Trump Tweet Hurts SA

President Donald Trump listens during a roundtable on the "Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act" in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in Washington. From left, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Rep. Jeb Hensarling, and Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, AP

A popular southern African folklore features a beautiful girl by the name of Tselane who is captured in her village by a people-eating monster called Dimo or Zimu, as referred to by Zulu-speaking folk. For those familiar with the legend, they’ll tell you that Dimo is feared by all in the village as a behemoth who has a special liking for little girls as his favourite diet. He lived nearby as an ever present, lurking danger everyone was aware and afraid of, though he had not captured or eaten anyone.

This fear of an impending danger kept the community in a permanent state of alert, which is why Tselane’s mother often locked her door when she left her daughter inside as she ran errand to provide for her family. One day, the village men who were always known for binging on alcohol, were caught off guard when Dimo invariably tricked Tselane to open the door by pretending to be a friendly neighbour after a hyena signalled to Dimo that Tselane was on her own and locked in the house.

Finally, South Africa is on the agenda of the behemoth that has taken charge as in the form US leader Donald Trump. Until now, we have known the man for wreaking havoc everywhere. We once considered ourselves shielded from his vitriol by attempting to keep minimum contact with him. We were relieved that the Trump administration had no African agenda because we knew that to be a priority to them is tantamount to being prey and imminent victims of heavy-handed interventions.

Whereas this was initially seen as a problem, it soon became clear that it was actually better not to be in the sight of the “political Dimo” than to be his priority. It was in Tselane’s interest not to be in Dimo’s mind or notebook at all. But things have since changed. First, Trump called African countries a sh*thole to everyone’s chagrin. Then, he imposed high tariffs on Rwandan imports into the US for refusing to stop protecting its local textile industry. The surprise extension of sanctions on Zimbabwe even before election results is another. Now, the Dimo seemingly entered South Africa when Trump sent a warning about what South African white supremacist organisations imagine as the massacres of white farmers. 

The hyena has been going around the global village, especially in white countries or where the right wing is growing in strength, reporting of a massive white genocide taking place in SA and recently the so-called “massive land seizures.” Frans Cronje of the SA Institute for Race Relations, a formerly liberal institute that has turned into a bastion for white interests, has not denied in media interviews that it was their “research” briefing to a right-wing US think tank, Cato Institute, that led to a Cato policy which asked Trump to intervene. This, to to protect whites in South Africa.

Trump heeded to that call without thinking further and issued the tweet that is much talked about. Of course, Cronje’s Institute and the Afriforum, a right wing white-interests organisation, celebrate this as evidence of their advocacy, according to media reports. 

It’s the hyena’s call inside the South African house that drew the proverbial cannibal’s attention. Now, our own Tselane, (SA, is in trouble and the hyenas will also suffer the consequences should the Dimo (Trump) descend on South Africa with vengeance and drastic measures. It is the nature of the hyena in the folktale that it invites danger because it is myopic.The hyenas’ constituencies are the ones that will loose from serious economic measures.

Now that the Dimo has put us Tselane on the watch, asking his messenger to study our dialogues on land, things have changed. Dimo’s gaze is not just a watch, but it is him preparing to pounce on his victims. Trump has begun his agenda and it is almost certain that some action will be taken most likely in relation to our status in the African Growth and Opportunities Act through which SA companies enjoy some duty free access to the US markets. 

Trump would have been told that South Africa has an advantage in some parts of trade relations. Trump has shown his penchant for knee-jerk reactions and raising tariffs sometimes by 50 percent is something he can do with glee showing on his face. Sure, millions of mostly black and poor people will bear the brunt of such action, but the rich who are mostly white will also suffer. There are no winners in this game, but the right wing and other extremists.

Upon hearing the panic-causing steps of an approaching behemoth this week, the South African government met the US embassy in Pretoria in order to explain its land dialogue and policy stances. But this explanation was to the wrong people. Instead of explaining it to Trump himself, they spoke to the common-sense diplomats who long knew the truth but have often felt helpless in the face of Trump’s tweet diplomacy. 

They would have been just as surprised as the rest of us about the warning by Trump. Our Minister of International Relations and Cooperation is to ring the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provide clarity. But he too, must have been surprised when Trump asked him to study the land seizures and on-going massacre of whites in South Africa, as he implied. That an Australian right wing minister believed theses sentiments has been debilitating. It now appears that there are still many more gullible right wingers out there. 

It is not yet clear if the SA embassies in the West were mobilised to explain and protect the right for South African’s land policy. Just as they say, charity begins at home for if not, the Dimo will feast on our Tselani. A two pronged strategy is needed to deal with both the hyena at home and the Dimo on the way. South Africa should never be a colony again. We are a democracy.

Dr Siphamandla Zondi is a Professor at the Institute for Strategic and Political Affairs at the University of Pretoria.