For a good dose of inflated rhetoric, dodgy statistics and magical thinking, check out the ANC’s 2024 election manifesto.

The last section of the document, dealing with international relations, takes grandiosity to new heights, even as South Africa plunges to new lows of foreign interest.

Recently, former finance minister Trevor Manuel underlined how far we have moved from being the centre and darling of the world under then-President Nelson Mandela in 1994 to get-out-of-Dodge City 30 years later.

Manuel, presenting the results of Old Mutual, which he chairs, noted that foreign investors had divested over R1 trillion over the past 10 years, directing their funding into “more competent and safer markets”.

The reason for this withdrawal, said Manuel, “has been driven by eroded confidence in South Africa, amid various government-driven crises”.

These remarks were made before the announcement that oil and gas giant Shell was exiting this country after 107 years, and that metals and petroleum company BHP Billiton wanted to buy Anglo minus its domestic assets, which the Financial Times described as “Anglo’s poison pill”. We can thank Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe for that appellation.

There is no sign of any lack of self-confidence – and much self-congratulation – in the ANC’s version of how the world views South Africa after 30 years under the party’s rule.

Its manifesto advises us:

The ANC has been providing leadership in global peace efforts, be it between Russia and Ukraine, or in exposing the genocidal acts of Israel regime (sic) against Palestinian people. The ANC has worked tirelessly to ensure that we unite Africa around an agenda for development of Africa and work to advance the interest of the people of the continent. A vote for the ANC is a vote for a free Palestine.

Leaving aside the missing articles and the absence of grammar and a spell-check in the paragraph, practically every word of it is demonstrably untrue.

“Global peace between Russia and Ukraine?”

This week, Russia, which in February 2022 invaded a sovereign country sans any South African government condemnation, launched its biggest ground assault on the city of Kharkiv in two years. This came hard on the news that Russia and its operatives had been foiled in an attempt to assassinate Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Precisely, beyond one or two telephone calls and a photo opportunity masquerading as serious diplomacy, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “leadership of global peace efforts” in resolving this war remains as mysterious as the missing Kruger gold millions, the cargo on the ill-fated Helderberg plane crash or the murderer of Jacoba “Bubbles” Shroeder, to cite three famous unsolved South African mysteries.

On the issue of Israel and Palestine, the manifesto is on surer though very slippery ground.

Fancying itself – again, to quote its self-description – as an international leader of global peace efforts, the ANC describes the sovereign government and state of Israel as “a regime”. Warts and all, the Israeli government, practically alone in its neighbourhood, is a robust and heavily contested democracy.

If South Africa, doubtless in pursuit of being an international peace broker, had not withdrawn its ambassador from Tel Aviv, it might have received reports of the daily mass demonstration there against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s not much sign of popular and democratic dissent on the other side of the contest in the Palestinian territories. Nor indeed in Pretoria’s fast friend Iran, which last month (without a word of criticism from the ANC) announced the death sentence on popular rapper Toomaj Salehi, who is due to be executed for daring to criticise the regime.

Salehi’s capital offence? Describing the Tehran regime (advised word, not in the ANC vocab though) as something “horrific … You are dealing with a mafia that is prepared to kill an entire nation in order to keep its money, power and weapons.”

Regarding Iranian weapons, once again the ANC’s voice as concerns “providing leadership in global peace efforts” was silent when Iran, for the first time ever, decided to fire more than 300 missiles from its territory aimed at Israel. Eminent Financial Times economics guru Martin Wolf described this as “the shadow of darkness on the world economy” which, if escalated, could see a global war unleashed.

Of course, not only did the self-proclaimed leader of global peace efforts not engage on this issue, but the reason the missiles all missed their targets due to being shot down, mostly, before landing in Israel, was due to another factor which eluded Pretoria entirely. Or it chose to avert its gaze from a very discomfiting truth, given the ANC’s simplistic and anachronistic worldview.

Jordanian fighter jets shot down a number of the Iranian drones before they landed in Israel (despite two-thirds of Jordan’s population being Palestinian), and one local was quoted on his country’s conservative Sunni leadership as saying “Jordanians dislike Iran as much as they dislike Israel”.

Many informed commentators on Middle Eastern affairs believe Hamas’ slaughter of 1 200 Israelis on 7 October 2023 was aimed not just at exterminating Israelis but at kiboshing the growing rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state.

While the war in Gaza has put this on hold (but hardly ended the prospect), the reality is that Saudi Arabia, rumoured also to have shot down several of the Iranian missiles, hosts the US planes and radars that assisted Israel to head off the immolation posed by Iran’s missiles and drones.

All this complexity, nuance and subtlety does not, of course, suit an election manifesto, nor the binary depiction of Israel – in all circumstances bad, “genocidal” and imperialistic, and its opponents goodly and pristine. But according to the ANC, Israel is not alone in the dock.

Not hapless victims 

Taking a break from the serial scandals and swirling corruption sagas he has presided over, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande wrote on the weekend: “The oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people has as its genesis in more than 100 years of Western imperialism as advanced by British colonialism, and in recent times by US imperialistic policies in the Middle East.”

Presenting the Palestinian people as hapless victims of outside forces, deprived of any prospect of agency and absent of even a nod toward history, comports with the victimhood binary of simplistic reductionism which an old (and old-fashioned) Communist-like ideal Nzimande typifies. It also goes a long way in explaining the R1 trillion withdrawal of mostly Western funds from here, which his former cabinet colleague, Manuel, highlighted.

But that isn’t the only or essential problem. As one eminent foreign journalist stationed here explained to me as he waved away the bilious anti-Western rhetoric the ANC ramps up (except at Ramaphosa’s investment conferences), “it is all junior common room stuff”.

It is doubtful that international relations swings vote in a domestic poll, at least not here. But infantilising foreign policy bodes ill for a party which claims to be, with a straight face, “providing leadership in global peace efforts”.