WHEN Maite Nkoana- Mashabane was sworn in as minister of international relations and co-operation two-and-a- half years ago, she promised all and sundry that SA’s foreign policy would be formulated by South Africans.
This was a breath of fresh air to those suffocated by the opaque, quiet diplomacy policies of her predecessor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma . Such pronouncements, coupled with sound policy decisions on Libya, and a tougher stance on Robert Mugabe and Laurent Gbagbo, have led many to conclude SA’s foreign policy is now in a better place and it has put a shine on President Jacob Zuma ’s reputation.
However, those giant steps risk being eroded by her handling of the Swaziland political crisis.
At a press briefing last week to explain SA’s involvement in the politics of Africa, she had strong words for despots who had overstayed their welcome and refused to listen to the will of their people.
But the minister’s tone changed when it came to Swaziland. The issue, when it came up, seemed to touch a raw nerve and she declined to discuss it.
She missed an opportunity, while she held the moral high ground, to address the lack of human rights, media freedom and social and political justice in that country.
Many rumours are flying around about our government’s relationship with the Swazi monarch and what might have made the minister keep quiet. There are allegations that South African taxpayers’ money is being used to prop up a bankrupt Swazi regime and that our intelligence services and police are being used to hunt down Swazi pro- democracy activists in SA.
The government opt s to remain silent as Swaziland detains without trial political activists, bans political parties and even denies people the right to be buried in their villages because they dared to speak up against the king. It is also ignoring the loud voice of support raised by tripartite alliance partner the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which in the past decade has marched and blockaded borders between SA and Swaziland to try to force SA to take a stand.
The minister may believe the Swaziland problem will go away by just wishing it away. But it won’t and she is putting our (and her) recent gains in foreign policy at risk.