Prisoners of the Truth (III): The Desert of Reality.

Surrounded by conventional wisdom masquerading as the Truth, how can we challenge it? We are told that this is so difficult that only specialists in the deconstruction of conventional wisdom can accomplish that. Hence we need clever guardians to mediate between us and reality. This convenient and conventional notion, which justifies the existence of punditry and promotes the validity of editorial columns (and web-logs like this one). Such notions need to be ruthlessly criticised, condemned and then burned and buried in unmarked graves.
Let us instead consider actual reality. At the moment the Zuma government is promoting the notion that South Africa needs to reconstruct its relationship with the United States. The newly renamed Department of International Relations and Cooperation (so much more euphonious than Department of Foreign Affairs) is devoted to this task. Apparently, in the past, the evil Mbeki government alienated the United States and now the good Zuma government must entice, seduce and arouse the United States into generously having good relations with us again.
Who would question the desirability of such a policy? Not a single pundit has criticised this presentation of policy. That’s interesting, because many pundits condemned South Africa for having too close a relationship with the United States. Patrick Bond slapped a photograph of President Bush standing next to Thabo Mbeki on the cover of one of his books, thus proving that South Africa was a tool of U.S. imperialism. President Bush declared Mbeki to be “my point man on Zimbabwe”, which suggests that in foreign policy South Africa and the United States were reasonably close.
It does not take a pundit to observe this serious disconnection between what is being said now about South Africa’s foreign policy and what was said a few years ago. People appear now to be misrepresenting South Africa’s former policy — unless South Africa’s former policy was itself misrepresented. Other people seem to have in the past condemned policies which they now allow to go unchallenged. This needs further study. What was wrong with South Africa’s past foreign policy which needs to be changed?
To listen to the pundits, quite a lot. South Africa’s foreign policy was anti-Western. South Africa supported dictators all over the world, especially in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, and thus opposed democracy. South Africa antagonised the United States by challenging its foreign policy in the Middle East. These destructive elements of South African foreign policy are traceable to President Mbeki’s hatred for the West and his racist preference for Africans over other people. South African foreign policy also overreached itself, attempting more than could have been achieved even had it been worth the effort, as a result of President Mbeki’s megalomania. Now that President Mbeki is gone, and his former Minister for Foreign Affairs has been kicked downstairs to Home Affairs, we must reconstruct a ruined foreign policy. (Who’s “we”? Don’t ask.)
It is difficult to assess such claims without the facts, but the facts are easily obtainable.
South Africa spent three years on the United Nations Security Council, chairing it for a period. During this period, South Africa frequently voted against Western calls for the Security Council to act against various countries, such as the Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe, all countries lacking substantial democracy. This is all the evidence that South Africa supports dictatorships. However, the Security Council was established under the United Nations Charter to prevent international conflict. In the instances where South Africa voted against the West, the issues at hand were not international conflicts, they were internal conflicts or episodes of bad government. Therefore, the West was calling for the violation of the UN Charter.
What is more, it was calling for actions which went against the policy of the African Union (which opposes foreign intervention in domestic national affairs, because of the hideous history of Western destabilisation of African politics). It seems clear that the West was doing this because it hoped to gain political benefit from having Security Council approval of any aggressive action which it might take — as it has taken in many countries in the past. In these instances virtually all non-Western countries voted with South Africa, so clearly South Africa was clearly expressing a widely-held feeling. This accusation is the reverse of the truth.
The issue of support for dictators in Africa does not deserve much attention. South Africa called for a negotiated settlement in the 1997 Rwandan invasion of Zaire, and again in the 1998 Rwandan and Ugandan invasion of what was then the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in both cases to avoid bloodshed. (South Africa then helped to broker the peace deal in the DRC and to promote the first democratic election in that country for forty-five years.) South Africa successfully called for Western sanctions against Libya to be lifted, which might seem like support for a dictator, this being one of only two occasions (the other being South Africa’s sabotage of the British-backed coup in Equatorial Guinea) where such support could be identified. However, the sanctions were imposed on fraudulent grounds and were absurdly counterproductive, and furthermore the call was made by Nelson Mandela, not directly by Thabo Mbeki, so this has been quietly forgotten about.
