South Africa

SA FOREIGN POLICY OP-ED

Naledi Pandor — Minister of utter incomprehensibility and obstruction

Naledi Pandor — Minister of utter incomprehensibility and obstruction
South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor (Photo: EPA-EFE / Eduardo Munoz / Pool)

South Africa’s foreign policy this century amounts to, at best, a horrible report card.

Standing in for President Cyril Ramaphosa at last week’s 77th UN General Assembly, the Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, threw what in diplomacy amounts to a temper tantrum. 

According to her, the war in Ukraine, despite involving a belligerent nuclear power and tens of thousands of lives lost in seven months, is not as urgent as a laundry list of lefty causes — some with some merit, others to signal virtue — that the ANC has gathered over the last three decades.

On the ANC’s list were Cuba, Palestine and the disputed Western Sahara region. She asked that the global community should “treat all conflicts across the globe with equal indignation, no matter what the colour or creed of the people affected.” 

In proposing the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe and the embargo on Cuba, she stated the need for a rules-based system predicated on international law and adherence to the charter of the UN. The ANC is, its seems, the world’s most aggressive anti-sanctions combatant.

South Africa calls for an end to the embargo against Cuba,” she said, “which continues to impede the right to development of her people. In the same vein, we call for an end to unilateral coercive measures against Zimbabwe, which have compounded the problems experienced by the people of Zimbabwe and have a detrimental effect on the broader Southern African region.” 

There was no mention of the human rights and democratic deficit of either of these apparently model states.

Having listened to leader after leader speak on Ukraine, Pandor’s incomprehensibility went up a notch in suggesting that the biggest global challenges were not the rule of international law or the risk of nuclear war caused by the Russian invasion on 24 February, but “poverty, inequality, joblessness and,” wait for it, “a feeling of being entirely ignored and excluded.”

Have some sympathy. Dropping down the global rankings from cause célèbre arguing for sanctions against an oppressive regime to ‘failed-state-in-the-making’ pleading for sanctions against autocracies to be lifted, must be bruising. And it must, surely, be someone else’s fault. It was less Miss Congeniality than Missed Opportunity. 

In a new spin of the old victim habit, the Minister failed to comprehend, entirely it seems, that South Africa is ignored and excluded precisely because of her government’s lack of convergence with partners in its priorities and the nature of its values. Where once it might have been listened to, its lack of domestic success combined with its dubious reasoning and support for human rights transgressors undermines its international standing. Rather than calling out African regimes, including that in Ethiopia currently waging a bloody war on its own people in Tigray, in which food is again weaponised in that region, she preferred to point fingers outside the continent, as has become SA’s standard foreign operating practice, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Sigh. 

And, yet, in this, the Minister has been aided and abetted by the outside world, including the West, which appears not to bother to correct Pretoria’s deviancy on diplomacy and double-standard on human rights because it either doesn’t care enough and could not be bothered to invest the time and effort, or does not wish to tip whatever relationship it still has entirely over the edge. Or perhaps it’s because diplomats find the path of least resistance in their default setting, or because everyone discounts such stump politicking. Let’s hope the latter reason is true. 

For South Africa’s foreign policy this century amounts to, at best, a horrible report card. 

Its aspiration to play various mediation roles — including in Ukraine — have bombed because it forgot or mythologised the components of its own successful transition. South Africa’s was not a victory by one side, as is commonly portrayed, but the result of a combination of external pressure on both parties (through sanctions on the white government and pressure, too, on the ANC as a result of the end of the Cold War), internal consensus on the gains which could be made through settlement rather than continued fighting, and the need for leadership. 

Ending conflict peacefully demands pressure on all parties to change the cost-benefit calculation.

You can’t have negotiations by pressuring one side, nor can you have a settlement if one party to the conflict believes it has more to gain by fighting than suing for peace. Ending apartheid did not require neutrality either, which South Africa has favoured over the Russia-Ukraine conflict, in refusing to support the UN resolutions respecting human rights and humanitarian international law. 


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Perceptions of South African bias may explain why presidents Zelenskyy of Ukraine and Ramaphosa only spoke on the phone two months into the war — and seven weeks after the South African president called president Vladimir Putin for his version.  

Rather like a referee in a sporting contest, successful mediation demands fairness within a set of rules, in this case international law. 

For similar reasons of impartiality, South Africa has been wholly unsuccessful at promoting democracy and stability in Zimbabwe. Pretoria has preferred to tilt, quixotically, at the existence of international sanctions on members of the regime as the reason for the country’s economic collapse. The reason, just about everyone else seems to now know, was the land invasion policy followed by endemic elite looting of the economy coupled with brutal and systematic crackdowns on opposition in what has become essentially a military junta. 

