Failed foreign policy threatens South African prosperity

Nicholas Woode-Smith, an author, economic historian and political analyst, is a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation. 

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This article was first published on The Citizen on 20 April 2023

Failed foreign policy threatens South African prosperity

South Africa’s government seems to be obsessed with an archaic Cold War ideology of East vs West. And while most South Africans ignore our foreign policy in favour of more pressing, local issues (of which there are many), we cannot ignore the fact that we do live in an interconnected world.
Over the past two decades, South Africa has racked up a dismal foreign policy record; from propping up a genocidal dictatorship in Zimbabwe, to refusing to hold accountable a war criminal in Omar Al-Bashir. Again and again, South Africa’s government seems to put its own self-interest and loyalty to warlords above its international obligations and human rights.
This track record has continued in South Africa’s cosying up to Russia and China, even as global tensions rise over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and China becomes increasingly guilty of genocide against the Uyghur Muslims.
Earlier this year, despite professing ‘neutrality,’ South Africa planned military exercises with Russia, the aggressor in an expansionist and bloody war against Ukraine since last year, and an imperialist threat against Ukraine since it escaped the Soviet Union in 1991.
No similar military, economic or diplomatic support has been offered to Ukraine to make such a move equal.
South Africa also has a dreadful voting record at the United Nations, always voting in favour of Russia or China – even if at the expense of human rights. South Africa’s behaviour is so torrid that it has been identified by the USA’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley as in the top ten most anti-USA nations in the world.
declaration came before news of South Africa’s reluctance to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes. This is in contravention to international agreements that we signed as part of our membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Some have criticised the ICC for hypocritically targeting non-Western leaders, as well as that the USA is not a member. But this is irrelevant. What should be relevant is that we voluntarily joined the ICC. We agreed to its rules. And now we want to contravene these rules to aid a war criminal.
The USA may not be a member of the ICC, but it is watching us. And it is judging our behaviour and assessing if we’re truly worth maintaining as a trade partner.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is up for renewal in 2025. The agreement has benefited South Africa to the tune of billions of dollars. The trade balance is firmly in favour of South Africa, allowing us to sell our goods in a lucrative first world market. The agreement has created countless jobs in automobiles and agriculture alone.
This is not to mention the products that the USA sells to us. Most notably, machinery and industrial equipment that we need to keep our industry running. On top of that, we have tax agreements, financial transfers and mountains of treaties that are essential for doing business in this globalised world.
South Africa needs the USA much more than they need us. Yet, our government continues to threaten and cajole the USA. It is caught in a Cold War mindset where the evil, imperialist USA and the colonialist Europeans are threatening to colonise Africa.
In actual fact, it is Russia dictating our foreign policy and turning our government into a puppet-state. And it is China that has dictated our policies again and again in the past, such as when it forced South Africa to deny entry to the Dalai Lama in 2011 and 2014. How was that not a violation of our sovereignty? Idealogues will jump to accuse the ICC, that we voluntarily joined, of violating our rights, but ignore China’s dictates.
We must not threaten our ties with the USA and its allies. We must not risk becoming a pariah state. South Africans deserve better than old school Marxists dictating modern foreign policy. And we definitely deserve far more than becoming puppets of China and Russia when we could rather be prosperous and respected trade partners with the USA and the west.
If the USA cuts ties with South Africa, and even sanctions us for our increasing aggression against it, jobs will be lost, supply chains will be cut, and we will fall back further than we ever have before.
It is in South Africa’s interest, and all of our interests, to be friendly to the USA. We must choose our friends wisely. Lest we ally with a bully and find ourselves expelled alongside them.

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