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Wouldn’t trust the ANC to sit the right way on a toilet seat

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Before becoming famous for his role as Mr Bean, British comedian Rowan Atkinson commanded the stage as a stand-up comic. During one of his most notorious skits, Atkinson said of his future son-in-law, “Either this man is suffering from serious brain damage, or the new vacuum cleaner’s arrived.”

As I read the African National Congress’ (ANC) policy discussion documents released in anticipation of its policy conference scheduled for July 2022, I was reminded of Atkinson’s prophetic words.

Though many of the ANC’s cadres were trained behind the iron curtain and were products of oppressive communist indoctrination, one would imagine that by now they might have an inkling that the world has changed. The policy document appears tone deaf to the world of 2022.

On a positive note, in a rare moment of self-reflection, the ANC recognises both its waning influence on the African continent and the impact that many of its policies have had on South Africa’s status in the world.

The 188-page Umrabulo Policy Discussion Papers 2022, “outline the ANC’s strategic approach to policies and how it shapes and impacts our transformation agenda”.

With a forward penned by the party president, Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC describes its foreign policy as being “in pursuit of progressive internationalism in a changing world”, if ever there was an example of communist nomenclature, this may be it.

Says the ANC, “The United Nations (UN) and its associated institutions remain the legitimate platform for reversing challenges to multilateralism, but it too needs transformation in order to strengthen its management.” No mention is made of the R118 million paid by the department of international relations in a scam purchase of land for South Africa’s delegation to the UN.

The policy document seems stuck somewhere in the cold-war era and bemoans “the spread of right-wing extremism that has displaced social democratic and centrist forces in Western Europe and North America”. President Joe Biden will love the description of himself. I presume they may think that Donald Trump is still president.

Says the ANC, “The right-wing movements reject globalism because it constrains their ability to impose their will on the international system, undermines multilateralism and co-operation, and weakens the principle of sovereign equality among states.” These are ironic words given the ANC’s support for an expansionist, colonial Russia that has invaded its sovereign neighbour, Ukraine.

In one of the most entertaining lines in the document, we read, “the United States (US) manifested in this penchant for power games unilateralism and masculine politics”. I believe this may be a line from Dale Carnegie’s self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. One wonders how the Americans feel about this description in light of the $75 million (R1.1 billion) in assistance given by the US to South Africa to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including ventilators and vaccines, besides the $7.25 billion (R112 billion) in AIDS relief gifted to the country since 2004. Talking about gift horses and mouths.

Referring to the Middle East, still bemoaning the American invasion of Iraq 19 years ago, the ANC says, “The Middle East region is still suffering the devastating effects of the regime-change agendas of the United States and its allies particularly in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Yemen.” No mention is made of the brutal Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war, which cost the lives of a reported 494 438 people. Potentially having sanctioned Russian oligarchs as the largest donors to the ANC may have somewhat created a moral blind spot for the party.

There’s little doubt that the ANC has witnessed its position and influence on the African continent evaporate in favour of Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, and Nigeria. While Morocco takes its standard beating from the ANC, much is also said of its favourite whipping boy, Israel.

“South African foreign policy actors will have to contend with the interrelated diplomacies of Morocco, Israel, and France interacting with some of the Gulf States in navigating a changing African and international strategic landscape.”

The Abraham Accords, which normalised relations between Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco, appears to have taken the wind from the ANC’s sails.

“The struggle for the self-determination of the peoples of Western Sahara remains incomplete, and is facing new challenges with Morocco’s attempts to drive a wedge in the AU away from its unity in support of UN resolutions calling for a peaceful resolution to the issue on the basis of the right of self-determination for the Saharawi people. The Morocco issue, like the growing role of Israel in African affairs, signals a waning influence of progressive African states including South Africa in African affairs. This fuels the perception that South Africa’s sway in Africa has declined, its role in championing the progressive African agenda on the continent is seen as having weakened.”

One cannot forget the progressiveness of the ANC in May 2021, when its ailing Deputy Secretary General, Jessie Duarte addressed 100 supporters outside the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria shouting, “They [Israel] have to wake up. Now! If we don’t stop this imperialism in Israel, one day they will move into Africa and start dispossessing our land. They will become the next imperialists of the world. They are getting ready for this.” Rowan Atkinson would have had a field day.

Israel’s growing relationship with Africa, which peaked in the 1960s under Prime Minister Golda Meir, appears to be a “red flag” for the ANC. Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with 42 of the 44 sub-Saharan African states that aren’t members of the Arab League. It enjoys particularly close relations with those countries that South Africa sees as its main rivals for leadership of the African continent. It’s generally believed that the scandal-ridden visit by the ANC to Zimbabwe, breaking all COVID-19 protocols in September 2020, was an attempt by the ruling party to discourage Zimbabwe from re-establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. The ANC was later ordered to re-pay R105 545 of taxpayer’s money wasted on the trip.

The policy document speaks of “the ever-growing aggressiveness of Israel [with the support of its US ally] manifested through its support of terrorist groups in Syria; its increasingly brazen transgressions of international law, agreements, and UN resolutions, particularly in relation to the Palestinians, and its total disregard for the territorial integrity of Lebanon and Syria”.

The ANC acknowledges that its desire to downgrade relations with Israel has come at a cost to South Africa, speaking of the “implications of this resolution on our diplomatic capital”.

Most bewildering is a comment in the policy document about “the annexation of the Jordan Valley by Israel, which is illegal in international law, the United Nations Charter, and the Rome Statute.”

I’m sure that news of this annexation of the Jordan Valley will come as a great but very pleasant surprise to Israel.

Viewing the world through red-tinted glasses is one thing, but how does the ANC get the facts so wrong? In the immortal words of Rowan Atkinson in the same father of the bride speech:

“There comes a time when [the taxpayer] who paid the for the damn thing is allowed to speak a word or two of his own. I wouldn’t trust any of you to sit the right way on a toilet seat.”

  • Howard Sackstein is chairperson of the SA Jewish Report.

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