It would be helpful if the SA government were to go public with its accusations that France is meddling in Africa. And that the outgoing African Union Commission chairman, Jean Ping of Gabon, failed to stop Paris – and other Western powers – from doing so.

This was one of the key planks of the government’s successful campaign to replace Ping with Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at this month’s AU summit.

It was never stated publicly, of course, but it was uttered in such loud stage whispers that no one could fail to hear it. Whether that, or SA’s more public arguments, such as that she would bring badly needed administrative efficiency to the commission, ultimately prevailed, we will probably never know.

But the French argument was important. Government officials had indicated that it was mainly because Ping failed to lead the AU in standing up to France and the West in the Libyan and Ivory Coast crises, that SA decided to put up a candidate against him.

Now that she has the job, government officials are down-playing that reason. They insist that the overriding motive was to put someone into the AU Commission chair who would get things done, who could implement the many AU projects and plans that now simply gather dust on shelves in Addis Ababa.

That is indeed the most important task facing her. But was that Pretoria’s priority in putting her up? At the Forum for China Africa Co-operation in Beijing two weeks ago President Jacob Zuma suggested otherwise.

Arriving from the AU summit where Dlamini Zuma had been elected, he said; “Taking into account her experience and strong credentials as former freedom fighter, and as an ANC cadre, we believe she will add value in ensuring Africa’s independence and protection from external influences that may not be in the best interest of the continent.”

What exactly Ping failed to do to keep these “external influences” at bay has not been spelt out. But Zuma’s people suggested, for instance, that he repeatedly disobeyed instructions from African heads of state to ensure that Nato lifted its no-fly zone over Libya to allow them to fly in to pursue their peace initiative.

The strong implication is that Ping failed to do so because he was acting in the interests of France and other Western powers rather than in Africa’s interests.

This sort of accusation should be dumped on the table openly so that it can be scrutinised. This would allow both Ping and France to respond.

Such an open debate would enlighten all of us, helping us to separate the myth of French and Western meddling and of Ping and Francophone African complicity in that meddling, from the reality.

Maybe they will prove in the end to be the same. But let us first have the debate so that we can decide that on the basis of cross-examined evidence.

For it is too easy to make this sort of accusation based on appearances.

Take another African crisis, Madagascar. Last week Zuma got the two main Malagasy rivals together on a remote Seychellois island to try to coax and cajole them into resolving the political crisis which has paralysed their island state for over three years.

Andry Rajoelina, the country’s de facto leader, and Marc Ravalomanana, the elected president he ousted in a coup in March 2009, had their first tete-a-tete since then.

Zuma’s special envoy to Madagascar, Marius Fransman, said afterwards that the two men had got closer to a solution to the crisis.

This solution, he hinted, would be for both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana to stay out of the forthcoming presidential elections and for Ravalomanana to return from exile in SA only after the poll.

Ravalomanana immediately denied having entertained such a proposal, repeating his insistence that he should be allowed to return to Madagascar unconditionally – as indeed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) road map for Madagascar has demanded.

But the relevant point here is that the so-called “Nie-Nie” solution now being punted by SA was originally proposed by France.

Ravalomanana’s people believe that it is a “neo-colonial” solution that plays into France’s hands because Paris basically wants anyone but Ravalomanana to run Madagascar as it thinks he acted against French interests when he was president.

So SA is backing the French “neo-colonial” plan in Madagascar. Does that make us stooges of Paris ? Or could it be that our interests – rightly or wrongly understood – merely coincide?