In the face of evolving global dynamics, South Africa finds itself at a crossroads, torn between its historical connections to the West and its growing commitment to the BRICS nations. While this statement holds some truth, it fails to fully capture the tensions within the Colony, which greatly influence its complex foreign policy formulation.The article ‘ANC’s old alliances have no benefit for South Africa — a new approach to foreign policy is needed’ (Daily Maverick 15/05) by Mmusi Maimane, the leader of Build One SA, demonstrates the difficulties in understanding the internal structure of South Africa, which then informs the complex foreign policy choices.
South Africa, a country with a history marred by colonialism and later apartheid, continues to grapple with internal colonialism and its various manifestations. Renowned scholars such as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and Ashis Nandyhave conceptualised internal colonialism assystemic oppression and exploitation of certain communities within a nation, resulting in severe social, economic, and political inequalities. The implication is that the country is less than the sum of its parts, with the white side of the colony dominating an incomplete Republic founded in 1910 and later restructured in 1994.
This op-ed delves into the tensions within the Colony, specifically examining how they manifest in public policy, with a particular focus on foreign policy. It also acknowledges the historical context of imperialism, colonialism and apartheid, which have shaped the country’s current reality as an unequal society. Moreover, it deals with the concerns of the white population, oftenapprehensive about the emerging geopolitical framework.
The scars of imperialism, colonialism, and apartheid continue to haunt the Republic, perpetuating deep-rooted inequalities within its society. These historical injustices have led to a disproportionate distribution of resources, opportunities, and power. As a result, South Africastruggles to reconcile its fragmented identity and foster a cohesive sense of unity. Divisions persist along racial and socio-economic lines, impeding progress and exacerbating social tensions.
Many ANC leaders, originating from marginalised communities, have been shaped by the experiences and perspectives shaped by internal colonialism, as they navigate the complexities of societal transformation and governance, particularly in the realm of foreign policy choices.Maimane’s suggestion that “old historical, nostalgic ties that don’t serve this interest belong in the past” overlooks the way ideas are shaped within the black side of the Colony. When it comes to global politics, “the return of the repressed”entails the resurgence of suppressed or marginalised voices, narratives, or issues that have been overlooked or suppressed by dominant political structures or ideologies.
While Maimane raises important points regarding the economy, trade, and unemployment, he misses the crucial aspect that the changing global political order cannot be comprehended solely through the lens of international relations tools. The dynamics of the international system encompass factors that go beyond traditional state relations, including race, Eurocentrism, selfishness, and oppression. Western powers have historically employed racism, force, and marginalisation to establish and maintain an unequal world order, leaving Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia in disadvantaged positions.
Consequently, the structure of the international system reflects these historical injustices and perpetuates global inequalities. The rise of the East bloc, led by China and Russia, symbolises the global struggle against colonialism, which resonates with marginalized communities in South Africa. Therefore, it is understandable that marginalised communities with darker skin tones identify with those whom they perceive to be similar to them. The current global order pits the privileged white race in the so-called Global North against the dead poor heavy-pigmented peoples of the South.
South Africa is a microcosm of this unequal, race-based international system. It mirrors the broader global context where racial divisions have been instrumentalised to maintain unequal power relations between nations and regions. South Africa’s experience also sheds light on the impact of Eurocentrism within the international system. The influence of European norms, values, and institutions has perpetuated a Eurocentric worldview that marginalises non-Western perspectives and knowledge systems.
Furthermore, South Africa’s struggles with economic inequality, poverty, and social divisions are reflective of the broader global reality of an unequal international system. The concentration of wealth and resources in the hands of a few, both within the country and on a global scale, exacerbates disparities and perpetuates systemic injustices. Using Navigating the unequal international system using vague concepts like “interests” and “centrism” can be misleading and fails to address the underlying structural inequalities.
Maimane claims that South Africa “operates within the Western financial system”. He goes on to gloat about the world’s top-rated banking sector and competitive financial system. Unfortunately, this perspective deliberately ignores how the all-dominant financial system and institutions undermine social transformation and preserve the marginalisation of the black majority. This is akin to the way the Bretton Woods institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have historically impoverished and continue to disempower the Third World.
The emergence of alternative financial systems and institutions is a concern for the West, as it threatens their hegemonic dominance that has outlived its relevance. Among others, the BRICS formation and the Russo-China alliance are behind the formation of the New Development Bank as well as proposals for new currencies, international payment systems, and the phasing out of the Petrodollar. These initiatives aim to reduce these countries’ dependency on the current international financial system, which empowers the West and perpetuates global inequalities.
The white side of the colony is petrified to be trapped behind the wrong side of a looming ‘iron curtain’ that might arise from the new geopolitical framework. It constantly undermines the ANC government in whatever way possible to advance Western interests. Recent actions, such as Western Cape Premier Alan Winde’sannouncement regarding the willingness to arrest Vladimir Putin, illustrate the anxiety and resistance among this demographic.
The existing privileges enjoyed by certain segments of society, particularly the white population, are threatened by the evolving geopolitical landscape. Proximity to the West and Eurocentrism are among these privileges. Put simply, the only reason why the white compatriots are kicking and screaming is that they are likely to lose whatever they have with the emergence of the new geopolitics.
Consequently, the ANC to a greater extent is confused as there is a mixed blessing with the arising geopolitical framework. It then means itwould be rather difficult to pick a struggle. The ANC’s biggest challenge comes from the heavy anchorage of its political and economic fortunes, in terms of governance, in colonial infrastructure and strong Western roots. In fact, all political parties at this epoch are anchored in the Western infrastructure and colonial foundation.
In conclusion, this op-ed argues for a nuanced understanding of South Africa’s complexities and calls for a new approach to foreign policy that addresses historical injustices, challenges the unequal international system, and promotes social transformation. As part of a new foreign policy approach, it is imperative that we acknowledge these historical injustices and demonstrate solidarity with other oppressed people of the worldin our pursuit of justice.
Siya yi banga le economy!