Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As South Africa turns to the grim task of dealing with the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks, our leaders must be seized with how to repair the nation’s battered image in the international community. President Mbeki’s apology to our African brothers and sisters when the Nigerian President visited this week was a modest beginning.
The President has said, and I believe him, that the NIS had not warned the government of the pending catastrophe, but the ominous signs of an involuntary African Diaspora were there for all to see.
Last August in this newsletter, I had warned that the flood of refugees from Zimbabwe especially was having a baleful impact on South Africa’s economic and social stability. Economists, I pointed out, believe we have shed 3 percent of our annual GDP because of the cost of taking care of the refugees. I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation to assist fleeing Zimbabweans despite the economic costs. Our hearts are with them. I would like to reiterate, however, that the Zimbabwean crisis cannot avert our attention from our strategic fight to eradicate poverty at home.
According to the South African Institute of Race Relations last year, the number of people in SA living on less than US$1 a day increased by 122.6% between 1996 and 2005. Acute poverty peaked in 2002, and has since declined marginally, largely because of social grants and modest job growth. But even the latter is spluttering now.
The arc of twentieth century history from wartime Oswald Mosley and Nazi Germany to the Balkans to Rwanda in the nineties informs us that abject poverty – and the ignorant perception that those foreigners are taking our jobs – all too often breeds xenophobic attitudes. Many Western Europeans simply could not believe that such atrocities could be committed in modern times at the heart of a so-called “civilised” Europe.
As I said last week, we must be tough on xenophobia and tough on the causes of xenophobia. The nation, I contend, is strong, but the state is weak. My old friend and canny prophet John-Kane Berman, after evaluating our dysfunctional government departments, has described South Africa as a “failed state”. I stress the difference between the state and the nation: we are not a failed nation.
And amidst the gloom there is one glimmer of good news. South Africa, hitherto, has a damn good name in the international community. In short, we have a stock of international goodwill to tap into from the exclusive G8 (which President Mbeki attended in 2005) to the Commonwealth to the AU to the non-aligned movement.
President Thabo Mbeki’s long diplomatic engagement has given South Africa political clout exceeding our lower middle ranking status in the international community. South Africa has already helped to shape aid for Africa, conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region – where Mr Jacob Zuma performed sterling work – and the North South debate.
We have friends from Beijing to Havana who are rooting for SA – not many states can make such a boast. Some of these states have even pushed for SA, along with emerging tiger economies like India, to have a seat on the UN Security Council in recognition of our geo-political reach. The view, apparently expressed in one influential quarter in Washington DC, that SA is a “rogue democracy” is, thank God, a minority one.
There are no serious calls, for example, for FIFA to pull the 2010 Cup out of SA and that organisation has placed on records its confidence in us. Let me be frank, I think we’ll be forgiven – if not forgotten – once. But if we funk the Cup and if it is blighted by even a whiff of xenophobia, the damage will be irreparable for years to come.
This brings me directly to the point that the internal question of inculcating the ubuntu discourse and our Bill of Rights (or our secularised “God-concepts” as Tim Trengove Jones put it so well this week) is only half of the equation.
We also need as a nation to live up to the unique anti-apartheid heritage that brought the ruling-party to power and to mirror its inherent morality in South Africa’s current foreign policy. As I see it, if we fail to do so, we will also give the unintended impression at home and abroad that we will turn a blind eye to xenophobic thugs and human rights violators.
In practice, our government must use its non-permanent vote on the UN Security Council to stand for human rights everywhere and every time: an ethical foreign policy. We have not stood up to the bullies and tyrants of Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Cuba, Iran and Syria to name just a few.
I shudder that we seem to be immunised to the news that leading run-off Presidential candidate in Zimbabwe, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, is illegally detained for a day whilst Mrs Grace Mugabe shops up a storm in Rome like she’s just won the lottery. It’s rotten, disgusting, bad taste, foul, immoral, base, repugnant. When, for goodness sake, are we going to say so?
Meanwhile we have the cheek to periodically adopt one-sided “holier-than-thou” resolutions about Israel and Palestine. We practice smorgasbord diplomacy in which we pick and choose when we want to be moral and “do the right thing”. It also time for Africa leaders, like Mr Robert Mugabe, to stop justifying their authoritarian misrule within a discourse of legitimate redress for colonial injustice and imperialism. These sentiments have resonated across Africa; large swathes of which feel marginalised by the global economy and its mighty supranational institutions, and remain wedded to the Marxist narrative of the liberation struggle. Yet this is not the right response. How we have milked this one for all it is worth!
I found the sentiments of the new Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town this week such a breath of fresh air. He said that Africa did not need aid but investment, and slammed those on the continent involved in bad governance and who blame colonialism for its ills.
Just a few weeks ago I returned from China. This is a country which has emerged from the twin tragedies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – more recently (1976) than when most African states emerged from colonialism – as the major global economic powerhouse. The country faces daunting challenges: abject rural poverty, maintaining national unity, and the need for still more painful economic structural reforms (I’m sure this sounds familiar).
Yet never once did I hear a Chinese person hold Chairman Mao or the “Gang of Four” responsible for the lives they lead today. Last Monday Nomfundu Xulu writing in The Times (Where will we go when SA is destroyed?) wrote “as South Africans, we have an attitude of entitlement. We think that the world owes us something”. She continued: “Here we are 14 years since the beginning of democracy in South Africa and we are still holding on to 1976 (my emphasis)”.
In my mellow moments, I like to think that South Africa, with our relatively peaceful transition and toolkit of conflict resolution, is also shorthand for an idea (or “ideal” to filch from De Gaulle) to the world as well as an important middle-ranking economic power.
South Africa, depsite our modest means, bears the heavy yoke of continental leadership. Our fingerprints are all over NEPAD. It’s a heavy yoke to bear, and if a negative impression of the practise of our statecraft settles, everything we do will be seen by outsiders through the prism of our supposed ill-intentions. There is much to do.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP