South Africa


SA public diplomacy chief Clayson Monyela’s views on Ukraine expose government’s foreign policy thinking

SA public diplomacy chief Clayson Monyela’s views on Ukraine expose government’s foreign policy thinking
International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

Clayson Monyela, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s head of public diplomacy, took issue with Greg Mills and Ray Hartley of the Brenthurst Foundation for being ‘obsessed with Ukraine’. The latter have replied comprehensively to Monyela’s criticism. But Monyela’s article exposes some crucial elements of South Africa’s current foreign policy thinking, which are well worth highlighting.

The race card  

Perhaps not surprisingly, Monyela sets out by accusing the Brenthurst Foundation’s authors of not grasping the urgency of addressing inequality due to their being “born into privilege”, that is, being white. Playing this race card, he implies that both Mills and Hartley, being white, are more concerned about “white” victims in Ukraine than “brown” victims in other conflict situations, like Yemen, Western Sahara or Palestine. Apart from being factually wrong, as Monyela clearly had not taken the trouble to look at the Brenthurst Foundation’s involvement in multiple aid, development  and peace-making efforts primarily in Africa (probably more effectively than our government’s efforts in this regard), this race-based assumption is worse than objectionable. 

Denying global realities 

Monyela accuses Mills and Hartley of prioritising (“being obsessed with”, in his words) the Ukrainian conflict, like “some in the Western world”. Mr Monyela, let me point out to you that not just “some in the Western world”, but virtually the whole world outside of Russia and China, notably including leading African countries such as Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria, did so, both in the first UN debate following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and more recently again at the 77th UN General Assembly, when our International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor stuck out like a sore thumb by studiously avoiding any reference to the Ukrainian situation. 

Read Clayson Monyela’s opinion piece here.

Read Greg Mills and Ray Hartley’s right of reply here.

This priority with Ukraine exists for a good reason, as the war in Ukraine, unlike all the conflicts mentioned by Monyela, arose from a full-blown military attack by a major world power on another sovereign state – the first such event since World War 2 – thereby posing a serious threat to the established world order and global peace, and notably to the security of food supply to poor African countries. Monyela, along with Pandor, seems to regard concern for this real threat to the world and to Africa in particular as an “obsession”.

Selective indignation

Monyela’s whataboutism refers repeatedly and at length to the conflicts in Yemen, Western Sahara and Palestine. Interestingly, the serious conflicts and human suffering in places such as Tigray in Ethiopia, Syria, Myanmar, Tibet and the Uyghurs in China are not mentioned at all. Uncomfortable perhaps, as “Western” nations cannot be pointed out as the alleged perpetrators?

Fake and selective ‘neutrality’

Fake: If South African Defence Minister Thandi Modise’s recent participation in a military conference in Moscow, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was not enough to make a mockery of South Africa’s proclaimed “neutrality” on Ukraine, the public participation of an ANC Youth League delegation in Russia’s recent sham annexation referendums, without a word about this being uttered by Monyela, Pandor, President Cyril Ramaphosa or any other ANC leader, surely removes all doubt.

Selective: If “neutrality” and non-alignment in conflict situations were cornerstones of South Africa’s foreign policy, why is this principle not adhered to in other cases, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict? Monyela and his boss, Pandor, have never hesitated to condemn Israel outright as the villain and to declare full support for the Palestinians as the victims. “Neutrality and non-alignment” only when it suits us, for instance to protect our friends and allies?

Sanctions hypocrisy

Monyela condemns “Western sanctions” against countries such as Cuba and Zimbabwe, stating that these sanctions (and not their disastrous economic policies) are mainly responsible for the plight of their citizens, “denying them access to essential medical supplies and consumer goods”. Apart from whether such sanctions are justifiable or not, this concern for human suffering is laudable. But where is this same concern when ANC leaders publicly call for sanctions and boycotts against Israel, for example?

Anti-Western bias

The world is currently witnessing a polarisation process into two distinct camps: a largely democratic “Western” group and a largely authoritarian “progressive” group of nations, led by Russia and China, keen to contest perceived “Western dominance”. Authoritarian Russia’s attack on a democratic Ukraine is a vivid example of this trend. While professing its “neutrality” and “non-alignment”, it is abundantly clear which direction South Africa is taking with its foreign policy decisions. Its choices are perfectly in step with the ANC’s stated objective of a National Democratic Revolution – the policy embodiment of “progressive” ideals and a “new world order”.

If Monyela’s ideas accurately reflect (and they presumably do) the compass with which South Africa is navigating the international waters, then it is perhaps time to reach for our life vests, as there are very troubled waters ahead. DM 

Roel H Goris is the former South African ambassador to Thailand.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    This obnoxious poor excuse of an ANC government is morally bankrupt, devoid of any integrity/morals, exceptionally hypocritical and downright deceitful in all their dealings, let alone being corrupt to the core. Our foreign policy reflects this and it is a great shame that SA aligns with the most vile/murderous regimes and human rights abusers. The ANC does not know right from wrong, stick to failed centralist dogmas and have misplaced loyalties. It will come back and bite us!

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Was Iraq not a sovereign state since about 1932.

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