Does South Africa’s position on Venezuela matter?

An anti-government protester, holding a Venezuelan national flag with a message that reads in Spanish: "For my children and for my grandchildren" cheers during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Momentum is growing for Venezuela's opposition movement led by self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, who has called supporters back into the streets for nationwide protests Saturday, escalating pressure on Maduro to step down. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

South Africa can be pigeon-holed as an ex-British colony and a former apartheid state (a country that was once racially segregated). At the heart of South African politics is ideological inconsistence as I will show in this article. The fact that South Africa was once colonised by the British had an impact in the manner in which the apartheid government organised itself. For example, they used the fact that Britain and the United States of America were against communism to mobilize support from the two countries which was necessary for the survival of their racist government. In addition, the African National Congress (ANC) was mostly associated with Russia and Communism. This also meant that the ANC was the enemy of democracy and capitalism. More so, the apartheid government did so purposely knowing very well that the west will perceive the ANC as their adversary.

In light of the emergence of the ANC into the power in 1994 communism was never introduced at least formally. The ANC chose to use some of the principles of communism or socialism per se such as providing free houses, education and Social grants (mostly for children, disabled personnel and the elders). Some of these programs were justified since the country has been through unwarranted levels of racial inequality under the apartheid regime. On the other hand, those who were in favour of the apartheid continued critiquing the ANC contending that its policies are in line with communism.

Nevertheless, the ANC’s tongue continued waging from a much closer proximity (to communism) and this is evident in their association with the South African Communist Party (SACP) which has been panned for not being communist enough. It is worth highlighting that while pro-capitalists are of the view that the ANC led government is nothing but a subtle form of communism, those who are at bottom of the food chain believe that the ANC’s emergence to power brought nothing but perpetual capitalism and they (ANC) have been indicted of keeping black people at the behest of poverty and protecting white-privilege.

More to the above, South Africa is now a two in one country pulling in different directions. Those who benefitted (white South Africans) are mostly in support of capitalism since their lives flourished under capitalism and continue to do so even in the post-apartheid South Africa. In contrast, those who continue to linger at the command of disproportionate poverty (mostly black South Africans) believe that the ANC has sold-out to the capitalist. It is worth stating in passing that it against this backdrop that populist political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) came into actuality with their emphasis on land expropriation without compensation. The ANC has positioned itself as a catalyst of racial, economic and social equality. 

Even so, in the past nine years the ANC led government has been linked to excessive looting of the state coffers and not delivering on its promises. Since the dawn of democracy, the ANC pulled all stunts to legitimize undemocratic governments such as that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe which led to the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and that of King Mswati in Eswatini. The support to these countries is often dished out in many ways such as the provision of money and other necessities. They often justify their actions by saying that the support is only meant to keep those countries afloat in order to avoid the flooding of immigrants into the South African boarders. It is not clear as to whether there is an intention by the ANC led government to keep undemocratic governments in power or not. For example in 2015 South Africa defied the International Criminal Court (ICC) (to which South Africa  is a legal member) by letting Omar al-Bashir escape without being arrested for committing crime against humanity and killing thousands of Sudanese. Immediately after the incidence the ANC contended that: “The ICC is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended – being a court of last resort for the prosecution of crimes against humanity.” 

It is clear that the line between supporting communism for the purpose of elevating the poor and supporting corruption (including crimes against humanity) has proven to be thin in the case of the ANC. Thus, their support for Venezuela is quite concerning in as much as the proposed coup (or regime change) by the United States of America is. Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro has implemented some appealing (at least to the communist wannabe EFF and ANC government) economic policies such as the taking of the land and giving it to the poor by the Chavez government. It is worth noting that such move has led to scattering criticism by the proponents of private property rights (which is in line with capitalism). 

More so, Venezuela is now in tatters and in complete disarray due to heavy sanctions by the USA and the EU. These sanctions are based on the understanding that the Nicholas Maduro’s government has in several instances infringed human rights, silenced the media and recently there has been reports of political intolerance whereby the leader of the opposition Juan Guaido was refused permission to leave the country under the presumption that he is colliding with the west in order to bring about regime change. Most importantly, the consequences of Maduro’s socialist regime has somehow led to the prevalence of excessive poverty within the Venezuelan people.

That being said, it is also noteworthy that the United States of America (supported by Britain) has a bad record of toppling governments and leaving the countries in ruins while extracting their natural resources (e.g. Iran and Libya). Thus, it is not clear as to whether the US and its allies are concerned with the state of democracy in Venezuela or the aim is to get to the Venezuelan oil reserves. Most notably, Russia is obviously against the proposed regime change as a result, South Africa is not the only country in support of Venezuela.  However, Russia is much more economically strong as compared to South Africa which heavily relies on investment from the west. Much of South Africa’s jobs are created by multinational companies such as Coca Cola, KFC etc. which are mainly from the west. 

This means that, the sanctioning of South Africa by the west is not desirable since it would lead to calamitous consequences. Hence, South Africa can be easily swayed into agreeing or voting with the USA in the United Nation Security Council regardless of the nature (reasons behind) of regime change proposed by US. In short, South Africa’s position is unfortunately (to a larger extent) at the hands of the west since the country is economically dependent on trade with the west. This is not to undermine the fact that South Africa does trade with the eastern countries such as China and Russia. Nonetheless, the west still plays a significant role in shaping the nature of South African economy.

Gift Sonkqayi is currently pursuing Master’s Degree in Education at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa). He writes in his personal capacity.