General wisdom that self-interest drives foreign policy held true this week when President Zuma announced at the G20 summit in Mexico a $2 billion (R16.6bn) contribution to the International Monetary Fund.
It was a calculated decision, involving a fraction of South Africa’s $50bn in foreign reserves. It was a loan, not a donation, which will draw interest and be repaid if urgently needed.
Flak for the move was inevitable in the light of SA’s massive socio-economic backlogs. Throwing a substantial amount of money into the hat for the problems and follies of extremely comfortable foreigners afar seems ridiculous on the face of it.
But the money was a stake – a no-risk investment, really – in reinforcing the IMF’s e456bn firewall and helping prevent calamity in debt-plagued Europe.
Why should a developing country, on a continent caricatured for its outstretched hand, engage in the immense irony of rescuing a bloc of developed nations?
Self-protection is the succinct answer. Europe is a crucial market, a big consumer of South African products, and further damage to it will mean more harm to our manufacturing sector.
South Africa, like most countries, was also scalded by the global economic slump. We still are. We lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, and now have a direct interest in preventing fresh econo-mic contagion from Europe. The R16.6bn could therefore also be seen as a form of insurance.
And Zuma’s pledge will also strengthen our argument for more influence in multilateral organisations like the IMF. If one does not accept the responsibilities of global membership, how can one expect greater sway?
It may look perverse – Africa helping to bail out the wealthy elsewhere. It is a turn in history. But this was no grand gesture, no search for applause. It simply made sense, taking care of our interests, hard though some will find this to swallow.