The South African role in ending the Burundian civil war is sometimes mentioned because President Zuma played a modest part in the relevant diplomacy. South Africa’s role in ending the war in southern Sudan (which restrained the authority of the Sudanese junta) has been deleted from history by the pundits. The pundits have done the same regarding South Africa’s role in bringing peacekeeping forces to curb the violence of the civil war in Darfur, which has been much more successful than anyone publicly seems to mention and which again restrained the authority of the junta.
The South African role in Zimbabwe was ignoble but pragmatic; South Africa consistently urged the Zimbabwean government to change its policies because these would lead to disaster. (These calls, made publicly and privately, have been erased from history by the pundits.) When the policies indeed led to disaster, South Africa called for a government of national unity to resolve the crisis, since the Zimbabwean government was unwilling to simply hand over power to the opposition party, claiming that it was backed by foreign powers. This backing by foreign powers has been obvious ever since the opposition’s foundation, and is why not only South Africa, but most African countries with the partial exception of Botswana, looked on that opposition with suspicion. The whole of Africa opposed the West’s desire to interfere in Zimbabwe’s political affairs, which is consistent with AU as well as SADC policy. In the end, the problem was solved on the lines which South Africa had demanded all along, despite Western attempts to sabotage it; although no pundit termed this a vindication.
It was also said that South Africa had wrongly approved of Zimbabwe’s elections, although these elections have been characterised by intimidation and perhaps by rigging. This must be granted; however in many African countries there have been no elections at all. Recently, the brutal Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo, who never permitted elections, departed this vale of tears to spend eternity in a red-hot iron coffin in Dis — his passing lamented by President Obama of the United States, who called this tyrannical thug a true friend of reform in Africa. By comparison with such friends of the United States, enemies of the United States like Mr. Mugabe appear notably democratic, and thus South Africa’s behaviour was promoting democracy more honestly than the United States does.
Clearly, the facts contradict the claims made about South African foreign policy. These facts are not disputed, nor even part of the debate. Instead, pundits simply say, repeatedly, that South Africa under Mbeki supported dictators (unnamed, other than President Mugabe) and was anti-Western for no reason other than racism and prejudice.
This, it seems to the Creator, is how conventional wisdom is created. One first appeals to prejudices. Many South Africans disliked Mbeki and were therefore willing to endorse accusations against him regardless of any factual evidence. A very large number of these South Africans (judging by electoral statistics) were not africans. Such people were more sympathetic than africans to the notion that an african person was a) anti-Western (the West constantly assures us that African countries are anti-Western), b) irrational (darkies can’t think straight) and c) anti-democratic and a friend of authoritarianism (look at Dingane, look at Mau Mau — or rather, look at white representations of these people and events). While the Creator detests President Zuma on solid grounds, it is notable that white pundits and black pundits hired by whites gleefully condemn Zuma for what they call a “Big Man” approach which allegedly appeals to undemocratic africans. Thus crude language is intended to show that primitive black people are naturally subservient to masters, and was promoted by the racist Nobel Prizewinner V S Naipaul in his fabrication of Congolese conditions in A Bend in the River.)
Obviously, not every aspect of South African foreign policy could have been perfect. However, if people (instead of criticising real episodes) insist on telling lies about something and suppressing the truth, there must be a reason. What can it be? Surely, whatever it is, it must be of importance. Foreign policy is traditionally seen as unimportant for South Africa, and hence Mbeki is routinely mocked for taking it seriously. But is it so trivial — and was Mbeki so very wrong?
