Clayson Monyela: SA won’t bow to bullying by the USA or anyone else, and it doesn’t need to

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.