Tag Archives: South Africa

Dealing with Xenophobia in South Africa

As the economic situation in South Africa deteriorates, anti-foreigner violence has intensified. Migrants and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere have been subject to attack. Hundreds of refugee have fled their homes. Foreign shopkeepers have seen their stores attacked and destroyed. And at least three foreigners have been murdered in recent days.

Protests erupted in the port city of Durban last week, as immigrants marching on city hall to demand protection and an end to the violence were met with anti-immigrant demonstrations. Violence intensified after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini allegedly told migrants to go home. Many South Africans believe immigrants drive down wages and increase unemployment, which currently stands at almost 25 percent—and is considerably higher among young South Africans. And while prosecutors announced 17 arrests over the weekend to address the violence, many immigrants continue to live in fear of further attack, seeking refuge in sports stadiums and police stations.

What do you think? How should the South African government address the xenophobic violence plaguing the country? What parallels can you draw between the debate over immigration in South Africa and that of the United States? And what might be done to address questions surrounding immigration in both countries?

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Remembering Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela in 2008

Nelson Mandela in 2008

Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away today. Most well-known for his role in helping South Africa transition to a multi-racial democracy after having been imprisoned by the apartheid government for 27 years, Mandela was a human rights icon. His ability to work peacefully with the apartheid government after such a long period of imprisonment—and his ability to reach out to white South Africans in order to begin a long process of reconciliation in the country—made him an important leader to many South Africans. And at the international level, Mandela lent his voice to several causes, particularly in combating the HIV/AIDS crisis and prompting rural development and the expansion of education in the global south.

A short video by the New York Times outlines Mandela’s achievements, particularly as the first black President of South Africa.

Mandela’s passing provides an important moment to remember his legacy and to reflect on the role of individual actors in global politics.

Nation Building in South Africa

University of KwaZulu-Natal Main Campus.

University of KwaZulu-Natal Main Campus.

South Africa is an incredibly diverse country, with 11 official languages and dozens of distinct ethnic groups. Zulu is the mother tongue for approximately 23 percent of South Africa’s population, but is spoken by about 80 percent of the population of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

As a legacy of the apartheid era, much of South African education takes place in English, particularly at the university level. But even at the primary school level, UKZN Vice-Chancellor Renuka Vithal noted that, “You can come through the schooling system without learning any of the indigenous African languages. It is surprising that this is still the case, nearly 20 years after apartheid [racially-enforced segregation] ended.”

The language question in South Africa, as in many other developing countries, is closely tied to the question of national identity. While Zulu is the most common mother tongue in South Africa, Xhosa (16%), Afrikaans (14%), English (10%), Sepedi (9%), Setswana (8%), and Sesotho (8%) are also widely spoken.

Because the postcolonial boundaries often amalgamated a wide variety of national groups, boundaries between the nation and the state rarely corresponded. Postcolonial governments thus faced a challenge of developing a common sense of identity across a variety of national and ethnic groups. This was often referred to as nation-building. But national identity cents on a wide variety of variables: religious beliefs, traditions, and customs, shared history, a common language, and so on.

While UKZN’s move was welcomed by some, others argued that the move was just a political ploy to garner the favor of South African President Jacob Zuma, who is Zulu.

What do you think? Is the kind of common language education being imposed by UKZN necessary for nation-building in South Africa? Or does it violate the rights and freedom of students to chart their own course of study? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Truth and Reconciliation: The Global Politics of Justice

Bethuel Kiplagat, Chair of Kenya's Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission in 2010.

Bethuel Kiplagat, Chair of Kenya’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission in 2010.

The BBC is reporting that a long-awaited report investigating violence and human rights abuses in Kenya will recommend some prosecutions of key officials for their roles. The Truth Reconciliation and Justice Commission was established in the aftermath of post-election violence that rocked Kenya following the 2008 presidential elections. However, its mandate was broader and included looking at past injustices from the Kenyan independence in December 1963 through the disputed February 2008 elections. According to the BBC’s coverage, Ahmed Sheikh Farah, who sat on the committee, indicated that “victims would be happy” with the recommendations but also warned that “we have been centered on reconciliation—healing, unity, that kind of focus.”

The report comes at an interesting time in Kenya’s political history. About six weeks ago, Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidency and was sworn into office. However, Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating some of the violence following the last presidential election. That violence resulted in more than 1,500 deaths and displaced more than 300,000 people from their homes.