In this instance the reason is partly to pander to racial prejudice. Under apartheid South Africa enjoyed excellent relations with the West (although the West sometimes struggled to conceal this, and these historical facts must be now suppressed and the myth that the West ever opposed apartheid has been erected like a sumptuous billboard concealing a view of a toxic waste dump). After apartheid we enjoy less good relations with the West. This cannot be (so think the pundits) because there was anything racist about South Africa’s good relations with the West, particularly not because there was anything wrong with the West, so it must be South Africa at fault. This fulfils the ideological need not only of those who oppose the 1994 settlement, but also of those who put the West’s interests ahead of South Africa’s — probably, to judge by emigration statistics, a substantial body of South Africa’s ruling class.
This raises the possibility that the issue is not so insignificant as it seemed. Precisely because most people are not very concerned about South Africa’s foreign policy and therefore do not examine it very closely, it provides a useful vehicle for conveying racist, neo-colonialist and authoritarian attitudes. These are conveyed ideologically through the propaganda which the pundits promote, but practically through the apparent change in attitude towards the West which South Africa is undergoing at the moment. This may be seen as a sympathetic but practical approach (acknowledging that the West dominates the world, and also that the West embodies or claims to embody some ideals which are worth pursuing, but nevertheless standing up for ideals and principles where the West fails to do so) versus an obsequious subservience under which, because the West has money and influence, we must simply do what they tell us to and never ask whether it is good or not, or whether we have an alternative.
(Of course, it is quite likely that South Africa could have been more confrontational with the West and got away with it. To judge by the dismal failure of Thabo Mbeki when he dashed to Washington to beg George Bush not to attack Somalia in December 2006, our courtesy and timidity have not gained us much. On the other hand, greater confrontational behaviour, as with Chavez or Ahmadinejad, has not conspicuously gained anything much either.)
So this change of attitude promotes the very worst elements in our society. By this the Creator means the greedy, unpatriotic plutocrats who seek to ravish South Africa and stash the proceeds in the Cayman Islands or wherever. These are the people who benefit the most from this neo-colonialist approach — for it entails not only subjection to the West and to Western attitudes, but also subjection itself; the abandonment of the practical of critical engagement which became second nature for South Africans in the last two decades of apartheid. It is an ideological counterpart to the practical, effectual rolling-back of democracy which we see in Zuma’s plutocratic Cabinet and in the general collapse of free speech and freedom of thought in South Africa of late.
But even that is not all. In assessing the criticisms of South Africa’s foreign policy, the Creator only addressed the one relating to Africa. The other criticism was that South Africa had antagonised the United States with regard to “Iraq and Iran” as one commentator put it. That is, South Africa has opposed the imposition of cruel sanctions on spurious grounds which killed hundreds of thousands, the unprovoked armed invasion of a sovereign state (Iraq), the immediate killing of tens of thousands of people, the subsequent death of over a million, the generation of millions of homeless refugees, the destruction of a national economy, the promotion of religious sectarianism and fanaticism (religious fanaticism follows Old Glory as closely as neoliberalism, and for the same reason; both are undemocratic) and so on — and this is something which South Africa is supposed to be ashamed of? South Africa has opposed the attempt by the worlds premier nuclear power to use the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency to legitimate attacks on another sovereign state (Iran) on the grounds that this state was trying to develop nuclear energy (which nobody avowedly opposes) and even serious threats to launch nuclear attacks on that state? We are now told that we should be ashamed of standing up for good against evil.
The pundits who promote this are plainly agents of criminals seeking support for their crimes. The criminals are the rulers of the world. We do not have to do what they tell us. However, now that we have a pliantly bribeable President, a corrupt Cabinet and a supine civil society, it seems we cannot expect to be consulted. The surrender will take place in our absence.
And this, alas, is the truth, which you should not have needed the Creator to tell you about.

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2 Responses to Prisoners of the Truth (III): The Desert of Reality.

  1. Dolla says:

    Is Thabo Mbeki or one of his erstwhile boosters and /or ventriloquists the author(s) the authors of this blog?

  2. The Creator says:

    Fascinating that you should ask that question. Does it not, however, display a rather shallow understanding of South African politics? Read the post again, if you will.

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