/ 25 June 2024

A response to racially-charged assertions

A Caution Sign In Front Of Storm Clouds Warning Of "socialism Ahead."

I am honoured to be criticised by Richard Pithouse of the University of Connecticut, alongside such respected intellectual heavy-weights such as Frans Cronje, Greg Mills, James Myburgh and many others. However, I find Pithouse’s arguments deeply flawed and deserving of a robust response.

The core of Pithouse’s argument is the unfounded assertion that liberalism is a fringe ideology held only by white, English-speakers. He provides no justification for this assertion, rather devoting his article to criticising liberals and liberal organisations.

Liberalism is not an ideology of the English-speaking white. This is, frankly, an offensive assertion, which disrespects all the black, Indian, coloured, Asian and myriad other demographics who champion liberal values.

Liberalism is a universal ideology because it aspires to bring out the best in people. It champions the rights of women to not be treated like chattel, it defends the sanctity of people’s private property, and upholds the importance of diversity of thought, tolerance and acceptance. Liberalism is the ideology that has built what is decent in societies across the world.

We enjoy freedom of speech, property rights, accountable democracy, fair and just courts and the concept of human rights because of liberals throughout history who have challenged the authority of kings and dictators and replaced serfdom and fiefdoms with republics and liberty.

The liberal movement in South Africa was at the forefront of opposing apartheid, while other liberation movements were in exile or preparing an ill-thought out and potentially disastrous civil war.

Pithouse’s particular criticism of me is in my approach to South Africa’s foreign policy. He claims that I have relegated it to being dictated by bribery. Despite Pithouse criticising my assertion, this is a well-documented phenomenon.

Penelope Andrews published an article in Afronomicslaw discussing the role of corruption in South Africa’s foreign policy. Corruption Watch has expressed concern at the level and role of corruption in informing the country’s foreign policy and infecting its deals with other states.

Pithouse is also being disingenuous about my claim that South Africa “most likely” was bribed by Iran to take Israel to the International Criminal Court of Justice. I am not the only one to believe that this is a possibility.

And I did not state it as a certainty. 

Pithouse also takes exception to my out-of-context quote “nations that matter”. By nations that matter, I am talking about the countries that genuinely and positively serve this country’s national interests. Crackpot dictatorships, imperialist land-grabbers, terrorist organisations and theocracies do not serve our national interests.

The nations that matter are wealthy trade partners, who help enable job creation, free societies that provide a benchmark and example to shape our society and our regional neighbours, that we should be integrating with rather than the arbitrary, chaotic debacle that is Brics. The US, Israel, UK, EU, and other African states committed to economic growth, would serve us much better as partners than Russia, China, Iran and the myriad terror groups we are associating with.

There are nations that matter. This isn’t some “neo-Trumpian racism”. In fact, Pithouse might be belying some of his own internal racism by presuming that my statement was based on race, and not in calling for South Africa to embrace a logical and rational foreign policy.

Pithouse would also like to pretend that the West, which is what I presume he thinks I mean by nations that matter, destroyed Iraq, Haiti and Palestine.

Pithouse must not pretend that Iraq was ever a happy place. Long before the US toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq was a rogue state that invaded Kuwait, attacked Iran in a brutal World War One-style invasion that lasted eight years, attempted the eradication of Israel on multiple occasions, as well as engaged in ethnic cleansing of its own people.

Iraq was not about oil, as Pithouse asserts — the most basic of over-pushed conspiracy theories. The US has plenty of its own energy reserves and the oil wealth is firmly under Iraqi and Kurdish control to this day. 

The statistic that millions died is also a blatant lie. The 2003 Invasion tallies 30 000 dead Iraqi combatants, with over 7 000 estimated civilian casualties. Since the invasion, over 300 000 Iraqi civilian deaths have been linked to war-related violence. A tragic number, but Pithouse is lying by asserting that millions have died. Hyperbole is not an excuse.

Also, Haiti was destroyed by natural disasters, internal corruption and endemic institutional problems. Pithouse commits the same sin as Zimbabwe and Venezuela apologists, who constantly blame the West for the failures of brutal regimes which have embraced terrible ideologies.

Pithouse’s article displays an ignorance of liberalism, its advocates and what it has provided for the world. It is out of touch with not only South Africa, but geopolitics in general. I would urge him to actually investigate those liberal multiracial organisations, which have done so much to keep this country from collapsing, before writing racially charged hit pieces about them.

Nicholas Woode-Smith is a political analyst, economic historian and author.