“Imagine,” a Western diplomat from a leading investor nation in SA told me recently, “If we had said during the struggle for democracy here:  ‘It’s not our business’.”

“And if we had added to this that the future of South Africa cannot be determined by outsiders, least of all by those from the West.

“There might be terrible violations of human rights in the country, but that is for the government and the people of South Africa to sort out.”

Of course, the ANC in exile in the 1980s and 90s took a radically different view of things. Whatever their limitations on the battlefields and on the frontline states surrounding apartheid SA, its diplomatic pressures on the West were hugely effective.

It lobbied successfully for the imposition of sanctions, it persuaded the US Congress to override the presidential veto and introduce the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. It used its international leverage, and moral suasion, to ensure that even the more reluctant economic actors with clout, Britain and West Germany, pressured PW Botha (with little success) and then FW De Klerk (with much greater yield) to introduce the wide, sweeping reforms which saw full-scale democracy introduced in 1994, and the ANC’s ascent to power.

How sad and ironic then to see its stance today, as the world watches and involves itself in the greatest blight in governance and rights delinquency in the western hemisphere, Venezuela.

In this disaster in South America,  the ANC can do no better than dust off the National Party’s discredited  foreign policy mantra: “No external interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”

The governing party’s brazen hypocrisy is in fact much worse than the double standard it raises in the world today. It is, with the arrival in Caracas this past weekend of a top-heavy ANC delegation, led by secretary-general Ace Magashula, taking an active stand of solidarity. But the side it has chosen is the oppressor regime there and not with the long-suffering people of what was once the richest country in Latin America. Today, courtesy of the ANC’s host, President Nicolas Maduro, it is the poorest in the region. Its population is, literally, starving.

But Maduro is about as legitimate a leader of all Venezuelans as any apartheid president could claim to be of all South Africans. He rigged the polls, banned the opposition and seized control of the electoral and judicial  institutions.

 And days before the arrival in Venezuela of the ANC bigwigs, his troops killed three people and injured more than 300 who were attempting to deliver into their country a convoy of desperately needed food and supplies for its starved and suffering population.

Oh, and SA just happens to be a proud member of Brics, the constellation of leading developing nations. The only fellow member of Brics with real skin in the deadly game of thrones going on in Caracas is mighty Brazil. Its call after the deadly ambush of the aid convoy could not have been clearer, or the exact opposite of the ANC alignment.

Brazil issued this statement on Sunday: “We call on the international community, especially those countries that have not yet recognised interim president (and opposition leader) Juan Guaido, to join efforts to liberate Venezeula, recognising the legitimate government of Juan Guaido, to join efforts and demanding the cessation of violence by the regime’s armed forces against its own population.”

Given a few substitutions, this could have been lifted directly from a script of Radio Freedom and other propaganda efforts of the ANC battling the apartheid forces a generation or two ago. That it emanates from the most important trade and diplomatic partner SA has in the Americas tells you how low our standards and diplomacy have sunk.

Veteran foreign policy writer here, Peter Fabricius, reminded readers of the Daily Maverick that our man in Caracas, the SA ambassador there, Joseph Nkosi, had in 2018 “offered to provide Maduro with military support”. Actually looking at the recent army day efforts of our defence force in Cape Town, the civilians of Caracas don’t have much to fear on that front.

But the remarks show how mendacious and mediocre our diplomacy has become. Once a serious vehicle for international engagement, the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco), on this reading, is more of a clown car. The same outfit recently summoned five western diplomats to demarche them for a non-paper which was five months old and which was never addressed to the SA government.

But the real reason for the ANC involvement has nothing to do with South America, of which it knows little and cares about even less. It certainly has nothing to do with human rights or solidarity, since it is on the opposite side of both humanity and good conscience on this issue.

It has everything to do with its warped view of the world. “America very bad, its opponents always and everywhere very good” is the simplest and sadly accurate and outdated view it has of the world.

When those five Western nations, including the US, sent a memorandum on investment obstacles, ironically at the suggestion of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment envoys, the ANC response to it (five months after it was written) was a statement of such juvenile fury and wrong-headedness that it was – in its awfulness – splendid to behold.  It stated:

“The African National Congress (ANC) has noted with deep concern the interference by the Western imperialistic forces like the USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland into the affairs of South Africa … the ANC condemns the dramatic and holier than thou stance of these former colonisers and we would not like to relate to them on the history of master slave relations … ”

I will spare readers the bilious seven further lines of this diatribe issued in response to a memorandum which had been requested by what Ramaphosa recently described as “a listening government”. Its cringeworthy conspiricism verging on insanity would make a first-year undergraduate blush.

Maduro’s government will fall soon enough from the same forces that felled apartheid – popular outrage, international pressure and economic reality. In both its sorrow and anger, the new administration there, and the  50-plus countries around that have stood in support of its people, will remember who was on which side of the barricades.

Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London.

@TonyLeonSA. Featured in Times Select