South Africa’s foreign policy position seems to be in a crisis. Along with the crisis facing unemployed, homeless and a huge majority of the country’s poor and marginalized, the Madiba ‘magic’ is fast evaporating.
Two decades after great expectations that most South Africans and the rest of the world held for a future defined by level playing fields in all spheres of life, sadly, 2016 is characterized by crime, corruption and cronyism.
Not that these did not exist prior to the advent of democracy in 1994. On the contranary, apartheid represented the worst forms of injustice and inequities. But the good news that the end of oppression would herald change for the better has unfortunately not translated into such for huge chunks of our population.
Getting back to foreign policy, here we see how contradictions which are glaringly manifest in economic imbalances, are also at play in international relations.
The case of Burundi and Egypt illustrate such duplicity.
Recent attempts in Burundi to effect regime change via a military coup was strongly opposed and condemned by South Africa. Correctly so for it displayed a similar response when Egypt’s democratically elected government was deposed by the army led by its strongman General Sisi.
Burundi’s coup attempt failed. Egypt’s coup proceeded with the result that the army strongman is now donning a suit and addressed as “President” Sisi, while the elected leader Mohamed Morsi is imprisoned, facing execution.
Both Burundi and Egypt are located in Africa and subject to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. These define the African Union’s principled rejection of unconstitutional change of government and a commitment to the rule of law and democratic processes. Yet for some strange reason, it appears to be applied to East Africa and not North Africa.
South Africa’s stance on Burundi has been to condemn in the strongest possible terms any attempt to change a “democratically elected government through unconstitutional means”. Laudable indeed!
Yet as far as Egypt goes, despite the initial stance, South Africa has taken a huge somersault. Meaning in other words that we don’t mind regime change via coups. The contradiction is glaringly embarrassing for it calls into question the integrity of our foreign policy position on unlawful coups.
Not only has the ANC-led government dropped any pretense that it rejects Egypt’s coup, to rub salt in the wound of its human rights ethos, President Zuma made a state visit to Cairo and is preparing General “President” Sisi’s red carpet roll out in Pretoria.
And sadly, in the current dichotomy, a casualty of this duplicity is well-known Lenasia-based academic and humanitarian, 65 year-old Dr Abdus Salaam Jad Bassiouni. Travelling with his family to Egypt during December 2014, he gets nabbed upon landing at Cairo airport and grilled by Sisi’s notorious security thugs. As is the norm in his coup regime, Bassiouni is flung into prison where he is held for the past six months without charge and without trial.
Sisi’s ambassador in Pretoria claims that Bassiouni is being held as an Egyptian. In other words, as per DIRCO officials, that Bassiouni is a naturalized South African citizen and travelled on his SA passport with a valid visa, means zilch.
Is it the price we are expected to pay due to the mess our foreign policy position on coups has created? Or is it worse?
Will Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane explain to South Africa why citizenship of this country is being defined by a military junta?
I certainly do not remember our foreign policy being outsourced to Sisi.
Iqbal Jassat is an executive member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg, South Africa
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.