Choose our own chinas
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.