06 May 2007

06 May 2007 - Against Kasrils and the kleptocrats

Today’s blog is in honor of new Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who was elected today to the highest post in South Africa’s largest opposition party. Zille, who is a champion of human rights and good governance, is a leader with great potential. She will continue Tony Leon’s legacy of strong and principled opposition and challenge the ruling party for power after her own fashion: leading by example.

One area in which Zille could begin is South Africa’s foreign policy, which reached new lows last week when Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils invited Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to South Africa. Apart from the question of why the intelligence minister is handling foreign affairs, there is the question of why South Africa thinks it should meet Hamas on home soil, or at all.

Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction, to ghastly antisemitic beliefs and to a strategy of killing innocent Israeli civilians. There is only one set of conditions in which a Hamas visit to South Africa could possibly be justified, and that is if it involves a pre-planned announcement to renounce the use of violence. Gerry Adams of the IRA previously used a visit to Nelson Mandela in 2001 for that purpose.

Somehow, I doubt that is what Hamas and the African National Congress (ANC) government are up to. I think this is yet another in a series of attempts by President Mbeki and the ANC to play both sides of the international divide. Only a few weeks ago, the President attended Israel Independence Day celebrations in Durban; now he will embrace someone committed to destroying Israel.

Tony Leon recently described South Africa’s foreign policy as “schizophrenic,” and indeed it is that. Only the ANC’s propagandists, or their willing dupes, could see any logical coherence in a policy that claims to stand for human rights and conflict resolution yet protects Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, that cavorts with North Korea and tries to shield Iran and Myanmar from international scrutiny.

Yet schizophrenia is a mental disorder, and I don’t think South Africa’s foreign policy is the result of madness, or even incompetence (though there is certainly a some of the latter around, in generous proportions). Rather, I think it is the result of a rational calculation of self-interest—not the self-interest of South Africa as a whole, but the self-interest of the ANC and its elite leadership.

The ANC plays to the sentimental sensibilities of the liberal democracies, and at the same time to the radical agenda of the Islamists and the communists. It does so because there are direct benefits to be had—trade and recognition from the former, private contracts and inside deals from the latter. And the ANC gets away with it because of its unchallenged economic and political leadership in Africa.

This sort of double-dealing does not help the country as a whole, because it chases away potential investors from the liberal democracies, and all the Islamists and the communists are interested in are a narrow range of commodities and weapons technologies. The only beneficiaries are the leaders of the ANC itself, and more and more evidence is emerging that this is the guiding logic behind the erratic policy.

This past weekend, ANC crony Sandi Majali threatened to “spill the beans” on a series of shady oil transactions that put millions of rands in public money into the ANC’s campaign coffers. Majali was also part of the ANC’s effort to raise potential billions for the ruling party by doing oil deals with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. There are other deals we don’t know the details of—with Iran, for example, and others.

There is no link between Kasrils and these shady deals, but whipping up anti-Israel sentiment in South Africa and around the world has obviously raised his personal profile. He is no longer just a domestic player; he is now helping to lead an international effort to encourage violent extremism and to isolate Israel. He has forgotten his earlier condemnations of terrorism, and the ANC's earlier support for Arafat's Fatah against Hamas, and is now Hamas’s good friend.

Kasrils’s invitation would not and could not have happened without official approval. Perhaps South Africa has simply seen a gap in the diplomatic arena and is rushing to take advantage of the opportunity to play the mediator. More likely, the ANC is trying to atone for its ultimate vote against Iran in the Security Council (after heavy western pressure) and to re-establish its radical credentials.

This zigzag is not being performed solely for reasons of ideology, or even vanity. There is very likely a cash cost to the ANC, in terms of rands and cents, for being seen to be too far to one side or the other. So it has to alternate stances—first protecting the Myanmar regime, then condemning it; first aiding Iran, then isolating it; first celebrating Israel, then siding with its mortal adversaries.

There can be no other rational explanation for the stance the ANC has taken. There is a line of thinking that maintains the ANC is simply trying to export South Africa’s model of conflict resolution, but I disagree. I think the ANC befriends rogue regimes because it hopes to cash in on their need for friends. Otherwise, Kasrils—whose job, let us remember, is to stop terror—would have been fired immediately. But this game cannot last long. South Africa is in overdraft at the bank of international credibility. Someone, sometime, is bound to call its bluff.


At 10:34 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Helen Zille is an inspiring leader and if she is reading this blog, she should know that the family of Rabbi David Hoffman in Los Angeles is wishing her well in the challenges that lay ahead!

Her appointment in itself could have leaned the ANC toward a more conspicuously pro-Muslim stance because having the main opposition party headed by a Jew married to an Israeli meant that dissatisfied Muslims would not go there. Now that is no longer the case. The ANC's "evenhandedness," on the Middle East definitely surprised and irritated the local Muslims and with Tony Leon gone, the ANC does not need to risk Muslims moving in the direction of the main opposition party which can effect local power politics in the Western Cape and to a far lesser extent in Natal. It was no coincidence that Mbeki showed up at the Yom Haatzmaut celebration in Natal, rather than in the Cape where the ANC is weaker.


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