In 1986, US President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, although Congressional support for the Act was strong enough so that American Congressmen opted to override the Presidential veto. Even so, Reagan’s Treasury Department remained accused of minimally enforcing the sanctions on Apartheid South Africa. Reagan’s sympathies with the Apartheid government in South Africa were well known as were those of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who also stood against the anti-Apartheid sanctions pursued by both the (British) Commonwealth and the European Economic Community (the predecessor to the European Union).
Ultimately, by the early 1990s, the successors to Reagan and Thatcher, George H. W. Bush and John Major had all but given up the clear sympathies to Apartheid of their predecessors. That being said, Bush and Major were anything but ANC Revolutionaries let alone egalitarians. They instead sensed that a wind of change was blowing through South Africa and as two economies with historic links to Pretoria, they did not want to be cut out of future economic deals with a post-Apartheid South Africa.
Nelson Mandela’s capacity to forgive both his domestic and international opponents upon his election as the country’s first president under a majority rule system in 1994, led to the corporations in both the US and UK to breathe a collective sight of relief. The fact that the USSR, a staunch supporter of the Mandela’s ANC party throughout the Cold War had ceased to exist, further meant that a weakened Russia was no longer in any place to compete with the west in terms of economic deals in the rainbow nation.
Since 1994, South Africa has grown into a very different nation. At the same time, the watershed end of Apartheid, the last vestige of overt imperialism in Africa did not help poorer African countries that have been trapped in a cycle of debt to western governments and banks. Crucially, the debt that has been accrued has not led to the poor African nations in question having much to show for it.
When Africa’s petro-economic powerhouse Libya was violently “regime changed” in 2011, the violent NATO orchestrated murder of Muammar Gaddafi, the best ally of developing African nations, sent shockwaves throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Many in the west still cannot fathom the fact that the assassination of Gaddafi was in many ways the most universally shocking movement in pan-African history since Mandela’s election. But while Mandela’s election was a source of pan-African celebration, Gaddafi’s assassination was a deeply grim moment for much of sub-Saharan Africa. While the Arab world largely turned on Gaddafi even prior to 2011 as a tide of religious extremism overrode Gaddafi’s secular revolutionary pan-African government with Islamic characteristics, both the Christian and Muslim nations of sub-Saharan or “black Africa” lost an ally on both an economic and psychological basis.
Since then, South Africa in particular has taken what is often perceived as a radical turn as proposals from the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters to redistribute white owned farmland to black farmers is now an official policy of the ruling ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa.
But the biggest change to take place in Africa in the 21st century is the emergence of China as a major infrastructural, financial and trading partner to a plethora of African nations. While China, like the USSR before it does not have the baggage of colonialism that many European nation have, there are far more compelling reasons as to why China and nations throughout Africa are looking to expand their partnerships.
What Africa needs more than anything is sustainable development. Put simply, this means that Africa needs to be given the modern tools to help African nations and peoples to generate their own wealth for decades and centuries to come without being reliant on a corrupt cash cycle whereby western loans and “aid” are simply a method of making the rich African elites richer while the condition of the poor remains largely the same. Africa also needs to cultivate new avenues to trade its existing goods while at the same time, African consumers need access to foreign finished goods to elevate their standard of living. Overall, African nations need to reduce their poverty rate and as a country that has great experience in reducing poverty among millions of people in a short period of time, China is able and willing to impart its own knowledge based on experience to its African partners.
Earlier today, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss fostering closer ties not only with South Africa but the continent as a whole. An official report from China’s Xinhua highlights both the atmosphere and the concrete goals of the bilateral meeting on the eve of the first full day of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg:
“Xi expressed appreciation to Ramaphosa for his important contributions to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries and to the development of bilateral relations.
Noting that China and South Africa are both major developing countries and emerging-market countries with important influence, Xi said that since the forging of diplomatic relations 20 years ago, the two sides have been committed to mutually-beneficial cooperation and common development, stood together through thick and thin, shared weal and woe, and established a “comrade plus brother” relationship featuring sincere friendship, mutual trust and close bond.
He said that China-South Africa relations have leapt from a partnership to a strategic partnership and then to a comprehensive strategic partnership over the past years, bringing tangible benefits to the two peoples.
‘Taking the opportunity of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties, China stands ready to work with South Africa on supporting each other in hosting this year’s BRICS summit in Johannesburg and the Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), inheriting the past and ushering in the future, and pushing for more outcomes from the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, so as to bring greater benefits to our two peoples,’ Xi said.
Noting that China-South Africa relations are now standing at a new historical point, the Chinese president proposed the two sides to focus on the following areas to advance the bilateral relations:
— The two sides should strengthen high-level exchanges, deepen political mutual trust, support each other in independently choosing the development path that suits their own national conditions, continue to understand and support each other on issues involving respective core interests and major concerns, increase exchanges between the governments, legislative bodies and various other areas, and deepen the inter-party exchanges and cooperation.
— The two sides should enhance cooperation within the frameworks of the Belt and Road Initiative and the FOCAC, align their development strategies, deepen exchanges and cooperation in new economy sectors and sunrise industries, and share the development opportunities brought by the fourth industrial revolution. The Chinese side is willing to focus on promoting cooperation in such areas as infrastructure construction, trade and investment, scientific and technological innovation, and finance, and supports the endeavors made by the South African government to develop the economy, create jobs, improve people’s livelihood and promote social transformation.
— The two sides should deepen people-to-people bonds, implement the consensus the two sides have reached on facilitating personnel exchanges and strengthening cultural and educational exchanges, and consolidate cooperation in human resources development and tourism.
— The two sides should promote security and law-enforcement cooperation. The Chinese side is willing to strengthen cooperation with South Africa on law-enforcement capacity building.
— The two sides should increase coordination within multilateral frameworks including the UN, G20, BRICS and BASIC (Brazil, India, South Africa and China), jointly safeguard multilateralism, oppose unilateralism and protectionism, and promote a more just and equitable international order.
For his part, Ramaphosa said that South African and Chinese peoples enjoy traditional friendship, and the two countries have constantly consolidated and developed their relations since the establishment of diplomatic ties 20 years ago”.
This confirms that when it comes to pan-African cooperation with the BRICS in the emergent BRICS+ format, cooperation on broader free trade agreements on a bespoke win-win basis, security partnerships, and technological and industrial exchange to provide for both economic and human development in Africa, China is now the de-facto trendsetter among superpowers in Africa with Russia now also becoming deeply re-engaged in Africa as Moscow expands partnerships from Cape Town to Cairo.
Apartheid South Africa was in many ways the last vestige of an imperialist western civilisation that promoted the superiority of western culture and western people above those from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Within the hierarchy of Apartheid society, those of European background were on top while those of an indigenous African background were at the bottom. Today, while racism still exists throughout the west, society has moved on from the formal Apartheid that pre-1994 South Africa both explicitly defined and enforced to its logical extreme.
However, when it comes to western foreign policy, Apartheid is still very much alive. In the western foreign policy narrative, western nations are held up as paragons of virtue, Asian nations are either seen as vicious rivals or backward and in need of enlightenment, Latin America is seen as a place where those who Europeanise are superior in terms of development to those with indigenous characteristics, while Africa is seen as a place to exploit, deride and then ignore.
China has broken this cycle of foreign policy Apartheid by embracing the win-win format which stresses equality, respect, pragmatism in the purist of egalitarianism and material wealth create for the benefit of all. This is the reason why China is now the most important foreign partner of most African nations. China has broken the cycle of foreign policy Apartheid and millions of Africans are fully aware of this.