• Monday, June 24, 2024
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What are they thinking in South Africa?

What are they thinking in South Africa?

In this inaugural newsletter, I talk about the difficult balancing act in South Africa, a new development in the payment of White settlers in Zimbabwe, the ongoing destructive war in Sudan, and migration politics in Tunisia.

Picking a side in a Euro-American war?

On May 11, the United States ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, announced that the US was “confident” that South Africa, despite its often-stated neutrality in the war between Russia and Ukraine, supplied arms to Russia in December 22. It said an arms trading Russian ship docked in Simon’s Town on December 5, turned off its location transponder and between December 6 and 8, uploaded weapons and ammunition “as it made its way back to Russia”.

South Africa didn’t really deny the allegation. A spokesperson for the foreign affairs ministry only said in a tweet that his country has “no record of an approved arms sale by the state of Russia related to the period/incident in question”. President’s office, on the other hand, was more concerned the US ambassador rushed to make the allegations public when an inquiry has already been ordered to “establish the facts and role players”. Regardless, Mr. Brigety signalled to the consequences of such an act: “The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved”.

We know South Africa and the African National Congress in particular, has a complicated with the United States which supported the Apartheid regime while Russia supported the ANC and the liberation struggle. Although Mr Ramaphosa’s government said it was pursuing a “non-aligned” policy in the war, keen observers know where its sympathy really lies.

We know South Africa and the African National Congress in particular, has a complicated with the United States which supported the Apartheid regime while Russia supported the ANC and the liberation struggle

But that is precisely the problem with African countries. They always place sentiments over real interests or damn all consequences in pursuit of a single goal. No country is as pro-Russia as China. But even China has refrained from sending arms to Russia and its companies have carefully avoided violating the sanctions regime imposed on Russia by the US and EU. Despite China’s huge economy and super-power status, it has placed its economic interests first and has refrained from drawing the ire of the US by violating the sanctions against Russia.

We know South Africa and the African National Congress in particular, has a complicated with the United States which supported the Apartheid regime while Russia supported the ANC and the liberation struggle

But here is South Africa, whose economy is struggling and wobbling, with record-breaking unemployment and youth unemployment ( at 32.7%, and 64.18% respectively), a crumbling energy supply, and whose business leaders believe it is on its way to becoming a failed state openly inviting consequences it cannot handle. That was exactly how Zimbabwe chose self-immolation over stable growth just because Tony Blair’s government reneged on the funding of land reforms in Zimbabwe.

Eating the humble pie in Zimbabwe

Talking about Zimbabwe and its foolish choices, President Mnangagwa has since 2020 eaten the humble pie and agreed to pay compensation of over $3.5 billion to white farmers evicted from their lands over 20 years ago in exchange for sanctions and economic relief. But the Zimbabwean government is broke and has been unable to come up with the money since then. The African Development Bank, headed by Akinwunmi Adesina, has come to the rescue, announcing last week, a deal to “fast track and front load” the $3.5 billion compensation to White farmers to give the country some breathing space and win it sanctions and economic relief. Talk about destroying your country to save it.

The fate of Khartoum

Now that the highly heralded peace talks between the two Sudanese venal factions in the Saudi Arabian town of Jedda have come to naught, fighting and the corresponding destruction of the once peaceful, quiet, and oligarchic city of Khartoum – originally “founded [as] a command post built for the purposes of imperial robbery” – has continued apace. Sadly, the corrupt ruling elite sowed this wind in Darfur in the early 2000s and is now “reaping the whirlwind in the battle of Khartoum”.

And like Alex de Waal wrote recently in an article “The Revolution No One Wanted” in the London Review of books, the “fatal flaw in Khartoum’s military-commercial complex is that the kleptocrats outsourced their fighting. The army is chiefly a machine for swindling the public and putting on impressive parades of tanks and aircraft, while actual combat is waged by rented militias driving customised Land cruisers”.

No one knows this more than the despised, illiterate, and before now, head of the militia that the Sudanese elite outsourced its fighting to, Mohamed Hamdan Degalo, called Hemediti or ‘little Mohammed. He is ruthlessly exploiting the vulnerability of the Sudanese army. In this fight to the finish, it remains to be seen which side emerges victorious – the army with its air superiority or Hemedti, with his ruthless RSF street credibility.

Scapegoating black Africans

Haven successfully seized power in a coup d’état and retained public support, Tunisian President Kais Saied knows the game: public support will only last as long as he is able to deliver the economic goods. Tunisians are willing to give up their political and civil freedoms in exchange for social welfare and economic benefits.

They largely tolerated and even supported a hitherto unknown Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali when he shoved aside Tunisia’s founding father and revered former statesman, Habib Bourguiba, in a bloodless coup. For as long as the economic was growing, they were fine with Ben Ali. The tide turned against him the moment the economy tanked, and joblessness increased.

Read also: South Africa and the limits of having it both ways

Now that President Saied has seized all powers, he is running out of excuses. With the economy not improving and the unemployment rate stubbornly set at above 16%, the president needs a good alibi for the deteriorating economic situation. He found that in African migrants.

On February 21, Saied tapped into the racist replacement conspiracy theory to rouse Tunisians against sub-Saharan Africans. He called for “urgent measures” against black African immigrants over “a criminal enterprise hatched at the beginning of this century to change the demographic composition of Tunisia.” He said those immigrants are fast turning Tunisia into the “only African country with no belonging to the Arab and Muslim worlds”.

Of course, the wave of backlash and violence against black Africans that followed was expected. So was the condemnation of the President. But beyond condemnation, the EU, which seems to have the best leverage, can’t afford to offend Saied. With the securitization of immigration and its policy of paying just anyone – including groups with terrorist affiliation and genocidal past– to prevent immigration, it is inconceivable Europe will do anything to anger Saied. Morocco, in 2021, showed how to do it.

When Spain allowed the leader of the Polisario Front, which resists Moroccan control of Western Sahara, Brahim Ghali into a Barcelona hospital to treat complications from Covid-19. Morocco just halted border patrols and allowed a migrant run on the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and the Canary Islands. Spain quickly beat a retreat, expelled Ghali, and apologized to Morocco.