SA needs a foreign policy based on facts and principle, not friends and ideology
Happy 2017! I hope you have all emerged from the festive season feeling relaxed, renewed and ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. For us at the DA, 2017 is a year to build on our gains of 2016 and prove beyond doubt that in government we are a party that delivers to all.
It is also a year to look outward and fight harder than ever to promote liberal democracy and the protection of individual human rights worldwide. SA should play a leading role in foreign policy issues but for years we have aligned ourselves with despots and human rights abusers around the world. We have squandered a wonderful opportunity to show the world what value South Africa can add.
South Africa has unique experience in the world as one of the only countries that has found a negotiated, peaceful solution to a seemingly intractable conflict. We can harness it to play a proactive, constructive leadership role in opening communication channels between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, to help bring them together to negotiate a peaceful solution and an end to conflict. This is why a DA delegation visited Israel and Palestine earlier this month.
Diplomacy cannot be based on propaganda or historical alliances of government. It must be rooted in the present and based on facts. To hear both sides of a story is not only a legal and moral principle, it is also a practical necessity. If you really want to know what is going on, do what Helen Suzman did and go see for yourself. This is exactly what we did.
We went to Israel and Palestine to get the facts and to establish constructive relationships of trust with leaders on both sides of the conflict – and also to learn about innovation and trade opportunities in the region. In addition to political leaders, we met with members of the broader community of civil society, business people and religious leaders from both sides.
Our meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was cancelled on the day we were scheduled to meet. Nevertheless, we visited the Palestinian Territories – both Gaza and the West Bank – to meet with other members of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and to gather first hand accounts and see for ourselves. We came away feeling much better informed, with renewed confidence in our position regarding this conflict and the role South Africa should be playing in resolving it.
Essentially, we support an end to violence and a return to negotiation for a two-state solution. Above all, we call on all parties to respect human rights. We support open trade in the region and beyond. Our role is to encourage and enable constructive negotiation, not to pronounce on the specifics of the settlement – those are for the parties themselves to negotiate.
The ANC has criticized us for visiting Israel. We reject this outright. You cannot hope to resolve conflict by breaking off relations and refusing to meet those involved. We make no apology whatsoever for visiting both Israel and Palestine.
The ANC’s reaction to our visit is revealing. Without establishing the facts, they accused us of only visiting Israel. This is not only inaccurate, but downright hypocritical, given that an ANC government delegation from the Department of Water and Sanitation visited Israel in October 2016 – without visiting Palestine. The ANC’s policy of rejecting Israel and severing diplomatic ties is destructive and will only serve to amplify the bad blood between parties that desperately need to be able to engage constructively with one another. Nothing will be achieved until Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas are able to talk to each other.
The ANC’s outrage is both manufactured and selective. They vilify Israel, and yet have failed to come out strongly against Mr Jammeh’s dictatorial conduct in refusing to accept defeat in Gambia’s recent elections. Similarly, they have lacked the courage to stand up for human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe, Burundi and the DRC. At the United Nations they have voted against LGBTI rights and Internet freedom.
Rather than leverage our unique experience of peaceful negotiation of the early 1990s, the ANC has opted for a foreign policy that is still rooted in the geopolitics of the 1980s. For the ANC, the Berlin Wall is still up; the world is still split on communism; Russia is great, the West is bad; and Castro and Mugabe are still heroes.
The world has changed, but the ANC is still seeking guidance and drawing inspiration from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF while protecting Al Bashir, charged by the ICC for his alleged campaign of mass murder and rape of civilians in Darfur, in contravention of our constitution and international obligations. Their foreign policy is inconsistent and archaic, based on personal friendships, race, outdated ideologies and historical baggage.
The DA is committed to a foreign policy that is consistent and rooted in fact and principle; a foreign policy that takes South Africa and the world forward, promotes liberal democracy and protects individual human rights. We intend to engage more leaders from across the world – in order to prepare for being in government, innovate and forge good relations. In 1993, Nelson Mandela stated that: “Human rights will be the light that guides our foreign affairs”. Under Zuma’s ANC, South Africa’s foreign policy has strayed from that path. The DA is committed to getting South Africa back onto it.
This article by Mmusi Maimane first appeared in Bokamoso, the online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.