As president of the BRICs bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in 2023, should the ANC government not exercise moral responsibility and apply foreign policy consistently?
By Rowan Polovin National Chairman, South African Zionist Federation
(First published in Business Day)
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, is fundamentally concerned with one international issue over all others, what she calls “the ongoing flagrant abuse of the human rights of Palestinians” which, in her view places “a moral responsibility on South Africa to act.”
It is remarkable that Pandor is able to command such exclusive action from the ANC government over a territory smaller than our beloved Kruger National Park, whilst remaining deafeningly silent to the cries of Ukrainians last year and numerous other serious human rights issues in Africa and around the world. Moreover, she blames Israel for the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, and absolves all responsibility and agency from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), and the South African public, should hold Minister Pandor accountable for her statement. Indeed our government certainly does have a moral responsibility to act decisively to assist global communities when it comes to the protection of human rights. Especially when they are being abused at a rate that only South Africans could begin to comprehend.
The United Nations has confirmed that 170 deaths were recorded as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2022. While the loss of innocent lives on any side of a conflict is tragic, the vast majority of those casualties were Palestinian militants. By contrast, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, over 6 900 people were killed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. It is estimated that 408 of these fatalities were children.
This is utterly devastating, and we are no strangers to this level of violence in South Africa, where over 7000 citizens were murdered in just the second quarter of the 2022/23 financial year. Tragically, over 550 of those deaths were children, according to the national crime statistics report as released by Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, last year.
But, of course, it is easier for the government to deflect attention someplace else.
South Africa’s foreign policy appears to be singularly limited to Israel-bashing. This position prevents our country from playing any meaningful role in finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ANC government’s obsession with Israel also precludes us from benefiting from the changing landscape of the Middle East and Africa. The Abraham Accords, where peace and normalisation has been achieved between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Morocco and Sudan here in Africa, has effectively ended the Arab-Israeli conflict.
More countries in the Middle East and Africa could follow suit in 2023. The Negev Forum working group recently concluded groundbreaking meetings between these countries, focusing on food security, water technology, clean energy, tourism, health care, education, coexistence and regional security. Does South Africa want to be left out in the cold, and lose out on the advantages of these strategic partnerships?
Back home, our foreign policy decisions are irrational. Last week, ANC International Relations Committee Chair, Lindiwe Zulu, confirmed that the ANC had resolved to simply not take sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. She added that it would also be supporting China in its dispute with Taiwan. But the ANC went further. Its January 8th anniversary statement of this year calls on Western governments to end sanctions on global human rights abusers such as Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. The ANC has a remarkable willingness to be on the wrong side of history just so long as it retains its Cold War friends.
The ANC could be positioned to act as mediators between warring factions, people and states, given its own experience of great pain and suffering at the hands of a political authority that abused South African human rights in ways we are only beginning to come to terms with today. The collective trauma suffered by millions of South Africans should have left us at war with one another for decades – and yet, under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela, the ANC was able to do something fundamentally extraordinary. It shifted people’s perceptions of one another, in a way that enabled us to see beyond any illusion, that we are all South Africans and that this territory is home to everyone residing within its borders. Different religions, traditions and languages were not barriers to our social cohesion – but rather a celebration of our diverse, yet collectively shared humanity.
South Africa’s political leadership changed the trajectory of the conflict present in our country. And as such, our country is in a strong position to assist other states with doing the same. But when Minister Pandor turns a blind eye to almost all international human rights violations to discriminate over Israel, one cannot help but wonder what has happened to the ANC and its international credibility.
If the abuse of human rights is the starting point for Pretoria’s commitment to assist foreign states with local causes, where is the South African initiative on Ukraine or many other conflicts closer to home? Will we stand by idly while Russia continues to put hundreds of Ukrainian children in early graves? Why have we not seized the opportunity to become world leaders in changing perceptions and illusions that alienate human beings from one another?
Our country should seek to apply its foreign policies with uniformity, and show a degree of courage and leadership at the same time. South Africa holds the Presidency of BRICS in 2023 – will we use this position of leadership to hold Russia and others to account? Or will the ANC government continue to pick and choose its moral responsibilities based on its nostalgic political relevance of yesteryear?
About the writer:
Rowan Polovin National Chairman, South African Zionist Federation
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