Defend Truth


For countries like South Africa outside the West, a multipolar world would benefit us all


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

Balance and nuance in geopolitical debate have been shot down by the war in Ukraine.

As escalating geopolitical tensions exploded when Russia invaded Ukraine early in 2022, a large chunk of the South African commentariat adopted an emotionally intense and uncritical pro-Western position.

Suddenly, the West was the home of democracy and human rights, and anyone who didn’t line up behind the West was complicit in supporting authoritarian regimes. The national conversation was rapidly poisoned by this fervour and many people began to self-censor.

In this climate, nuance has become rare, and our media sometimes seem more like a social media pile-on than a space for careful reflection. However, those of us with the privilege of adding our two cents’ worth to the national debate are morally obliged to resist mob psychology and think more carefully. We need to insist that one can, and in fact should, be deeply critical of the West without being a patsy for its enemies. We need to understand that the world is complex and that a government can be terrible in one respect but better in another.

Take the ANC, for instance. Its outrageous levels of corruption, repression and incompetence have devastated South Africa and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. But this does not mean that everything the ANC has done in office has been disastrous.

The efforts of uncritical cheerleaders for the West to paint the ANC’s typically inept attempt to chart an independent non-aligned course as being nothing but a result of corruption – of funding to the party from a Russian billionaire – are deeply insulting.

A more equitable order

Whatever the ANC’s flaws, it cannot be denied that the party has its roots in African nationalism and that there is a strong current in the party genuinely committed to a more equitable international order.

Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor clearly speaks from a place of integrity when she insists that South Africa should not become a lapdog of the West. A commitment to peace and democracy means taking a nonaligned position in the current geopolitical conflicts.

The shrill moralism of the uncritically pro-West lobby is preventing us from understanding the complexities. One of the issues that now seems difficult to engage rationally is BRICS. Any sense that a commentator may see potential benefits in BRICS is shouted down as immoral complicity in authoritarianism and warmongering.

But we all know that Western countries such as the US and the UK back many viciously authoritarian states and have attacked many countries since the end of World War 2. When people say they are for democracy and peace but don’t seem bothered by this, it is clear that what they are actually for is white, Western control of the world.

The majority of the BRICS members are authoritarian states, and only Brazil has an elected leadership that is in any sense progressive. If support for BRICS was about copying the forms of government that we see in India, China or Russia, it would be fair to say that support for BRICS is support for authoritarianism.

But this is not what the vast majority of people who have welcomed BRICS – and its imminent expansion – want. For most of them, its possible benefits centre on the end of the unipolar Western dominance of the world since 1990. This dominance has reinforced highly unequal global economic and political relations and resulted in the US and its allies waging illegal wars, staging coups and sanctioning countries that don’t accept its authority. Countries such as Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, Palestine and many, many others have been devastated by the West.

Overwhelming economic and political power

If the West did not have such overwhelming economic and political power, it would not have been able to get away with crimes against humanity, such as the destruction of Iraq. The only way to reduce the power of the West is for other countries to build working economic and political alliances.

The moves under way to break away from the dollar as the sole global currency are, in fact, hugely encouraging. To argue that this is potentially valuable for the majority of humankind who have been oppressed by the West for centuries is not to claim that the leadership of countries such as Russia and India is anything other than appalling.

It is simply to say that, for a country like South Africa, and for most countries outside the West, a multipolar world will enable more room to manoeuvre in economic and political terms and reduce the capacity of the US to isolate or even devastate countries that don’t follow its line.

When people are fearful of free and open discussion, all we are left with is shrieking and sometimes clearly racialised moralism rather than actual evidenced-based discussion and debate. We need to do better. There are real issues on the table that require real discussion. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The narrative that pro Ukraine is “western” is tiresome for its ignorance.

    All of north America, most of central and south america, africa, europe, muddle east, far east and pacific nations condemned putin.

    In the pro putin camp is iran, israel, syria, south africa, china, north korea, china and a handful of tyrants.

    How this translates to the “west” versus russia is a puzzle to me.

    Russia is the size of Spain’s economy and it cannot militarily overrun a single, small, non Nato country. The only thing bipolar about that is the medical version of bipolar.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Often, silence is golden.

  • Michael Shepstone says:

    I don’t think it can be disputed that South Africa has not shown itself to be non-aligned in this conflict. Our government has clearly sided with Russia through their actions and their refusal to condemn the war in the UN.
    I also believe that the ANC is funded to a large extent by the Russian oligarchs through their business enterprises in this country and expect to see a lot of activity from the Russian disinformation factories on behalf of the ANC in the runup to next years elections.
    The ANC should be called out on this and also for the fact that their pro Russian stance obviously does not represent the majority of people in this country, who see the war for what it is – a blatant attempt by Putin to steal and rule the Ukraine by force!

