South Africa’s infantile foreign policy

We feel secure in our official and popular rejection of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the occupation of Palestine and the Islamophobia that scars the "tolerant" societies of the West.

When the United Stated ambassador to Libya and two embassy staffers were killed in an attack blamed on anger over a crude film, which denigrated the Prophet Muhammad, local reaction was muted.

The war came closer on Tuesday, when eight South Africans were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul. When President Jacob Zuma was criticised for failing to condemn the attackers explicitly, the department of international relations and co-operation managed only the broadest and most general response: "The South African government believes in peaceful means to settle disputes and/or conflicts and we strongly condemn the use of violence, ­particularly violence targeted at innocent civilians," it said.

This equivocation is typical of the Zuma administration's struggle to ­position itself as a champion of the new nonalignment. Innocent civilians are being killed by drone strikes on a regular basis in Afghanistan, western Pakistan and Yemen. Although those strikes do not deliberately target ­civilians, the international relations department does not want to be selective in its condemnations or to be seen as even briefly sympathetic to the West.

This is the moral and political calculus of the playground, not of a modern power with a seat on the United Nations Security Council. It ought to be quite possible for South Africa to criticise intervention in Libya or Afghanistan, and to condemn in specific and direct terms the killing of its own citizens by people who clearly used the film – which was made in the US – as a pretext to stoke outrage and make political gains of their own.

These wars may not be ours, but they are coming ever closer: in Mali, where South African Steven McGown is held hostage by al-Qaeda-aligned militants, in Nigeria through Boko Haram and in the Horn of Africa, where al-Shabaab is trying to destablise an entire region.

To condemn terror is not to condone imperialism. To articulate concerns about jihadism and security on the continent is not to invite US bases.

An infantile film was used as cover for these killings. We need a grown-up foreign policy to cope with their deeper causes.

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