ANC’s damaging foreign policy: Ideology without moral authority – Terence Corrigan

South Africa needs a professional diplomatic service to mitigate the damage caused by its foreign policy based on the ideological world view of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). That is the view of Terence Corrigan of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) who speaks to BizNews about the ANC’s pro-Russia stance; the diplomatic debacle in Poland; President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “pathetic” performance in Paris; and the lingering questions over allegations that arms and ammunition were supplied to Russia in defiance of sanctions; as well as the “self-delusion” of BRICS. – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:20 – Terrence Corrigan on what informs this policy
  • 07:08 – How does this foreign policy protect South Africa’s national interests
  • 14:43 – Would efficient diplomats make a difference 
  • 17:39 – How Cyril Ramaphosa is viewed by foreign governments
  • 21:42 – With ANC in power is there any change in direction in foreign policy
  • 25:04 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

South Africa needs a professional diplomatic service to mitigate the damage caused by its

foreign policy based on the ideological worldview of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

That is the view of Terence Corrigan of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) who speaks to BizNews about the ANC’s pro-Russia stance; the diplomatic debacle in Poland; President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “pathetic” performance in Paris; and the lingering questions over allegations that arms and ammunition were supplied to Russia in defiance of sanctions.

“I think the most pertinent point to make about this is that the biggest geopolitical event last year, which was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, caught South Africa unawares. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know: that basically South Africa’s foreign policy apparatus just wasn’t ready for it. That’s why you had that statement saying, calling on Russia to withdraw, and then that was walked back. That’s not the actions of a serious foreign policy establishment.”

Read more: RW Johnson: Implications for SA of a suddenly fragile Putin; Ramaphosa bombing in Paris

Corrigan laments South Africa’s lack of professional diplomats who would have been in a position to better smooth over relations with other countries.

“… right back since the 1990s, people have been sent to foreign missions either to keep them out of the way, to resolve an ANC internal issue, or maybe to offer a kind of sinecure to an opposition politician. The point is, though, that we don’t have the kind of professional foreign civil service that we need.

“…I think that if you were still sending party hacks to represent your interests in places like Japan or South Korea or, you know, Brussels, or wherever, places where we actually have large economic stakes…that is problematic if they’re not supported by professional diplomats who can guide you on the local customs and on who the movers and shakers are, and on things that you might not want to say…”

Corrigan says that in the absence of a high level of skill in geopolitical positioning and the institutions to carry it out, the ANC often “defaults back” to ideology. 

“I would like to think that if we did have a functioning foreign affairs bureaucracy, or for instance a functioning bureaucracy in any part of our state, that it would at least mitigate some of the harm that is done by the intrusion of politics.”

Read more: SA-Russia relationship: South Africa is handcuffed to a losing horse – Dr Colin P. Clarke

Corrigan relates a diplomatic incident during a workshop in Munich, Germany which was attended by companies “with a lot of money” in South Africa, as well as academics with an interest in the country.

“A representative of the South African consulate stood up and said, you know, because poverty is such a problem in the country and there’s so much inequality, we must dispense with property rights and simply seize. I found myself in the position as an invited speaker, as an analyst, trying to defend South African, saying that actually it isn’t foreign policy. But really, if that is what a foreign representative is going to say in front of that sort of audience, you have a problem. You have a serious problem.”

Meanwhile, says Corrigan, “…let’s just park BRICS as this emerging world block, it’s not. But it’s something that makes South Africa look good. So it seems to believe that it is. But that’s an exercise of self-delusion.”

He adds that South Africa’s ability to exercise some sort of influence is linked to its success or failure domestically. “A country that can’t keep the lights on. A country whose government lost control of the largest swathe of its territory in July 2021, a country that can’t process goods through its ports…This is not a country that can draw on great moral authority anymore…Its relative economic strength in Africa has declined. It’s ability to put troops in the field is uncertain…”