Well, it wasn’t quite like blackballing Mother Teresa, but it came close. In the context of the free world, the Dalai Lama enjoys something approaching Gandhian status. He is a true icon of peace and of a people’s struggle to be free, with these two ideals, so unusually, being complementary, not contradictory. Perhaps the most astonishing feature of the whole wretched saga is that those responsible for refusing him a visa failed to realise the implications of what they had just done.

The baffling contradictions between South Africa’s foreign and domestic policies — democratic at home, supportive of a slew of oppressive dictatorships abroad — has already unearned us the unenviable soubriquet of “rogue democracy”. The free world’s scorn is further heightened by this country’s continuing to presume to be a leading voice on human-rights questions.

That presumption was quite in order in the heady aftermath of the 1994 transformation, not quite the “miracle” it was commonly dubbed at the time but unquestionably it was a stirring accomplishment given the fashionable doomsday predictions that preceded it. Today, it is looking so threadbare as to retrospectively almost make a mockery of the historical events on which it bases itself. The times have moved on, yet some of our leaders still behave as if the world at large regards South Africa as a foremost arbiter on questions of international justice and morality.

Disillusionment with post-1994 South Africa came into sharp focus over the course of the country’s disastrous two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Mike Trapido has thoroughly documented our bizarre voting record in a previous post, so there is no need to rehash the depressing details. Suffice it to say that South Africa persistently stymied initiatives to expose and/or call to book some of the planets most egregious human-rights violators, including Burma, Sudan and, of course, Zimbabwe.

“Clearly, loyalty to rulers and regimes which supported the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle and a desire to tilt the world order in a direction more congenial to the developing world has directed our foreign policy in a direction diametrically opposite to Nelson Mandela’s commitment in 1994 that human rights would be ‘the light that guides our foreign affairs’.” That was the verdict of the DA spokesperson asked to comment on the issue for a forthcoming pre-election debate and, notwithstanding that the DA is by its nature hardly an unbiased voice, it seems to me to be spot on.

Many have expressed disappointment, disillusionment and similar sentiments over South Africa’s failure to fulfil its promise as a worthy player in the international human-rights arena. In reality, a little more familiarity with the history of the liberation movements might have prepared them for a future let-down. In exile, the ANC was distinctly closer to totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union, Red China, Libya and Cuba than it was to the Western democracies.

When the US-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a near-hysterical reaction from the ruling party. One will look in vain to find any ANC condemnation of the even less justifiable, and far more brutal, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the “struggle” years. Nor did the ANC and SACP have anything to say about the Soviet’s occupation of the various East and Central European countries prior to the fall of communism. One even finds examples of leading activists attempting to justify the crushing of populist revolts against Soviet domination, such as the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its counterpart in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Given this history, is it really surprising that the government should now have openly taken the side of the Chinese regime against the occupied people of Tibet?

South Africa’s foreign policy raises, for me, disturbing questions as to whether the ruling party, in its heart of hearts, really believes in democracy. Intellectually, it certainly does, but at the emotional level too many of its members seem to gravitate towards authoritarian, anti-Western regimes. This worries me, because in my understanding of human nature, the head will eventually follow the desires of the heart, not the other way round.

This is one of the main reasons why I have decided to cast my vote for the African Christian Democratic Party, after more than twenty years of more or less automatic support for the DA and all its previous incarnations. The ACDP has shown a commendable degree of consistency in its adherence to the core values it espouses, values unapologetically rooted in biblical tradition. The stands it has taken, including on foreign-policy issues, have often been extremely unfashionable and its leaders have been alternately mocked and threatened for this. I admire them for this, particularly when compared to how the ANC and certain other parties have continually compromised the ideals they supposedly espouse for reasons of short-term convenience.

The ACDP has shown modest but steady growth in its fifteen-year history. I am hoping that this trend will continue come April 22, and this time round I will be doing my little bit to help out.


David Saks

David Saks

David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African...

Leave a comment