China’s my ANC*

The Arch live on national television on Sunday night was full of his old and delightful twinkly theatricality.

“Watch out ANC government, watch out!”

My own view is he has every right to his anger and he expressed it with aplomb (and I am deliberately leaving aside placing the Dalai Lama anywhere on the continuum between “paragon of virtue” and “another narcissistic human-rights rock star” – because I think he is irrelevant to the question of the ANC’s moral failure in this case.)

Now Tutu didn’t actually say the ANC was either worse than, or equivalent to, the Nats, but I still wish he would keep in mind the problem of the inflation of metaphor.

He said that the ANC government’s failures of visa issuance are worse than those of the Nats – because at least with Apartheid’s masters you expected the worst.

Which is obviously still rubbish – even in this more limited form – to anyone who remembers how much focus was given the domestic and international movement of black people by the machinery of the Apartheid state.

But moral watchdogs are obliged to bark as loud at the gradual rise of tyranny as they do when that bloody moon reaches its apogee – which is why I am not going to quibble with the Arch; he is doing his job and all strength to him.

What I originally wanted to do was draw a graph using the 4 previous post-1994 South African visa applications (that I know of) for the Dalai Lama and plot them against the rise of China in Africa and the fall of principle within the ANC – but I think that has too many axes (including the grinding kind) and I couldn’t get it to work in Excel.

In 1996 Nelson Mandela invited the Dalai Lama and met him face to face; in 1999 Thabo Mbeki’s government gave him a visa as part of an international interfaith conference but refused to meet him; in 2009 Mbeki’s government refused him a visa altogether and today Zuma’s government has ignored the issue entirely.

You can plot those points yourself against this graphic that I have cobbled together:

The explanation for the changing stance of visa applications becomes fairly obvious when you track them along that curve.

And then, if you have the time or the inclination, feel free to suggest a speech bubble for the protagonists.

*If you are not South African that headline is going to be difficult to explain. “My china” is slang for “my good friend”. So “China’s my ANC” is a species of bad pun crossed with an unintelligible inside joke. (Note: It has been pointed out to me in the comments section below that “my china” meaning “my friend” comes from rhyming Cockney slang … China plate/mate … should get my brass tacks right.)

13 thoughts on “China’s my ANC*

  1. Yes Nic, that partially explains it. But it also says that our politicians are naive and insecure.
    China buys resources from us (and the rest of Africa) and sells us manufactured goods. The fact is, it also buys those resources from Australia, South America, the Middle East, Canada – anywhere it can get them. (Australia sells a LOT more iron ore to China than SA.) It buys those resources because it needs them to support its breakneck urbanization and industrialization. And resources are in short supply – hence the commodities boom – so China doesn’t have that much choice in the matter of where it buys.
    If our politicians really think that China is going to stop buying our iron ore, manganese and chrome simply because we gave the Dalai Lama a visa then they are not being very smart.
    The other point is that while China’s economic growth and trade policies have benefited Africa through creating the commodities boom, it hasn’t been kind, certainly in South Africa’s case, to manufacturing growth. The fact is China systematically devalues its currency through capital exports and thus gives it a massive competitive advantage – surely one of the reasons why our clothing and textile industries have performed so badly. So, if job creation is our number one priority, China doesn’t do us many favours. So why the love China?

    1. I agree Jannie – but would highlight that Chinese leverage derives not from them refusing to buy our resources, but more about them flooding our domestic markets for manufactured goods with their cheaper products and thereby hollowing out our manufacturing sector … and dangling incentives that would protect particular sectors … but as you say, the same drivers exist in Canada and Australia … unless we are, relative (to Canada and Australia) less competitive manufacturers … and unless China is prepared to make more significant concessions to South Africa than it would elsewhere – because of SA’s strategic importance to China … thereby more tightly locking the ANC into a “mutually beneficial” arrangement i.e. one that the stronger party always gets more benefit from in the end … but sounds like I am justifying the ANC’s cravenness, while I am just trying to explain it … and completely agree with your overall argument: there is no good excuse for the ANC kowtowing …

  2. Nic, I have to laugh. Is this the eighties cadre being morally indignant at the gadfly Tutu; never to be trusted on a public stage dressed in UDF colours?! Or is this the irritation at seeing the old enemy China usurp our natural allies from Moscow? Perhaps bourgeois reductionism to the bottom line? In fb slang: lmsmfao.

    The Dalai does matter. He was a very political Nobel laureate, like Obama. Not really a peacemaker, but a particular committee’s very political anti-China statement. And he didn’t simply intend coming as an old man to party with another old man. He intended occupying at least two explicitly political stages during his visit. And yes, the Chinese will have reacted rather badly – they do all the time. And yes, the current South African leadership better not pre-occupy themselves too much with World Cups or Peace Mongers – what brings jobs and strong economic development; which relations could assist in that?