Truth and reconciliation commissions are interesting instruments. They are generally charged with revealing wrongdoing rather than achieving justice per se. And they have been growing in popularity in recent

Archbishop Desmond Tutu presides over South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu presides over South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

years. One of the earliest was Argentina’s National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, or CONADEP). CONADEP was established shortly after the collapse of Argentina’s military government in 1983, and was charged with investigating the fate of the estimated 30,000 persons who were “disappeared” by the Argentine government between 1976 and 1983. Perhaps the most famous was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established in 1995 and was charged with witnessing and recording the crimes and human rights abuses committed by both state and opposition forces during the apartheid era. Other notable examples include Brazil’s Comissão Nacional da Verdade, which is currently investigating human rights abuses by the country’s former military government, and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is currently investigating human rights abuses in the country’s residential school system for the Canada’s first nations.

Most truth and reconciliation commissions represent an effort to expand understanding rather that to achieve justice. They generally lack the power to prosecute offenders. Indeed, in many cases, like the South African TRC, individuals offering testimony before the commission were generally granted amnesty for any confessions they offered. The emphasis, in other words, is on promoting transparency and providing a historical record and testimony rather than on achieving justice in the traditional sense. But this also a source of controversy, as victims can sometimes feel as though the perpetrators of violence and human rights abuses can escape punishment.

What do you think? Do truth commissions represent an instrument of justice by witnessing and providing a historical record of human rights abuses? Or do they undermine justice by permitting human rights abusers to escape criminal prosecution? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The BRICS Development Bank: The Future of South-South Cooperation?

Conclusion of the BRICS Summit in South Africa.

Conclusion of the BRICS Summit in South Africa.

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) announced their intention to fund a new development bank to challenge what they perceive as the Western-dominated agenda of the international financial institutions (IFIs). The move, which came about two weeks ago, has generated considerable discussion both of the charges leveled by the BRICS against the IFIs and about the role of the BRICS in global politics more generally.

The BRICS’s new development bank would be funded through an initial donation from each of the five countries, though considerable debate over what precisely the new bank will do. And therein lies the fundamental problem. The idea of South-South cooperation, that is, the exchange of resources, knowledge, and technology between developing countries, has been popular since the 1970s. Its proponents argued that South-South cooperation could reduce developing countries dependence on the developed world and could lead to a shift in the international balance of power away from the first world. But little real progress has been made.

And that precisely is the issue. As the al Jazeera article announcing the BRICS development bank noted, “Disputes remain over what the new bank will do, with all sides trying to mould the institution to their own foreign or domestic policy goals, and with each looking for assurances of an equitable return on their initial investment.”

Collectively, the BRICS countries represent approximately for one-quarter of global economic activity and are home to about 40 percent of the world’s population. And yet their interests are often at odds, reflecting the diversity of their political and economic experiences. Blogging at Project Syndicate, political economist Dani Rodrick argues that, “just about the only thing these countries have in common is that they are the only economies ranked among world’s 15 largest that are not members of the OECD.” Rodrick notes that in the structures of their economies (Russia and Brazil depend on commodity exports, India on Services, and China on manufacturing), their political systems (Brazil and China are democracies, China and Russia are not), and on their global position (China is rising while Russia is a superpower in decline), the BRICS have little in common.

Further, apart from the development bank proposal (which still lacks any real details), the BRICS have failed to articulate a coherent global policy in any real sense. Rodrick argues that the  BRICS have played “a rather unimaginative and timid role” in global politics, while  Joseph Nye notes that the diversity (indeed, the rivalry) between the BRICS countries undermine their potential to work together to develop a coherent challenge to the existing global political and economic infrastructure.

What do you think? Does the BRICS bank represent a challenge to the international financial institutions? Can Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa present a new impetus for South-South cooperation? Or do the stark differences between the countries undermine the potential for effective cooperation? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Japanese elections took place on Sunday, marking a dramatic shift in political power in the country. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for nearly all of its post-World War II history, looks set to lose handily to its main rival, the Democratic Party of Japan. Some analysists are projecting the DPJ may win as many as 320 seats in the lower house, giving it a two-thirds majority and eliminating any need to form coalition partners. Prime Minister nad LDP leader Taro Aso has already conceded defeat and announced his intention to resign as party leader. With the DPJ’s victory, Yukio Hatoyama looks poised to become the country’s next prime minister.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The dispute over the status of last week’s Afghan election continues. Although incumbent President Hamid Karzai has extended his lead in the most recent results, the current tally (in which Karzai leads his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah 46% to 31%) would still force a runoff election in October. Although final results are not expected until the end of September, Abdullah has accused the government of engaging in a “massive state-engineer[ing]” of the election results, alleging voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing, and other election irregularities. The United States has also expressed concerns over the accusations, with U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan “mak[ing] it very clear” in a meeting with Karzai last week that the election should be free and fair.

