Defend Truth


South Africa’s foreign policy choice must be premised on strong principles


Bonang Mohale is the President of Business Unity South Africa (Busa), Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor of Practice in the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) College of Business and Economics, and Chairman of both The Bidvest Group Limited and SBV Services. He is the author of the best-selling book, ‘Lift As You Rise’ and 'Behold The Turtle'! He has been included in the Reputation Poll International’s (RPI) 2023 list of the 100 Most Reputable Africans. The selection criteria are Integrity, Reputation, Transparency, Visibility and Impact.

South Africa must act in its own best national interest and preserve the little, if any, that is left of our international reputation. Let us together fortify our foundations and build a great, better, robust and resilient future.

A state’s foreign policy, international relations policy or external policy is its objectives and activities in relation to its interactions with other states, unions and other political entities, whether bilaterally or through multilateral platforms. It is a set of goals about how the country will work with other countries economically, politically, socially and militarily, and includes such matters as international trade, foreign aid, military alliances and war. 

At a time when “the defining geopolitical contest of our time is between China and the United States”, all the Group of Seven (G7) countries’ leaders have visited Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky in person, express their support for Ukraine in its defence against Russian aggression and paid tribute to the civilians killed in Bucha. 

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the South Korean (Japan’s former colony) President Yoon Suk Yeol held a summit in Tokyo in March, marking the first visit by a South Korean president in 12 years! These two East Asian countries have joined sides with the US and European countries. 

The South East Asian countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are charting a more peaceful and prosperous path, setting an example of how to walk the diplomatic tightrope to preserve trust with both China and the US. 

South Africa must act in its own best national interest and preserve the little, if any, that is left of our international reputation, because the one thing the country cannot afford right now is to annoy both the East and the West! Especially, a country defined by such rich principles with the best Constitution – that is premised on the three pillars of constitutional democracy, social justice and fundamental human rights – a beneficiary of 189 United Nations member countries that declared apartheid a crime against humanity, imposition of sanctions, etc. A country whose forebears laid such a firm foundation! A country of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s dreams.

Deep-rooted relations  

Soon after Mandela was liberated from prison, he visited his comrade Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, for three days in July 1991 to, among other things, thank him for his support of the ANC in the 1960s, sending soldiers to Angola during the 1970s right through to the 1980s to fight apartheid regimes, the critical role the Cubans had played in the defeat of the apartheid South African Defence Force in backing the People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, as well as informing some of his negotiations with the National Party to end apartheid (both incidents widely believed to be significant catalysts to the eventual ending of apartheid). He also visited a number of other Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. 

In his speech at a rally at which he was Castro’s honoured guest and awarded the Order of José Martí medal, Cuba’s highest honour, on 27 July 1991, Mandela said: “We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious, imperialist-orchestrated campaign. We, too, want to control our own destiny.” He was heavily criticised by Western governments for his friendship with Castro, Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, from whom he accepted the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Newly released Mandela interview tapes bring Madiba to life again

Amnesty International and other rights groups that protested against Mandela’s imprisonment have censured Castro’s one-party system for jailing his opponents and stifling dissent. Speaking to reporters before leaving for Venezuela, Mandela refused to endorse such criticism, observing: “If there is a diversity of opinions about Cuba, I understand that. The people of South Africa and the ANC are entitled to have our own friends and allies… and in this particular case, Cuba is our friend.” 

In 1994, Castro was able to return the visit to attend Mandela’s inauguration after he was elected as South Africa’s first black president. Four years later, on a return visit to South Africa, Castro was given a hero’s welcome, delivering a speech in Parliament. 

The ANC won a 63% share of the vote at the election, and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on 10 May 1994, with the National Party’s FW de Klerk his first deputy and Thabo Mbeki the second in the Government of National Unity. The ceremony in Pretoria was attended by more than 4,000 people, including many world leaders such as US Vice-President Al Gore, first lady Hillary Clinton, US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Reverend Jesse Jackson, UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Prince Philip, UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, Arafat, Castro, Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, musician and producer Quincy Jones, singer Miriam Makeba, Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Israeli President Ezer Weizman, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, and former Australian prime ministers Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser. More than a billion people tuned into the internationally televised ceremony. 

Mandela served only one term as president before retiring from political life! 

The ceremony was rich in symbolism and emotion as heads of state from more than 160 countries sat in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings. It was ceremonially recognised by the police and military forces whose historic mission had been to prevent what was happening but who were now securing the conditions for a peaceful transition. Fighter planes and generals saluted the first democratically elected president and pledged allegiance. In the moment between the singing of Die Stem, the apartheid anthem of the old, oppressive South Africa, and the singing of the healing song Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the anthem of liberation (of five African countries), the new South African flag unfurled. 

From the Union Buildings a helicopter took Mandela to the Ellis Park Stadium where South Africa’s soccer team was playing Zambia. There he again called for the nation to work together for change. What happened then, after a brief talk to the South African team at half-time, gave birth to the belief in the “Madiba Magic”. He had arrived at the end of a goalless first half but in the first minutes of the second half, South Africa scored two goals in quick succession and went on to win the match 2-0. 

Much later, on 10 December 2013, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech at a national memorial service for Mandela. DM


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