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Arrogance of South Africans on Africa

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

Despite several examples of opposition leaders being detained or harassed internationally, DA leader Mmusi Maimane has not remembered his principles of choosing the right side of history and ensuring we don’t have dictators. So why Zambia? Why would Maimane, of all the countries in the world with opposition leaders facing intimidation and harassment, choose Zambia?

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has been accused of a so-called post-coup crackdown that has had opposition leaders and MPs of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP), including its world respected leader Selahattin Demirta?, detained and charged for crimes linked to so-called “terrorist propaganda”.

It’s a crackdown that happened against a backdrop of rising criticism over President Erdo?an’s government’s purge, a government that has also issued warrants of arrests against editors and staff of Cumhuriyet, the main opposition newspaper in the country.

In response to these crackdowns, the ANC in solidarity with the Kurdish members of the Turkish Parliament has used all diplomatic channels and has spoken out for the release of these oppositions leaders, demanding equal treatment for all members of the Turkish Parliament, irrespective of which political party they belong to, and for their immunity to be reinstated.

Not a single statement was released by the Democratic Alliance in solidarity with these opposition leaders, much less a call to visit them in prisons or support their trials.

President Erdo?an has held a referendum making him akin to a king, with powers that no African “so-called dictators” could even dream of. All countries of the world have condemned these changes and continue to push for a more open and democratic Turkey.

The underlying truth is simple, however. Turkey is a sovereign state and the strong man Erdo?an is an elected leader of Turkey.

Russia, as with Zambia today, has had a number of opposition leaders and presidential hopefuls who have been arrested and tried on what many observers say are politically driven reasons and some Russian opposition leaders, like statesman and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, have paid the ultimate price.

On 6 March, Russian presidential hopeful Alexei Navalny was released from prison after 15 days’ detention for “handing out leaflets to a rally” that was to be held on 1 March 2017. Then on Sunday 26 March 2017 he was detained again for calling for an anti-corruption march across the cities of Russia. Governments across the world have condemned these arrests and the US State Department called the arrests “an affront to core democratic values”.

Beyond that, however, the US and other countries have engaged Russia through its diplomatic channels to end the seeming intimidation of opposition leaders. The underlying truth again is that Russia is a sovereign state and Putin is the elected president.

Due to immaturity and no international diplomatic knowledge, Maimane, an airhead who generally spits unmemorable things and involves himself in dramatic stunts, is blind to the level of mutual respect that governs all relations between countries. While on any given day, Donald Trump, no different to Maimane, could release a huge bomb in Afghanistan or command an air strike on Syria for reasons that range from protecting civilians and democratic values to protecting opposition that is under threat, when it comes to Russia or other countries with a semblance of balance of power, Trump or any other US president would never go beyond diplomatic channels in dealing with them. This is a question of balance of power.

Mutual respect and the balance of power are what governs nation-to-nation relations, unless there is an underlying arrogance and overestimation of strength (which is usually accompanied by a sense of high moral ground). International relations dictate that relations among countries must always be understood within the context of sovereignty.

Similar opposition leader intimidation and arrests have happened in Cambodia, Bosnia and in other countries around the world.

In all these international opposition politics, Maimane has not remembered his principles of choosing the right side of history and ensuring we don’t have dictators.

So why Zambia? Why would Maimane, of all the countries in the world with opposition leaders facing intimidation and harassment, choose Zambia?

Maimane may argue that he is doing this because he is an African and Zambia is in Africa. Given that he and his DA have been interested in Israel and Palestine (the half truth they gave us), and Taiwan and other countries on the back of being internationalists, Maimane and the DA’s selective human rights justice and protection of opposition leaders makes them exactly what Zambia calls them, “an extension of colonial conquests”.

The real question though is whether Maimane, by virtue of being South African, thinks he is superior to Zambians and has something to add to their politics that no Zambian can?

What is the source of this arrogance and the nerve to go beyond the diplomatic channels into a country to send a symbolic message that seeks to undermine a sitting president. Does Maimane not respect President Edgar Lungu? Does he not see him as a strong man like Erdo?an or Putin?

Maimane, as Helen Zille before him, and worst of them all, Tony Leon, have always looked down on black governments, with an undertone that however brilliant we can be as Africans, there is always something they will teach us. This is the same colonial mentality that has destroyed Zille’s standing in the country.

Let’s be clear to Maimane and the DA minions. Zambia or any other African country, especially SADEC countries, are not a 10th province of South Africa.

Ivo Vegter, a Daily Maverick columnist and author, on the question of why South Africans think they are better than other Africans, has this view. “This is typical of any country that has an economy that dominates its neighbours. The stereotypical example is America. There’s little incentive in such a large, rich country to bother getting passports, or paying attention to much international news.”

What this means is that not only is Maimane undermining Zambia, he most likely knows very little about the country or its political dynamic that is truly lived by Zambians on a daily basis.

South Africans, and black South Africans in particular, have absolutely no reason to undermine Africans. Although we may be more economically active than other Africans, that wealth mostly does not belong to black Africans. White South Africans still own most of the wealth. The proximity to white people must be giving Maimane some illusions of grandeur. “… 60%-65% of South Africa’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of just 10% of the population … this group historically has been predominantly, almost exclusively, white”.

What could we be arrogant about towards our fellow Africans? Most are probably better off than us if you took the white wealth average off our colonial brains. Even more painful is that whenever we have unfortunate xenophobia events, the question of arrogance of South Africans always emerges.

The record of South Africa’s diplomatic engagements with African countries has been one of South Africa’s greatest legacies since Nelson Mandela’s warm and firm authority enabled him to cajole 19 parties into talks between Tutsis and Hutus, ending bloody civil wars across the region.

More important, however, something that Maimane’s youthful foolishness cannot comprehend, is the obvious truth that diplomacy does not only seek to respect sovereignty, it also protects the very person you are in solidarity with so that his condition does not worsen, both because there is another country that is not only interested in his well-being, but the well-being of the country at large.

Maimane has single-handedly made things worse for Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema and even harder for South Africa to be an unbiased and principled voice in support of Hichilema. DM


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