa’s foreign policy. What I found more troubling was his adulation for non-interventionism. With that, he reminded me why South Africa’s image around the world is tainted.

Non-interventionism is a philosophy that advances the idea that there must be no intervention in other countries’ internal affairs. It’s a legitimate, sensible philosophy – but its sensibility is dependent on the nature of the matter pertaining to the relevant country at a particular time.

In times of deadly conflicts – and crack down on civilians by despotic rulers – we surely cannot sit down and watch in the name of non-interventionism. As somebody who strongly believes in individual liberty and life, I think that would be very inhumane.

Individual liberty is universal, and supreme in every corner of the globe –across all civilizations. We cannot stand and watch as dictators crack down on human freedoms. Some form interventions in such cases will be needed.

A robust international engagement, including, some argue, sanctions, contributed to the ending of apartheid in South Africa. The international interventions did the country a great favor in the struggle against apartheid. The likes of ANC’s Oliver Tambo crisscrossed the entire world seeking support for the ending of apartheid.

The domestic and foreign policy blunders occurred under the ANC’s government – a government voted by South Africans repeatedly. Ordinary South Africans deserve to be blamed too for the country’s post-1994 blunders.

The approach into the future, should be for South Africans to admit these blunders and explore new ways of doing things that will bring more prosperity to the country. Avoiding the controversial issues as most of the panelists did at Wits University last week, is a grave mistake. PM



  • Walter Stevens <span>February 9, 2020 at 2:12 pm</span>

    Nice article. Discussion of foreign policy is too often cloaked in glossy terminology and euphemisms. The record of SA’s foreign policy does not make for happy reading, esp the knee-jerk support for many totalitarian regimes.

    • Phumlani Majozi <span>February 17, 2020 at 7:16 am</span>

      Thanks Walter! I find our support for totalitarian regimes utterly despicable. Honestly speaking. Have a great week.

  • Tito <span>June 7, 2020 at 5:55 pm</span>

    I missed reading such an insightful article.
    It presents what goes beyond what I normally comment about and corroborates it. Those tasked with both shaping and implementing South African foreign policy cannot think beyond the mindset of heir own villages.

    The only time the ANC had some semblence of consistent and balanced (West, North, East & Africa) foreign policy, was before it came to government in 1994. That was the time when former President Thabo Mbeki was at the helm of the revolutionary movement’s foreign affairs desk.

    Last, the infiltration of SA’s foreign affairs by sympathisers and protagonists of the SA Institute of International Relations, does harm than good. How could anyone sane expect an off-shoot of the Council on Foreign Relations a secret society in its own right, promoting perculiar New World Order interests in the affairs of the world, to act in the best interest of SA?
    Hence South Africa’s voice modulation, let alone being misdirected: is muted. @sibisiso16


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