South Africa’s reputation as the continent’s ‘big brother’ and ‘peace broker’ has been seriously dented by the heavy defeat it suffered at the hands of Central African Republic’s Seleka rebels on Sunday.
Thirteen soldiers killed – some burned beyond recognition – one missing and close to 30 wounded, and top of that a huge humiliation.
This is South Africa’s cost of taking on a war that it did not understand the dynamics and the stakes – a war that no one will ever understand, except for France, the US and CAR’s neighbours, Chad in particular.
General Francois Bozizé overthrew the regime of Ange Felix Patassé, and stuck to power like a glue, and was planning to amend the Constitution to seek a third term.
But his friend and ally, Chad President Idriss Deby, who helped him chase Patassé out of power, told him straight in his face that such a move was a bad idea.
Bozizé told Deby: “But you did it in your country, and why can’t I do it here?” This was the beginning of their fall-out.
Paris and Washington also urged Bozizé not to travel that road, but he would not listen. They also got rid of him, so he felt isolated.
He turned to South Africa for his own protection, when the Seleka rebels launched their first offensive in December last year.
The deal included South Africa’s future investments in diamonds, oil, and other natural resources. So President Zuma rejoiced and sent military trainers and ready-to-combat troops.
South Africa’s ‘weak’ and ‘hypocritical’ foreign policy has once again been exposed and this defeat and humiliation will take long to fix.
South African troops died trying to protect a dictator, and it is not the first time for this country to flirt with dictators or leaders who came to power through illegitimate means.
Robert Mugabe, Joseph Kabila, Sassou Nguesso, King Mswati III, Paul Kagame, Bozizé, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, to name only a few, have all been ‘in the bed’ with the South African government – previous and present – so it is not something new.
Zuma labelled Seleka rebels ‘bandits’, and reiterated that as a member of African Union, his country will not tolerate African leaders who gained power though coup d’etats, but most of the leaders South Africa has befriended came to power using violent means.
And they had legitimated themselves later though fraudulent elections, partly funded by South Africa.
So, on one hand, South Africa is preaching peace, and on the other hand it is selling arms to dictatorial governments and cajoling their leaders – all this in exchange for natural resources.
Many observers have the feeling that South Africa has no or little understanding of African politics, which are far more complex than South African politics.
Cry the beloved country, for your brothers fallen in CAR, not in the name of peace but in the name of natural resources and hypocrisy.
Alea acta est!
*Photo: SA Army website