David Cameron snubs South Africa after Russia trade deal

South African President Jacob Zuma has, late Friday (October 24th) night, cancelled a trip to the UK because Prime Minister David Cameron refused South Africa a courtesy call commonly afforded to visiting heads of state. Zuma was supposed to have been in the UK from Saturday to Wednesday and scheduled to attend the 3rd Annual InnovaBRICS conference hosted by international business leaders interested in furthering their investment ties with the strategic BRICS group of developing nations. On Thursday (23rd) the South African Presidency announced that President Zuma would deliver a keynote address at the conference “outlining South Africa’s role in BRICS and on the African continent in light of South Africa’s National Development Plan and Vision 2063”. He would have been joined on the podium by Steve Almond (Chairman of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu); Sir John Pierce (Standard Chartered Chairman); David Landsman (Tata Executive Director) and Gerard Lyons (Chief Economic Advisor to the Mayor of London).

He would also have engaged with UK business leaders and opinion makers, addressed a SA Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Tuesday followed by a lecture at the highly influential think tank Chatham House at lunch. South African government officials said that it was protocol for a visiting head of state to meet and greet the head of state of the host country. “It wouldn’t look right for the president to go and address a conference without speaking to the prime minister” South African government officials said.

In an attempt to avoid being seen as creating a nasty diplomatic spat, the UK government offered South Africa meetings with its Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as well as Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond. Clegg is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, a junior partner in the UK’s coalition government. But the UK stressed that it would not extend any official security for the visiting president, South African VIP protection officers would not be allowed to carry firearms and “private security was out of the question”, South Africa’s national Sunday Times reported. This practically assured President Zuma’s cancellation.

This latest development comes weeks after South Africa announced it had entered into a $10 billion nuclear energy deal with Russia, flying in the face of US-EU sanctions against the country, the latest of which particularly targets the energy sector. The US-EU’s latest measures are designed to  “increase Russia’s political isolation as well as the economic costs to Russia, especially in areas of importance to President Putin and those close to him”, President Obama has said. But the BRICS group of countries aren’t buying into that line. On Friday Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said “We come against any sanctions or threats because they are not an effective method of solving problems” adding that political settlement in the Ukraine is the only right way and that “The Asian countries have their own view on the Ukrainian problem”. Within weeks of South Africa announcing its deal with Russia, China announced its $400 billion joint oil and gas venture with Russia’s Gazprom has gotten underway. President Putin has announced that China’s investments in the Russian economy increased by 15% in 2013 and was expected to reach $100 billion in 2015.

Due to what is often termed the “Madiba Effect” (a reference to late President Nelson Mandela), democratic South Africa has consistently punched above its weight in its assessment of the morality of international affairs. In this case sentiments are highly influenced by the significant support Russia lent the armed struggle against Apartheid compared to the reluctance by many western nations (the UK in particular) to isolate the state and the fact that the now democratic South Africa is government by a Communist Party. Following a G20 meeting on Syria last month President Putin hailed Zuma as a champion of “small nations”. “South Africa’s president said a very remarkable thing,” Putin said. “He said, ‘In today’s world, small nations increasingly feel vulnerable and unprotected. It seems like a more powerful country can use force at any time at its own discretion’. And he is right. That is the direction things are going in.”

South Africa is also keenly aware of its status as Africa’s powerhouse and has repeatedly refused to cow-tow to efforts to have its diplomatic affairs dictated to by others. During his official visit to South Africa, Zuma publically and bluntly told US president Obama that South Africa would not allow any country to tell her who her friends should be. More recent Zuma has led the charge against US unilateral action, appealing to leaders to “respect international institutions” like the UN Security Council, where South Africa holds a non-permanent seat.

 By Professor Ashley Frank

Ashley Frank is Professor of Finance in the Graduate School of Business & Government Leadership at North-West University, South Africa.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Africa, Europe

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