Can South Africa truly claim to be a leader with gravitas and impact at the Brics level and at the G20 while simultaneously providing no leadership on issues within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union?
TWO events occurred on 23 August: one showed how effective South Africa can be on the global stage; the second showed how careless South Africa can be on the regional stage. I am talking here of the Brics Summit and the Zimbabwean elections.
At the Brics Summit, South Africa displayed our excellence in hospitality and our capacity to hold our own in conversations about geopolitics and the global financial system.
Ignoring for a moment that the minister of finance was implicated in a corruption scandal of more than R100 million and the President himself could not account for millions stolen from his sofas, we looked good and strong when talking about derisking global trade, de-dollarisation and other topics.
Many global leaders praised President Cyril Ramaphosa for his performances at the Brics Summit and many acknowledged that South Africa remains a critical gateway to Africa and a critical market itself. We took a win at Brics, contradictions notwithstanding.
We immediately moved to erasing our victory with local losses. The Zimbabwean elections have been declared by numerous observer missions to have been mired in issues that effectively rendered them not free and fair.
Some of the most significant issues were the banning of opposition party rallies on spurious grounds, the conduct of a state intelligence affiliate organisation known as Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) which collected voter identity information and cajoled people into voting for Zanu PF,and finally the delay in delivering ballots to major cities such as Bulawayo, Harare and Chitungwiza. For the first time the Sadc observer mission declared these elections to not be free and fair.
Bewildering everyone, the secretary-general of the ANC decided to take a different position to the Sadc.
Fikile Mbalula (pictured) posted messages of support for Zanu PF, not long after the President of South Africa posted his own message of congratulations to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the disputed president-elect of Zimbabwe. These messages contradicted and undermined the Sadc bloc which we are meant to be leading in terms of size and influence.
I say this was bewildering because the ANC government has told the world that they care about resolving conflicts and they care about human rights. The South African diplomatic mission to Russia and Ukraine was premised on the desire for South Africa to mediate and provide peaceful solutions to Russia and Ukraine.
South Africa is very vocal against Morocco and advocates for the people of the Sahrawi Arab Republic. In fact Morocco did not attend the Brics Summit because of this dispute. The South African Department of International Relations has recalled the South African ambassador from Israel, ostensibly because they were concerned about human rights abuses.
However, while they have taken these stands and have been very vocal about them, they have displayed no concern whatsoever about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, Uganda and many other African nations.
Can South Africa truly claim to be a leader with gravitas and impact at the Brics level and at the G20 while simultaneously providing no leadership on issues within the Sadc and the African Union? One would be forgiven for thinking that our courage and convictions are stronger the further the problems are from our borders.
Fleeing to South Africa
It is common knowledge that the number of people not born in South Africa has increased from under one million people in the 1996 census and the 2001 census to more than 2.2 million people in the 2011 census and to more than four million in the mid-year national population estimates.
It is also reported by Statistics South Africa that 40% of immigrants living in South Africa are from Zimbabwe. These numbers increased dramatically from 2001 due to the democratic collapse that the world witnessed. The elections in 2002 were contested and the elections following that in 2008 were contested. As a result of these democratic failures many Zimbabweans fled the country and came specifically to South Africa.
The result of the mass migration of Zimbabweans has been an increased cost of service delivery for South Africa, as we have had to serve two nations.
We have seen that South African hospitals have a large population of Zimbabwean patients, we have seen social unrest in communities as a result of Afrophobic attacks on Zimbabweans, and we have this week witnessed one of the greatest tragedies on our soil as 76 people lost their lives in an overcrowded building fire in Johannesburg.
The buildings in the inner city of Johannesburg have a disproportionate number of foreigners living in them. People are dying in South Africa as a result of the collapse of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, it is bewildering that our government would actively support the regime responsible for causing the collapse of democracy in Zimbabwe. Considering further that the minister of home affairs took part in litigation attempting to cancel the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit on the grounds that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, the actions of the President and Fikile Mbalula seem to be far removed from their moral stands when it comes to Morocco or Russia.
We must challenge the ANC and its leaders on their response to the Zimbabwean elections and specifically call for them to echo the sentiments of South Africans and to advocate for outcomes in line with our values and in line with our interests.
As a democratic nation with robust constitutional standards, it is not in line with our values for illiberal regimes to proliferate in the Sadc region. In addition, it is not in our interests for there to be democratic collapse in Zimbabwe, first because we pay the price of that collapse, but second because it could precipitate worsening security outcomes for the Sadc.
The coup in Gabon happened ostensibly because of the loss of trust in the election there, and the Gabonese opposition raised many of the same issues that were raised in Zimbabwe. By siding with election-rigging governments we are actively increasing the likelihood that there will be coups in the region.
Finally, we must think carefully about our democracy. There are already high levels of frustration in some circles with high levels of poverty and inequality. Some people place the blame on our democracy itself. If we as a nation seem to be lackadaisical about democracy, will we have legitimacy to prevent those who seek to opt out of democracy in South Africa?
It is our role as South Africa to uphold democratic ideals in the Sadc and to speak up against human rights abuses in the Sadc.
Fikile Mbalula and President Cyril Ramaphosa were wrong.
About the writer: Mmusi Maimane is leader of Build One SA (Bosa), a South African opposition party, and former head of the Democratic Alliance.–Daily Maverick.