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Op-eds

The world according to the ANC

  • policy
One of the nine discussion documents published in advance of the ANC’s 5th Policy Conference last week, deals with international relations. It provides a revealing view on how South Africa’s ruling party sees the world in the 21st century.
by STEVEN GRUZD | Jul 13, 2017

Or, often, the 19th and 20th centuries, with its anachronistic rhetorical riffs on imperialism, “progressive internationalism” and the machinations of the global North against the developing South.

The ANC remains likely to win the 2019 national elections, despite its embattled president, ground lost in the 2016 local government polls, and deepening indications of corruption and state capture. Therefore, what the ANC says about foreign policy, matters.

While it nobly attempts to grapple with geopolitical shifts, populism and trade protectionism, this discussion document ultimately provides an ideologically loaded, shallow analysis of today’s dynamic, rapidly changing world.

Analysts Chris Landsberg, Mzukisi Qobo and Francis Kornegay, wrote that the ANC’s “perspectives on power dynamics in the world have travelled back in time… frozen in a world that no longer exists”.

Just a few paragraphs acknowledge key relations with Europe and the US. Otherwise, it oozes with outdated Marxist terminology, conspiracy theories and perceived perfidy by the West.

One gem calls for the ANC to “condemn our colonisers for sponsoring factionalism among liberation movements, including the use of some NGOs and media outlets”.

Elsewhere it denounces “the unjust nature of global capitalism” and how “global power is used to advance the narrow interests of the powerful states”.

It says “paradigms of violence and the global world manifest in militarisation of international relations, global racism and patriarchy, neocolonialism and other ills”. It contends that “the imperialist vision for international relations is gathering steam” as conservatism rises in the North.

Conversely, it praises China’s economic potential and Russia’s role in Syria. These allies can do little wrong, where the West can do little right.

It also ascribes the rise of Islamic State to Western interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Not unfairly, it decries the Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and its reversal of rapprochement with Cuba.

Familiar themes include closeness with former liberation movements and “progressive” political parties, a determination to make ossified global governance institutions more equitable, and the centrality of Africa in South Africa’s foreign policy, claiming that bad governance invites foreign interference.

The document myopically blames the sluggish global economy for South Africa’s poor growth, ducking responsibility for ruinous policies, corruption scandals and shattered investor confidence. It also fails to clearly articulate South African national interests.

The ANC reiterates its determination to pull the country out of the International Criminal Court, despite legal rulings forcing the parliamentary process to begin afresh.

On specific countries, discussions at the conference focused on the lack of democracy in Swaziland, a cause long championed by ANC alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP.

Solidarity was pledged for the Kurds, Cubans and Sahrawi. The latter have declared a state in Western Sahara, in territory claimed and mostly controlled by Morocco. South Africa, a staunch historical ally of the Sahrawi, will need to recalibrate how it deals with Morocco, which has now joined the African Union after a 32-year boycott over the issue. Pretoria’s relations remain frosty with Rabat.

The most vitriol is, unsurprisingly, heaped on Israel. Predictably, the document reinforces the ANC’s long-held solidarity with the Palestinians, condemning what it sees as Israeli intransigence in the peace process, ongoing settlement construction and continued violation of Palestinian rights. Yet, somehow, it still endorses a two-state solution.

Last week’s lead story in the SA Jewish Report detailed the debate at the policy conference on possibly downgrading or closing the South African embassy in Israel, to symbolise the ANC’s displeasure with Israeli policies.

Consensus was not reached, with a decision deferred until the ANC’s December National Conference. Is this merely a stay of execution, or another case where radical ANC policy gets tempered by more moderate government policy?

No doubt the South African Jewish community will fight fiercely to prevent the dilution or destruction of diplomatic ties.

The document and discussions, called for a response to Israel’s recent high-profile diplomatic overtures to Africa (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited the continent twice recently and plans to hold an Israel-Africa Summit in Togo in October). Expect fireworks later in the year.

In a somewhat paranoid vein, the discussions attribute diminished ANC and South African global influence, to the “competing forces on the [African] continent such as Israel and Morocco”, supported by France and (unnamed) Middle East states.

Agree with them or not, it is important to understand the perspectives behind the ANC’s policy priorities. A revised discussion document will be tabled for decisions in December. 

Steven Gruzd is an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs

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