  • Miles Japhet says:

    There is no doubt that the US in particular has many instances of unjustified interference and military action in other country’s. However that is no excuse to overlook the overwhelmingly better outcomes for the poor in Western countries.
    South Africa cannot afford to not be aligned with the West, who has added more value by way of Trade and Investment than the BRICS. The position they hold is untenable and is driven by a false narrative.
    In addition the invasion of Ukraine is nothing short of an ego driven Imperialism with fear mongering around NATO (no history of aggressive action) and Nazism in Ukraine. Laughable.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Such tired and cliched thinking from an obviously biased academic. Firstly, anti-Russia is not equal to pro-America. Secondly, if Dr Pandor was a person of integrity her first duty should have been to unequivocally condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, she has chosen to be a spokes”person” for Russia thereby underlining whose lapdog SA has chosen to be.
    How anyone with anti-colonial/settler “credentials can stand by and accept Russian neo-colonial ambitions is beyond credibility.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “The efforts of uncritical cheerleaders for the West to paint the ANC’s typically inept attempt to chart an independent non-aligned course as being nothing but a result of corruption – of funding to the party from a Russian billionaire – are deeply insulting.”
    Insulting maybe, but there is much truth to it. And just because someone is against a bunch of dictators (which is basically what BRICS is) it doesn’t mean they support the US uncritically. Generally we would do well if the US would influence us less, but not at the price of countries like China and Russia having more influence. This has nothing to do with being an “uncritical cheerleader”.

  • gabrielagoldberg1 says:

    These have been my thoughts and questions over and over again. Thank you Imraan for helping me find the words.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Yeah, the west. Have you looked at a map lately?

  • Johann Olivier says:

    ‘As escalating geopolitical tensions exploded when Russia invaded Ukraine early in 2022, a large chunk of the South African commentariat adopted an emotionally intense and uncritical pro-Western position.’

    Actually, the emotionally intense uncritical position had NOTHING to do with being pro-Western & everything to do with a brutal invasion by a dictator of a neighbouring nascent democracy. How does your thinking become so muddied? This is conceptual slippage of the worst kind.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The author lives in some bubble not in the real world and fails to understand that at the centre of international relations it is the question of trade and investments not tavern talk. We have to understand that we cannot define friends and enemies as in the liberation struggle but in terms of what is best for our economic and national security interests as a country. What is in the interests of the ANC has been proven that it is not necessarily in the interests of the country. Buccus displays the same dishonesty of Mbeki and Kasrils and lies on the issue of Ukraine with the nonsense of Lavrov who carries a suitcase of lies and wherever he goes to mislead people with very little knowledge of the global geopolitics. Firstly it is very dishonest to say that we can be neutral to the United Nations Charter on whose principles we voluntarily signed on without a gun being put on our head. We cannot be neutral when a country violates the very same Charter as the ANC is not neutral to those who violate its constitution. Russia violated the United Nations Charter by invading Ukraine and international law. We condemned the US when it invaded Iraq with lies and Mbeki was not neutral and he must not go around lying as we vitiated the UN Charter. The multipolar world is not going to be determined by nuclear weapons only but the economic power a country commands an issue lost Buccus and Lavrov. As an economic patient we must nurse ourselves to health and Russia is a small economic fry.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Thank you for this timely reminder. Sure, we need trade with the west, but let’s not be fooled into thinking that the west is some benign, helpful friend. The absolute complicity and assistance of major western business (KPMG, E&Y, PwC, ABB, etc) in state capture and corrupt profiteering, the destabilisation of South Africa by brand managers Bell Pottinger in support of Zuma. The West will support South Africa just so long as we provide opportunities (fair or foul) for its money-making corporates and multi-billionaires, then it will drop us like a hot brick if those opportunities are not available. Global business and trade flourishes to the best advantage of all parties when there is strong competition. Democratic politics works best when there is strong competition. A strong trade and political community to compete on an equal footing with the Western Bloc will have a hugely beneficial outcome for the world.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    1. The “West” is not only the US. If you want to criticize the US then say so and don’t involve other countries.
    2. If you can find another currency as strong and reliable as the US $, then we can start to discuss about changing the global currency. Having more than one currency would only divide the world even more.
    3. The ANC of the past has most likely saved the country, but the ANC of today is doing its best to ruin the country both economically and morally.
    You have clearly expressed your opinion, but that’s all it is. There is absolutely nothing that you have written that can make me change my mind about the governments of SA, Russia, India, China etc.

  • Waheed Sookool says:

    Why is any critical questioning about the role of big pharma in ‘pushing’ drugs, including vaccines, about the role of the US in global destabilization which includes NATO encroachment, about the actual costs of going green versus traditional carbon energy, and many other complex and multi-faceted issues that require constant re-visiting and questioning, so vehemently opposed in the DM, especially the comments section.
    I thought liberals were meant to be open-minded people, showing tolerance and eager to engage with opposing or simply different opinions? Obviously not!
    There’s a reason why hard-liners and fascists are making ground the world over, it’s because of the ‘holier than thou’, ‘if you not with us then you’re against us’ ideology of the (mostly) white, so-called liberal folk, the world over, who peddle a pro-Western, pro rapacious capitalism, pro-secular agenda, at all costs. Who insist on viewing the world politics as simply bi-polar world, and who side-line all other views.
    Rather pathetic for intellectual vigour when sound debate gets quashed.

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