2.  Fighting between the government of Burma and a rebel militia known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army broke out last week, ending a ceasefire signed between the two more than twenty years ago. The fighting, which has led to a massive exodus of refugees into China, drew criticism from the Chinese government over the weekend. China has been one of the few countries to maintain close ties to the Burmese government, but those ties have been challenged after a reported 10,000-30,000 people crossed into China to flee fighting. The Burmese government is attempting to reassert control ahead of next year’s elections over a region which has large ethnic minorities who reject the central government’s authority.

3. The United Arab Emirates announced it had seized a ship carrying North Korean arms to Iran. According to a report issued by the government of the UAE to the United Nations, the ship, which was seized several weeks ago, was carrying ammunition and small arms, including rocket-propelled grenades, in contravention of a UN embargo established under UN Security Council Resolution 1874 (2009). That resolution was passed after North Korea’s second nuclear test in May. The United Arab Emirates is a close U.S. ally in the region, and has been under pressure to step-up its screening of  shipments bound for Iran.

4. The longstanding trade dispute between Brazil and the United States will take a new turn on Monday, when the World Trade Organization is expected to rule that Brazil may infringe patents on U.S. pharmaceuticals in retaliation for U.S. subsidies on cotton. Brazil successfully challenged U.S. cotton subsides in 2002, when the WTO ruled that the $3 billion annual cotton subsidies paid by the U.S. government unfairly distorted global cotton prices. Despite the victory, the United States has continued to pay the subsidies, and the Brazilian government has struggled to find a way to enforce the ruling. If the WTO does indeed rule that Brazil may bypass U.S. intellectual property protection in the case, it may represent a new avenue for developing countries to enforce WTO rulings. More on this in a future blog entry.

5. South African President Jacob Zuma stated last week that he will be quick to condemn any “deviant” behavior during his upcoming visit to Zimbabwe. The South African government has historically been very slow to criticize the Zimbabwean government or to bring pressure on the country, which has been in the throes of an economic and political crisis for the more than five years. Meanwhile, a United Nations report last week contended that international humanitarian assistance for Zimbabwe has fallen well short of the amount needed to address the food shortages and disease outbreaks facing the country. The UN estimates Zimbabwe will require $718 million in humanitarian aid this year. So far, only $316 million has been pledged.

A Realistic Policy in Iranian Nukes?

Stephen Walt offers an interesting critique of John Bolton’s “unrealistic realism” this week. Bolton was on the Daily Show  last week,  offering his usual policy advice on Iran, namely, that the United States should do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But what is interesting about Walt’s analysis is his discussion of how unrealistic such a policy is. According to Walt, any U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will likely either involve the use of coercive diplomacy, which runs the risk of helping Iran to overcome internal political differences which might produce a more open government or runs the risk of involving the United States in another protracted ground war with no clear end in sight. Neither case seems particularly promising.

Yet Bolton’s dream of a world in which the United States is the sole nuclear power, able to cajole others into ceding to its demands, is—as Walt discusses—also highly unrealistic. Such a world would only create greater impetus for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons for themselves. And contemplating such a world only creates greater incentives for countries to acquire the deterrent capabilities (glossary) nuclear weapons afford. So, in essence, the greater the force the United States brings to bear on a country to end its nuclear program, the greater the pressure for that country to actually develop and deploy its own nuclear weapons.

It is worthwhile to recall that South Africa is the only country to ever give up its nuclear weapons after developing a nuclear weapons capability. And it’s even more important to remember that it did so not because it was under immense external pressure (or indeed threat) to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons because of (1) domestic political pressure to do so, and (2) because its external security situation no longer warranted the need for such weapons. Bolton’s proposed stance ensures that neither of those two criteria would be met in the case of Iran. Hardly a hopeful situation.