Thanks are due to an odd man, the brutally-frank Zambian vice president Guy Scott who last week pronounced, “I dislike South Africa for the same reason that Latin Americans dislike the United States”, and to our own president Jacob Zuma for forcing a long-overdue debate, just as the World Economic Forum Africa summit opens in Cape Town: is Pretoria a destructive sub-imperialist power?
Two positions immediately hardened on Monday at the spiky, must-read ezine Daily MaverickZuma declared the need for a “decisive intervention: an African Standby Force for rapid deployment in crisis areas.” One stance – that of veteran US State Department official and now DM columnist Brooks SpectorSisonke Msimang First though, some context:
- The call for a rush deployment force (Africon-style) comes the week after Ernst & Young’s Africa Attractiveness Surveyrecorded how thanks to predictable mining houses and MTN cellphone service, Standard Bank, Shoprite retail, and Sanlam insurance, “relax cross-border financial regulations and tax requirements on companies, making it easier for banks and other financial institutions to invest and operate” up-continent, making the re-scramble for Africa that more frenetic.
- The call comes shortly after 1500 more SA National Defense Force (SANDF) troops were deployed to the resource-rich eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where not only is petroleum being prospected by Zuma’s catastrophe-prone nephew Khulubuse, but where coltan for our cellphones is mined, where Africa’s biggest conglomerate, Johannesburg-based Anglo, was caught working with murderous warlords a few years ago, and where more than five million Congolese have lost their lives over the last fifteen years.
- Durban’s BRICS summit.
Looking out from this fog of war, Brooks Spector argues that Pretoria’s “ What of higher-order interests? Spector quotes local commentator Xolela Mangcu, writing for the Brookings Institute in Washington: Zuma’s predecessor “Thabo Mbeki also took it upon himself – through the foreign affairs department – to stand up for the continent both in fighting the superpowers but also in determining the terms of the world’s involvement with Africa. Mbeki’s pet projects, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), came under criticism in other parts of the continent precisely because of this ‘big brother’ role.”
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, Pretoria should indeed intervene, but with a rather different agenda, insists Msimang:Much to the chagrin of those of us who had hoped we would be more muscular in our approach, SA has elected to play a softly-softly role in matters of human rights, good governance and democracy on the continent.” To bestride Africa is a regrettably cheeky image, because as you know Brooks Spector, “The Rhodes Colossusutter these wordsill-advised launch of the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation: “I am sure that Cecil John Rhodes would have given his approval to this effort to make the South African economy of the early 21st century appropriate and fit for its time.”
But today, suffering his perpetual crises, how might a Zuma-Colossus continue bossing disillusioned SANDF soldiers into coffins? (Nixon couldn’t do so after around 1973, Spector needs no reminding.)
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Like Spector recalling Rhodes, the problem with Msimang’s latter quote is that the man who first uttered it, at the turn of the last century, was US president Theodore Roosevelt, one of Washington’s most aggressive interventionists. Notches on his belt ranged from consolidating power in neo-colonial Cuba and the Philippines, to rendering the Panama Canal “a major staging area for American military forces, making the US the dominant military power in Central America,” as one biographer remarked. Moreover, Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was that “the United States would intervene in any Latin American country that manifested serious economic problems,” and serve as the Western Hemisphere’s main cop.
Some say that by now taking a similar gap as chief cop in Southern and Central Africa, SA becomes imperialista case that would be stronger were it not for the vast drain of mining and financial profits into those dozen overseas-listed corporations that were once SA’s largest, whose financial headquarters are now mainly in London. The current account deficit from profit and dividend outflows has ratcheted the foreign debt to $135 billion, a potential crisis catalyst in coming months.
Such vulnerability to the whim of capital means that while zigzagging across Africa between service to the West and to new BRIC allies (especially China) one day, and to Joburg/family businesses the next, with a military unable to service such a long supply chain, what Spector terms a “muddle in the middle” is better alliterated as schizophrenic sub-imperialist SA.