As blogger Christopher Szabo writes, while South Africa rejected an invitation to the Dalai Lama to come their country signed among others by Nelson Mandela, they have now given their nation’s highest honor to —–Fidel Castro! Called the National Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo (One of the early ANC apartheid era leaders) , the award was presented on the very same day that that the Dalai Lama was to participate in a peace conference.
Two questions arise about South Africa’s action. First, why did they refuse permission for the Dalai Lama to come to the country? The second is why they gave their highest award to one of the Americas still most prominent reigning mass murderer and dictator?
Let us answer and dispose of the first right away. South Africa is China’s main trading partner on the African continent, and as one of the region’s still most important economic centers, a vast recipient of Chinese government investment. Hence we know why China does not want any nation to honor the continuing quest of the Dalai Lama for a free Tibet. The leaders of South Africa do not want to undertake any kind of measure that would anger China’s Communist leaders, and hence possibly interfere with the lucrative economic ties they have with China.
The irony, of course, is that under apartheid, the South African liberation movement- led by the same African National Congress that now rules South Africa- favored sanctions against the apartheid government by all Western nations, even if it interfered with their trade and investments. Supporters of disinvestment in South Africa would rightfully argue, what is more important, investments or the freedom of a people suffering under the brutal apartheid regime? Now, suddenly, it appears that what is important is old fashioned realpolitik.
As for the award to Castro, perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, as an ally of the former Soviet Union, the ANC (whose leadership was almost totally controlled by members of the Stalinist South African Communist Party) considered Castro a fellow fighter in the international liberation movement to which they subscribed- which in their eyes, was led by the Soviet Union. Their enemy were nations like the United States, which during the Reagan administration, supported “quiet diplomacy” and opposed disinvestment and sanctions.
With Communism’s fall, the ANC leaders have not given up on their old allegiances. A regime that stands behind the brutal terrorist regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and refuses to renounce their ties to him- because during apartheid he was a comrade fighting for African liberation-has long given up its claim to any moral standing in the world. As Szabo notes, South Africa has blocked UN resolutions on sanctions against Burma and Iran, Belarus and Uzbekistan, and is silent on the genocide going on in Sudan. Their old cry for intervention on behalf of freedom seems to have come to an end after they succeeded in destroying apartheid.
After all, this is a nation in which Ronnie Kasrils, a member of the Central Committee of the South African CP, was until recently Minister of Intelligence in the government, and is currently a leader in the campaign of support for Hamas and opposition to Israel. It is a nation that can award Castro their highest honor because of what they call his “contribution to the eradication of racism, colonialism, apartheid and inequality in human society.” That is, except for the racism and inequality and oppression in Castro’s own prison island, which South Africa’s leaders see as a land of freedom.
South Africa, a nation that made much of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way to deal with the record of those who inflicted the brutality of the apartheid governments, now gives its award to the leader of a repressive Communist state whose government would arrest anyone who dared to even suggest that Cuba needs its own institutions that would lead to truth and reconciliation. When Castro overthrew the authoritarian Batista government in 1959, its form of reconciliation was the firing squads instituted by Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
We have all seen those tourist ads for safaris and trips to beautiful Capetown. I have my own suggestion. How about a tourist boycott by Americans to South Africa, until it begins to honor human rights everywhere in the world, including Cuba?