To the cheers of assembled delegates, the Third International Solidarity Conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, which met in Pretoria earlier this week, endorsed the call for a campaign of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting the Israel. A lone German representative who stood up and challenged the prevailing wisdom that Israel is the reincarnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime was roundly dismissed by the chairman of the ANC, Baleka Mbete, who said that she herself had visited “Palestine,” where she’d discovered that the situation is “far worse than apartheid South Africa.”
This is not the first time that a senior member of South Africa’s leftist political establishment has made that exact point. In a particularly noxious speech delivered last May, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu asserted that the Palestinians were “being oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa.” Tutu’s co-thinker, the Reverend Allan Boesak – best known for his conviction for defrauding charitable donations from the singer Paul Simon and others — has also declared that Israel “is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it.” And in an interview earlier this year, John Dugard, a South African law professor and former UN Rapporteur, approvingly referred to “black South Africans like Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu and others who have repeatedly stated that, in their opinion, the situation in the Palestinian territory is in many respects worse than it was under apartheid.”
Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:
In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”
South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.
That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.
Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.
The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980′s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)
This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”
Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.
In the past several weeks, Robert Mugabe has announced that he will ban American and EU observers from documenting the upcoming presidential election in Zimbabwe (though he has invited representatives from China, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia). His country’s inflation rate has surpassed 100,000%. The harassment of journalists, civil-society activists, and opposition politician continues unabated. Does any of this information move South Africa, governed by the African National Congress?
A place to look would be President Thabo Mbeki’s weekly email bulletin. A brief search through the archive shows that he has not bothered to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Zimbabwe for months. This week, however, on the verge of what will be a rigged election in Zimbabwe, Mbeki takes the time to plead that Israel “stop the collective punishment of the Palestinian people” and end its “punishing blockade of Gaza.” Given that a country halfway around the world defending itself from daily terrorism invokes such anger in President Mbeki, perhaps he could work up a measurable degree of outrage about the crimes against humanity committed by the evil man immediately to this north.
One of the few reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the impending presidency of Jacob Zuma in South Africa was the expectation that the ousted Deputy President would change his country’s disastrous policies towards Zimbabwe. Zuma’s leadership style is that of the populist, in stark contrast to Thabo Mbeki, an English-educated intellectual with an aloof demeanor. Zuma has long been the man of the African National Congress’ left wing, and is firmly supported by the country’s Communist Party and COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, both of which fought a years-long struggle to mobilize support for Zuma over Mbeki, whom they viewed as too friendly to business. The support Zuma has garnered from the most left-wing elements in South African politics would normally give those supportive of liberal democracy and free markets pause, yet on the issue of Zimbabwe, South Africa’s trade unions have been stalwart opponents of Mugabe. The Zimbabwean dictator, after all, has tried to crush free labor unions, and the main opposition party in Zimbabwe — the Movement for Democratic Change — is led by a trade unionist. South African labor has put worker brotherhood before vague appeals to liberation-era, anti-imperialist “struggle” politics, and for that it should be applauded.
Yet the expectation that Zuma would follow South African labor’s lead in favoring a more aggressive policy to end the rule of Robert Mugabe and restore constitutional government seems to have been dashed. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Zuma criticized the United States and Europe for “tell[ing] us what we need to do” about Zimbabwe and said that Western appeals contained “an element of racism.” He went onto state that “I’m not sure I will do anything fundamentally different,” from Mbeki in terms of Zimbabwe policy.
For years, Zuma’s critics have alleged that he will prove to be another Mugabe. I’ve long found such criticism hysterical, as South Africa’s economic infrastructure, centuries-long example of (limited) parliamentary government, and connections to Western capital would preclude a Zimbabwe-type tragedy from occurring there. Jacob Zuma will not be another Mugabe, but, at the very least, he does not seem all too bothered by him.
In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.
Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:
Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.
Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:
Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.
As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”
There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930′s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.
The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.
The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.
Richard Nixon was the most paranoid of American leaders, frequently lashing out at enemies—real or perceived—out to get him. Whether it was the “East Coast Establishment” in their ritzy private clubs and their control over the media, or hippies, Jews, or homosexuals, it seemed that nearly everyone was arrayed against Nixon. The great irony was that, by the time of his resignation, this was pretty much true.
