In response to Peter Bruce’s column, “Diplomatic encounters of the difficult kind” (September 4), a number of inaccurate statements about SA’s foreign policy and foreign relations need to be corrected. Bruce treats the recent diplomatic interactions between SA and the US with suspicion as if there has been a “sudden interest in SA”. But the visit of US secretary of state Anthony Blinken to SA in early August for the SA-US strategic dialogue was neither surprising or new, or an indication of “sudden interest”.
The first meeting between the foreign ministers of SA and the US in terms of the strategic dialogue took place in Washington in December 2010. The strategic dialogue mechanism has seen co-operation between the two countries growing and expanding in the areas of trade and investment, technology transfer, education, health, environment, safety and security, institution-building and many other areas.
Bruce contends that the Americans were “stung” by SA’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. But to the contrary, SA did condemn the invasion as a violation of international law and continues to do so. He surmises that SA’s position could lead to the denial of financial assistance in moving from coal-fired power to renewables. Not only is there no such talk but commitments to SA have already been made in this regard.
SA abhors the legislation currently in the US congress to punish African countries that did not adopt the same position as the US on the war in Ukraine. It should be as repulsive to all of us that elements in congress think they can sanction
African countries for having independent foreign policies.
According to Bruce, “minister Pandor had a go at poor Blinken when he was here, telling him sharply that she would not be bullied”. This is ill-informed. Blinken neither took offence nor was upset by Pandor’s comments. He clarified that the US had not been trying to change SA’s position. Pandor also clarified that it was not the US that had been bullying SA to change its position but certain of our European partners, which she rightly found unacceptable.
For Bruce to say, “Actually she may strike poses but she would, if push came to shove, do what she was told. As would Ramaphosa,” is beyond the pale. The assumption that the most senior leadership of our country would “do as they are told” suggests that we are living in a neocolonial state that is subservient to big powers such as the US — which we are not.
The suggestion that SA would bow to US pressure to change its foreign policy just because there’s a perception that the US controls access to funding from the World Bank and IMF is simply fiction. Democratic SA has never bowed to pressure from the US, the World Bank or IMF and we are not about to start now.
If anything, journalists should be applauding the fact that SA has an independent foreign policy based on our principles and values rooted in our democratic constitution. SA is proud of its nonaligned approach to the war in Ukraine, which is a position shared by many countries in the NonAligned Movement that refuse to be dragged into the politics of confrontation between the big powers.
Bruce saying “the fact they don’t bully us is good manners, and we should be grateful we remain a recipient of US trade largesse”, again smacks of colonial undertones. As a powerhouse in Africa, should SA really be grateful that the US doesn’t bully us and that some of our goods get preferential access to its markets?
Here are the facts. There’s been growth in trade between the two countries from $13.9bn in 2010 to $21bn in 2021. In 2021 the US was the second-largest destination for SA’s exports globally. South African firms have also become significant foreign investors. South African investments in the US are on the increase, with the US accounting for 17.4% of total South African foreign direct investment to the world.
One has to take exception to Bruce’s argument that “we have done our best to destroy the things that once made us a viable partner [of the US] — our ports don’t work, our politics are increasingly unstable, we have virtually no military capability and the ruling party is unable to break with its ideological affinity with stale 1960s communism”. Such comments sound like apartheid-era claims that black South Africans were incapable of ruling, that everything would go to ruin and the ruling party would be wedded to communism.
We certainly are faced with challenges but our ports are operational. We may want to expand and modernise them but that does not mean they don’t work. Democratic contestation in the lead-up to party conferences is always fraught with political tensions, but that doesn’t make us politically unstable.
We have military capacity, and ironically journalists are the first to criticise our government if it spends money on additional arms when resources are better spent addressing poverty and inequality.
As for the criticisms regarding our diplomatic representation abroad, Bruce’s claim that almost all our ambassadors are ANC party hacks is not the case. The department of international relations & co-operation is committed to increasing the number of career diplomats, professionalising the foreign service and training SA’s representatives overseas in economic diplomacy. It is time to look positively towards the future and work together to build the SA we want rather than engage in Afropessimism.SA has never bowed to pressure from the US, the World Bank or IMF and we are not about to start now.