The tell-tale sign of the ANC’s prejudice in this impasse lies in Pretoria’s continuous refusal to describe events in Zimbabwe as Zanu- (rather than sanctions-) inflicted and, more fundamentally, to condemn the ruling party. 

Like Ukraine, while South Africa has an opinion on Palestine, it has little voice in ending that conflict, since the Israelis today see Pretoria as a wholly partial observer. 

Its defence of Russia is apparently predicated on what others powers might or might not have done earlier. Defending Russia’s action on the basis of an earlier American-led strategic error in Iraq is childish, just as it is erroneous to make a moral equivalence between removing Saddam (a man who had killed quarter of a million domestic opponents in his grotesque ways) from power with that by Russia to remove a democratically-elected government in Ukraine. 

It’s the sort of moral equivalence that South Africa never accepted in the fight against apartheid, yet human rights are just that: human rights, whether white or black, just as the foreign minister paradoxically asserted in the UN. 

Similarly, South Africa has no role in Western Sahara since this is in the hands of the UN anyway, and Pretoria has again made its bias clear. 

Pretoria’s clamour for a rules-based order and UN reform is bizarre without comprehending what this invasion has done to that system. Moreover, South Africa’s voting bias in the UN is clearly and continuously apparent, routinely in favour of China and Russia rather than the West. This fails to acknowledge who pays for this system. In 2021, for instance, Russia provided $69-million to the UN’s regular budget, or some $416-million together with China. The US and EU together contributed $2.3 billion. Russia’s global aid contribution is just 3% of the US total, and 6.7% of that of the EU. And Russia provided just 3% ($193-million) of the UN’s peacekeeping budget in 2021, compared to the more than 50% ($3-billion) granted by the US and EU. 

It could be argued that the type of bias shown at the UN by South Africa will in fact preclude reform because, again, it fails to call things as they are rather than how it would like them to be.  

There is much more evidence, if ever it was needed, of how South Africa has lost its way. The presence of ANC observers in the sham Russian referenda in parts of Ukraine under military occupation this past week is a new low. At the very least it illustrates either the lack of party discipline or the presence of a clear party line. 

There is much to be debated about where South African foreign policy should be focused. But here is some early advice for Pretoria. Lose the chip on your shoulder, and promote the welfare of South Africans through trade and investment. DM

Greg Mills and Ray Hartley are with the Brenthurst Foundation. www.thebrenthurstfoundation.org

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Brilliant assessment of how thoroughly and bizarrely ANC is derailed.

  • allan j whitehead says:

    May her soul rest in peace…

  • Rob vZ says:

    Add into mix the amount of trade conducted between SA and the USA and the EU, compared to the amount of trade between SA and the Russian Federation.
    Lose the chip on your shoulder and stop biting the hand that feeds you.

  • Andrew W says:

    Supposedly one of the more competent ministers ” pandor does show how poor this administration really is. Outmoded thinking, ANC exceionalism and completely disconnected

  • Patrick Devine says:

    The ‘cadres’ are idiotic morons and an embarrassment.

  • Peter Doble says:

    The double-think policy is completely transparent. It must be very galling to know that, as a country, others don’t give a damn what you think, or frankly cares if you exist.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Of course the nations of the world do not bother to debate these issues with SA because it would be like debating a Trumpist or Covid cynic. Once you hear their line the only response is “Whatever!”

  • Chris Binnington says:

    Cries in the wilderness! Regrettably this government represented by the likes of Pandor have demonstrated time and again their inability to govern. Yet they continue to be supported by a majority of the population. Where is the future? Where is the hope? Is South Africa a failed state? I am not sure but what I am sure about is that this government has failed its people!

  • Nick Griffon says:

    I don’t understand why the US keep giving these clowns handout after handout. SA vote against them in the UN and for Russia, China.
    US should stop all aid to SA, including the anti retroviral drugs for 5 years and watch these arrogant ANC ministers crawl back begging.
    Then again, if the ANC is still in charge of things in 5 years, we will be in a hyper inflation cycle and past the point of no return.

    • John Smythe says:

      If the US and EU completely stops aid and trade to South Africa, then we’re completely doomed. I’m hoping that they’re still investing in SA despite our stupid government because they they have the ability to see beyond them to the people of SA who matter. A few clowns in government aren’t important.

  • virginia crawford says:

    “its lack of domestic success” is an understatement! Ms Pandor has been around since 1994 and I can’t see what she achieved in any ministry. The musical chairs of cabinet incompetents continues, and our standing in the world declines in direct proportion to the chaos and corruption of ANC government. Loyalty to the party, not logic is what counts. Many of our ministers seem delusional and irrational if you can face listening to the rambling.

  • Chris 123 says:

    For a few years I thought this was one of the better educated cadres who could string 2 words together, well goodbye to that, same useless nonsense just with a better accent.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    ANC first. South Africa last. History doesn’t count. Has she (has the ANC) forgotten how important sanctions were in bringing an end to apartheid, how helpful the UN, the UK, the USA and other western nations were in ending apartheid. Probably not, but for now that doesn’t suit the cadre deployment and corruption that has made so many ANC “leaders” so wealthy

  • David Bertram says:

    Excellent reporting again by Ray and Greg. They have said exactly what the rest of the world should be saying to South Africa. Unfortunately the ANC doesn’t care a jot about what is said about them. They still believe that they have a voice of standing in the international community but this is more and more not the case as the country and its leader become less relevant on the global stage.

  • A.K.A. Fred says:

    With all of the comments above being said, Rob Hersov clearly wasn’t wrong in his BizNews analysis of the state of the ANC and the clowns in government. It is sad that, as a South African, I am embarrassed and ashamed of the international standing of our country. The ANC has failed to position this country favourably internationally and the development of all South Africans is being held back as a result. It is indeed the time for “ANC voetsek”

  • Robert Pegg says:

    There seems to be a lack of comments from black South Africans. Is it because they don’t read the Daily Maverick, or they don’t want to admit what’s written is true ?

  • Jo Van says:

    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. In simple terms, people who are stupid do not know that they are stupid, and if they are arrogant on top of being stupid, the gap is even bigger. It is sad that in South Africa we the people, who can see through these leaders, have to tolerate being governed by such incompetents.

  • John BEWSEY says:

    Surely the real story includes the major revenue source for the ANC from Viktor Vekselberg’s United Manganese of Kalahari which bankrolls the ANC completely. It’s not wise to bite the hand that feeds you – actually, in this case – the only one that keeps you in power. – John Bewsey Pr Eng

  • Confucious Says says:

    Willie Madishe said it best: Hong hong hong…. hong hong hong!

  • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

    Pandor refers to SA as a developing country facing huge challenges including energy. Strangely SA. has always been seen as a ‘developed country’ as was its energy sector.
    Her mention that education helps end poverty and inequality, but who was responsible for the low pass mark threshold, not to mention 3000 schools with pit toilets?
    “Establishing the conditions for the seamless flow of goods and services …… for the construction of the roads, bridges, railway lines, ports and power stations” – not long ago S.A. had world class roads, railways, bridges and power stations matching highly industrialized countries in the West, but fails to tell the world that her ANC government destroyed all that.
    Never ‘missing the opportunity’ to launch her hackneyed attack on Israel, but carefully avoids any criticism of Russian barbarity in Ukraine or Iran’s building of a nuclear weapon.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Perhaps you do not grasp the conundrum that Ramaphosa finds himself in. He is seen by many former exiles as a junior to them even if he is a President in the ANC. When Naledi Pandor initially issued a statement on Ukraine, Cyril had to call her into order to correct her statement after pressure from the permanent stooges of Russia and was pointed to Russian oligarchs and their relations to the ANC that the Daily Maverick has reported on. Cold war warriors stepped to the front in the form of old stooges of Russia like the SACP to peddle lies about the Russian aggression on Ukraine. There was no NATO that was going to admit a UKraine because its rules do not permit a country with a territorial dispute with the other to join. With the annexation of Crimea by Russia it was a complete lie by both the Russians and its stooges that NATO intended to bring nuclear weapons into Ukraine. This lie is even rebutted by the fact that many Russian neighbours are NATO members including Poland let alone Russian nuclear weapons near Germany!
    Naledi Pandor was singing for her supper at the UN. She knows that whatever she would say nobody takes it seriously also given her illiteracy on the UN Charter, mandate and international law! She needs to understand that the ANC corruption and the state of the economy has not only reduced the standing of South Africa in Africa but in the world. Nobody gives a damn about what she says even in South Africa.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Homo Naledi & the ANC. A tale of the South African evolution of the ruling party.

  • Easy Does It says:

    Naledi was the lesser of the evils in the ANC and now I have lost all hope in her. She has passed her sell by date and should be chucked in the pile with Zuma and the others who have lost the plot.

  • Louis Kruger says:

    Dunning-Kruger Effect

    “Being Wrong:
    “A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.”

    Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
    Ecco / HarperCollins, 2010

  • Neil Parker says:

    Perhaps the kindest thing that may be said is that it’s the same muddle-headed thinking and ostrich-like indifference to human rights violations that characterized our government’s policy towards Zimbabwe during the many years of a brutally oppressive Mugabe regime. Seeing as they were so supportive of the latter, we should hardly be surprised with more of the same over Ukraine. Zapiro’s latest cartoon speaks volumes – as did many before on Zim.

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