If you haven’t seen the video of Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize Recipient 1984, patriot) going after South Africa’s ruling party/government, do so. (The context was the government forcing the Dalai Lama to cancel his visit to South Africa next month; the rationale is supposed pressure from China). Tutu is clearly die moer in. * The full 9 minutes is worth watching. Here’s the takeaway:

Our government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you would expect it with the apartheid government … Our government we expect to be sensitive to the sentiments of our constitution …

Let the ANC know they have a large majority. Well, Mubarak had a large majority, Gaddafi had a large majority. I am warning you: watch out. Watch out.

Our government – representing me! – says it will not support Tibetans being viciously oppressed by China. You, president Zuma and your government, do not represent me. I am warning you, as I warned the [apartheid] nationalists, one day we will pray for the defeat of the ANC government.

But there is more to this. What all this reflects argues journalist Eve Fairbanks in Foreign Policy  (she just returned to the US after 2 years in South Africa) is that the event “reflects South Africa’s desire to grope its way toward a new style of foreign policy.” Here’s an extract:

Post-apartheid South Africa is still a teenager, young on the world stage. Its reluctance to stand firm on moral issues stems not only from a desire to curry favor with wealthy pariahs, but from a deeper sense of tension over what kind of country it wants to be, both inside (should every household have a television set?) and as an external actor. Some in South Africa’s civil society still exhort the government to embrace a destiny as the world’s conscience: The popular news website Daily Maverick invoked the example of Mandela in pleading for the government to extend “a hand of friendship” to all oppressed peoples and welcome the Dalai Lama. But the new generation of South African leaders is not content to occupy a niche on morality like Bhutan’s niche on happiness, in which South Africa’s primary export remains a kind of Gross National Blamelessness. This core of leaders yearns for the space to act as unabashedly “pragmatically as the Chinese,” explains Habib, the political scientist, so South Africa can grow into the regional-big-macher role suggested by the country’s new status as Africa’s China or its Brazil.

Caught between these poles, South Africa has taken to blaming the confusion on bureaucratic foul-ups and misinformation. After an outcry from human rights activists about the Dalai Lama, the government suggested, incredibly, that the monk himself had screwed up on his visa application. Similarly, after backtracking on its support of the no-fly zone over Libya, South Africa claimed its diplomats hadn’t entirely understood what the U.N. resolution’s language meant.

Such excuses are increasingly embarrassing — and unsustainable. South Africa may be a vacillating teenager now, but sooner or later it will have to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. As several commentators have pointed out, this won’t be the last time someone invites the Dalai Lama to South Africa.

The rest of Fairbanks’ article is here.

* No prizes for getting what this means.

Further Reading