R.W. Johnson, one of South Africa’s leading journalists, has an excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been nothing short of a disaster for his country. The focus of Johnson’s piece is Mbeki’s exceptional paranoia, which seems to match that of Nixon. Perhaps the most bizarre of Mbeki’s obsessions concerns the source of his support for Robert Mugabe; Johnson writes that it stems from the belief that a Western plot exists to topple Mugabe in Zimbabwe, with Mbeki’s African National Congress next in its sights.
To his legacy of AIDS denial, rampant crime, and support for the regime of Robert Mugabe, Mbeki will soon be able to add his bequeathing of the country to Jacob Zuma, a man likely to prove the impossible task of being a worse leader than Mbeki. Zuma has credibly been accused of corruption (the investigation is still pending), and though he was cleared last year of rape charges against an HIV-positive woman half his age, he infamously announced at trial that he was safe from infection because he had showered after intercourse.
Just as with Nixon, Johnson observes of Mbeki that “it really is true now that his opponents are conspiring against him, that he is cornered and that his enemies may triumph.” The African National Congress’s annual convention, to be held later this month, will decide the party’s next leader, who, because of the one-party dominant nature of the state, will in all likelihood become the next president of South Africa. “The next month or two are going to be a difficult time in South Africa,” Johnson ends ominously. But with the pending arrival of Jacob Zuma to the presidency, the next two months will be just the beginning.
Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.
There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.
In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:
The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.
It is truly a boon for observers of South African politics that the country’s president writes a several-thousand word message every week to his supporters. Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters are not the stuff of speech writers and consultants; he is a true intellectual, however fetid his ideas. Reading his letters reveals something quite ominous about the political future of South Africa.
This week, Mbeki lets the ANC’s Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe borrow his pen to write about Zimbabwe. Prompting this angry piece was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s threat to boycott an upcoming European Union/African Union summit if Mugabe were to attend. Both the EU and AU chose Mugabe over Brown, and this is a choice that obviously delights Mbeki and Motlanthe. In this letter Motlanthe carries Mbeki’s water, perhaps because what Motlanthe says is too egregious for the South African president to utter himself. Motlanthe uses the diplomatic row between Great Britain and Zimbabwe to launch into a tirade about British colonial history.
Motlanthe believes that Great Britain is trying to effect “regime change” in Harare, and indignantly asks why the British government did not advocate regime change for the white, rebel colony of Rhodesia, which preceded the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe. In so doing, Motlanthe ignores that the British government declared the colony’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence an act of treason. Britain used its international heft to impose strict United Nations sanctions on the white regime in Rhodesia for well over a decade, contributing to its downfall in 1980. Britain played no small part in bringing the Rhodesian government to its knees, discrediting the moderate black Bishop Abel Muzorewa (who had formed a coalition government with whites and won a democratic, multi-racial election in 1979). Were it not for Margaret Thatcher’s willingness to side with Jimmy Carter’s and Andrew Young’s diplomacy, Robert Mugabe might not have become president 27 years ago.
When the African National Congress came to power in South Africa in 1994, it was right to see itself not just as a new political party that won an election, but as an historic change agent ushering in an era of democracy and freedom. Things—big things—would have to change.
But in addition to changing big things, the ANC has changed little things, indicative of its broader, and obsessive, self-perception as the party that deserves to rule in perpetuity. As R.W. Johnson explained in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the ANC has focused on the task of name changes: renaming roads, airports, even whole cities and provinces, wiping away any vestige of English and Afrikaner heritage. It would be understandable if the ANC’s name-change agenda was focused solely on reclaiming part of the country’s history for an historically neglected population. But there are ulterior political motives behind the name changes:
The main road to the airport becomes Yasir Arafat highway; Moore Road (after Sir John Moore, the hero of the Battle of Corunna) becomes Che Guevara Road; Kensington Drive, Fidel Castro Drive; and Chelmsford Road (after Lord Chelmsford, who defeated the Zulu King Cetshwayo) JB Marx Road, after the former black Communist leader who lies buried next to Khrushchev in Moscow. Naturally, Jan Smuts Highway will be Cetshwayo Highway and Victoria Road, Mandela Road. Most of the city-center streets are to be renamed after local Communists of whom not many have heard.
South Africa has many problems with which to contend: the world’s highest number of people suffering from AIDS, one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, and a failed state on its northern border. But rather than tackling the problems that keep their nation firmly in the second world, the ANC is renaming public institutions after Marxist guerillas, Communist academicians, and violent Arab nationalists, with a stunning level of vigor it hasn’t shown in its other efforts at reform. Is this really the best the ANC can do?
Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”
But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.