By Howard Feldman, Head of Marketing & People at Synthesis
You know that kid? The one that comes from a good family, but always picks the wrong friends? The kid who considers the bad crowd to be more alluring than the solid, but maybe boring kids? The one that has so much potential, but can’t seem to get out of the self-destructive cycle?
That kid is South Africa, especially when it comes to foreign policy. And whereas it might have been cute when we were little, as a fully gown adult it has lost its charm to the extent that it is now embarrassing.
On 28 February 1992 South Africa and Russia established ties. They had existed before that, but this was the first official recognition of the relationship between the two entities. Monday 28 February 2022, soon after Russia had invaded her democratic and independent neighbour, and just as the rest of the world was scrambling to save lives and deter the carnage, the South African government chose to celebrate the 30 years of friendship with the country.
There was no overt mention of the war. Rather, the friends chose to speak of past cooperation. The Russian government had provided assistance in the struggle against apartheid, had trained ANC fighters and had provided all sorts of expertise to the South African government. That there was something to be grateful for, seems without question. The real question, however, is: What immunity should past assistance provide and for how long should it be provided?
The confusing and contradictory statements by the DIRCO, the ANC and the ANC Youth League, provides insight into the ambiguous nature of the approach. Whereas DIRCO might have hinted at a criticism of Russia, the ANC refused to do so. The ANC Youth League was clear that it supported Russia in her aggression, for reasons that perhaps only they can understand. All that was missing in all this, was a statement by the ANC Women’s League who have thankfully, in this case, had the dignity to remain silent.
It’s a mess. And it’s mortifying.
Gratitude is not a bad thing. Lack of moral courage is. The fact that the ANC chooses repeatedly to stand on the side of those who shamelessly deny the most basic of rights to their citizens and who are able to invade a neighbour, speaks volumes as to their own moral fabric: not be surprising if one looks at the cold and callous manner in which they have robbed the citizens of South Africa.
A cursory glance at the Esidimeni tragedy, pit toilets and the lack of decent medical care for many South Africans, is indication enough of their lack of empathy. That they have befriended Russia, Cuba, Iran and Hamas, should be obvious and no surprise at all.
These are their friends, but a true friend is not one who turns a blind eye when someone they care about, strays from a moral position. A true friend is one that guides, advises and assists. There is no such thing as unconditional gratitude, just as there is no such thing as immunity from war crimes. And yet, the ANC has chosen to stand behind “gratitude” and “friendship” when one of their designated friends errs.
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is a hero. He was not born one, but chose to stand up at a time when his country needed him. From approval ratings of less than 40%, his courage, relatability and care for his people rocketed him to over 90% approval in his country, a telling indicator if ever there was one. He is mortal and no doubt flawed, but his actions have become a symbol of courage and integrity throughout the world. He has lead from the front, rejected offers of escape and communicates directly to his people. He stands amongst them and not above them.
Instead of choosing to support him and the Ukrainian people, the ANC has made it clear that it is Putin they will befriend. It is a massive error and one that will cost them dearly. They once again have chosen to stand on the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of history.
The tragedy in all this is that the ANC has the potential to do more. Borne out integrity and ideals it had every chance of success. That is what makes it even more tragic. Much like that kid with so much potential, but who chooses badly repeatedly. Only the party is no longer young, much like the Youth League itself. It’s no longer cute, which makes it even the more embarrassing.