DA leader Mmusi Maimane is under fire for meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The strategy of DA leaders undertaking official visits to places like Taiwan and Israel is undermining the foreign policy of our country, writes Shannon Ebrahim.

New Year 2017 has ushered in a new reality in our international relations. The DA as the official opposition seems determined to take polar-opposite foreign policy positions to that of the ANC-led government, and appears to be bucking official South African foreign policy, with DA leaders visiting countries the national government has advised them not to.

While members of opposition parties are free to meet with whomever they chose, the strategy of DA party leaders and DA government representatives undertaking official visits to places like Taiwan and Israel is undermining the foreign policy of our country, which is based both on principle and national interests.

First it was the visit of the mayor of Tshwane, Solly Msimanga, to Taiwan earlier this month, which the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) deemed a breach of South Africa’s foreign policy. Dirco had advised Msimanga not to make the visit as it breached South Africa’s One China policy, but the advice was disregarded.

Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign state by South Africa and the UN. The South African cabinet previously decided that representatives of government across all three spheres should co-ordinate all their foreign engagements with Dirco so as to ensure synergy and maintain a cohesive approach in dealing with any international entity or government. According to Dirco, foreign visits must seek to advance South Africa’s foreign policy and national interests.

The Chinese government was unhappy with the visit of Msimanga to Taiwan, and this discomfort is of concern given China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and is also the second biggest economy globally. Added to this is the fact that China is our partner in the Brics grouping, a forum that China supported South Africa’s membership of. A significant portion of China’s $60billion (R811bn) in development financing for the continent is going to South Africa, and within a year of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation at Summit level, the Chinese have begun to operationalise development plans to support South Africa’s manufacturing drive.

The DA position on Taiwan is even out of step with other major African powers such as Nigeria, which just this week severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said this week that Nigeria would no longer recognise Taiwan as a country but rather pledged support for One China.

China does not oppose trading with Taiwan as long as there is no formal contact with the government that would suggest recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign country. In Onyeama’s words, Nigeria was “righting a wrong”.

The second significant breach of South Africa’s foreign policy by the DA was the visit last week by DA leader Mmusi Maimane and other senior DA leaders to Israel, where they met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The visit only became widely known after the South African Jewish Report published photographs of a smiling Maimane shaking hands with Netanyahu. Maimane was accompanied by DA Chief Whip and spokesperson on Trade and Industry John Steenhuisen, DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis, former National President of the Jewish Board of Deputies Michael Bagraim, and Alan Fischer, a representative of South African Jewish organisations.

The ANC slammed the visit, saying: “The ANC notes the anger and joins fellow South Africans in condemning the visit of Maimane to Israel and Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu.” It continued its condemnation of the visit saying, “this visit comes at a time when the world is increasingly standing up against Israel’s illegal settlements, including the UN Security Council. The DA is endorsing the Israeli regime instead of condemning its violations of international law”.

The visit of Maimane and his delegation to Israel also flies in the face of South African government policy, which has discouraged South Africans from travelling to Israel for causes that are not related to furthering the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In attempting to differentiate its policies from those of the ANC, the DA has shown that it is opposed to South African foreign policy which discourages relations with Israel until that country abides by international law.

The greatest irony is that people in South Africa have largely supported the South African government’s solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and the DA's position may actually serve to reduce its popularity among black South Africans. What the visit may serve to do is to boost the DA’s coffers.

One famous Nelson Mandela quote was, “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” and those words have not been lost on South Africans.

* Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor.

The Sunday Independent