Choose our own chi­nas

CityPress - - Voices -

When Nel­son Man­dela was pres­i­dent, he fa­mously be­rated then US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton for his reser­va­tions over Pre­to­ria’s choices of friends. De­fend­ing his friend­ship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Libya’s Muam­mar Gaddafi, Man­dela said those who dis­agreed with us “can go and jump in the lake”.

What Man­dela was do­ing was af­firm­ing South Africa’s in­de­pen­dence and sovereignty. He was stand­ing up to a su­per­power and re­mind­ing it that our sovereignty was not for sale. This was in 1998. How quickly that has changed.

When Thabo Mbeki be­came pres­i­dent in 1999, the gov­ern­ment tried to block the Dalai Lama from vis­it­ing South Africa. Man­dela stepped in, say­ing no one should choose for South Africa who its friends should be.

Hav­ing bowed to the wis­dom and prin­ci­ples of the great man, Mbeki re­fused to meet the spir­i­tual leader, cit­ing a busy sched­ule. He had ap­par­ently come un­der pres­sure from China.

Since then, Kgalema Mot­lanthe and Ja­cob Zuma have also buck­led un­der pres­sure from the Chi­nese, even re­fus­ing to grant him a visa.

This week, the World Sum­mit of Nobel Peace Lau­re­ates was sus­pended in protest at our third re­fusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.

South Africa is not averse to rais­ing its voice in in­ter­na­tional fo­rums and is of­ten por­trayed as punch­ing above its weight. And, be­cause of its pe­cu­liar his­tory and story of trans­form­ing it­self from a pariah state to a rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful democ­racy, its voice is taken se­ri­ously.

There is, there­fore, no rea­son South Africa should not make it clear to the Chi­nese that their friend­ship not­with­stand­ing, they can­not dic­tate who en­ters and leaves our coun­try. We have al­lowed our­selves to be bul­lied by the Chi­nese. If an eco­nomic pow­er­house in Africa al­lows it­self to be pulled around like that, what about the smaller coun­tries on the con­ti­nent?

Although much dam­age has al­ready been done with six lau­re­ates boy­cotting this coun­try, it is not too late to re­view our po­si­tion. Our coun­try has peace and peace­mak­ing laced into our DNA – this is why we can lay claim to four Nobel peace prize win­ners.

Peace is a great div­i­dend and does more na­tional good than any trade with China. Mzansi should try to say: Go and jump in the lake, we will choose our own friends. Chances are our new Chi­nas will back down in the face of his­tory.

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