    The Dalai is an interesting and curious amalgam of the extraordinarily backwards and fascist society he emerged from, and which as a child prodigy he already set about modernising. But, like Tutu, he is probably more Good than Irritating; and Mandela gave sound (unheeded) leadership – in a risk-free environment – on our relations with the Dalai.

    However, this is South Africa, and we have a particular history and a particular constitution and a particular legacy of debt to the global actors in the demise of Apartheid. We can’t simply take cognisance of geopolitical power considerations. And I have a few other questions: how much is this being driven by economic development / strategic considerations, and how much by little issues like funding of the ANC; not too mention back-pocket cuts from a few rather large transfers of capital that will be becoming increasingly less few, so to speak…

    I also have a few questions to ask about the tongue-twisting dressed-in-rationality comments from some supposedly honourable people like… uh… cde Motlanthe.

    There’s a silver lining: we’re all talking; questioning; listening; and then there’s Dumisa Ntsebeza – him of the mild JSC side on the Chief Justice issue – suddenly an effective challenger to the President. Bring it on; crises bring out the best in us.

    (Postscript: And then there’s cde Malema; this must be the real cause of his hospitalisation – I mean, the Dear Leader JuJu doesn’t like the Chinese anymore than he liked our foreign policy debacle in Libya, now does he? Enough to sicken any staunch revolutionary….)

    1. You are so right … “the Dalai is an interesting and curious amalgam of the extraordinarily backwards and fascist society he emerged from” – perfect. I thought Cosatu had the Lama right and a good perspective on the whole fiasco: and I thought Brendan Boyle summed up Tutu well: . Thanks for the insights and perspective as always

      1. Both are very interesting takes and both remind of that which is very sound in the South African psyche.

    1. Why thanks Jeff … you win the competition … congratulations. And do you think Malthus will be proved right (that exponential economic/human population growth inevitably collapses against the wall of exhausted resource … or an argument along those lines) in our life-time? Marx said he got it wrong because he underestimated the revolutionary power of capitalism to transform itself and the technologies of production. I think it is the question of the age and my instinct says we must be coming up to some fundamental barrier … or does Moore’s law (or some other power law) bring on a new transformation … a technological singularity?

  3. The South African govt simply was wrong to withhold a visa for the Dalai Lama, and the way it was done (dishonestly) does not bode well for open and accountable government. Tutu is right to highlight this as the key issue (and his right to use his trademark style). The Dalai Lama’s “foibles” are irrelevant to this issue. Moreover the day that Cosatu or the SACP or ANC are as open, honest and self-critical of their grave historical errors as Tutu or the Dalai Lama are is the day I would start to pay attention to their sneering comments of others.

    By the way “China” is not “South African” slang, it is good old Cockney rhyming slang which has made its way to the four corners of the world. It is short for “China plate”, meaning “mate”. Likewise “berk” is short for Berkshire Hunt, which rhymes with c…. The South African government have acted like a bunch of berks in this case.

  4. To further eloborate on Jannie’s point: The terms of trade with China are broadly commodities (primary products) out (exported), value added manufactured goods in (imported). Now, while it is true that the price of commodities have rocketed as a result of China’s growth, the price for these commodoties, like oil, have their prices set by the market comprising all or aggregate purchasers/consumers of the commodity concerned, not just China. SA, on the other hand, is just one of several suppliers of a commodity such as iron-ore and cannot really influence the price of iron ore on its own. So, if the US does not permit the direct importing of crude oil from say Iran, it does not mean the price of Iranian crude oil (a commodity) exported is less than crude oil from other places, this crude oil just does not go (directly) to the US.

    The point here is that if one could imagine that SA had retained its relations with Taiwan and not China, the price and volume of commodities exported from SA would not have changed – that is the whole point of being an exporter of commodities. The only difference is that our trade account would have been with other countries that import iron ore or coal etc. The price is still set by China’s demand but that only sets the price for everyone.

    There is no special relationship with China that needs to be protected. In fact the current terms of trade for our reducing manufacturing base hugely favours China. It is true that SA’s government budget deficits and low savings rate mean that we need foreign investment but once again, the price at which SA can borrow or attract investment is not a function of our relationship with China – capital is similar to other commodities, the price here set by whatever the preceived risk in the country concerned might be. If China had agreed to lend or invest in SA at rates much better than it would otherwise have done, then this is something worth protecting. But it has not agreed to do any such thing.

    The real concern is that we in SA have a long tradition of negotiating poor commercial relationships with emerging powers, the Portuguees, Dutch, the British (say, a herd of cattle or other primary products for shiny belt buckles or) and this mindset remains. This is how colonialism works.

  5. Great insight, thanks Dirk. It actually clears the way for the argument to move toward China’s hold on the SA banking sector, and perhaps other long term mining deals that finance, amongst other ‘things’, the government’s social welfare programmes.

    Also, it occurs to me that if one compares the net imports to exports, and considers the margin on manufactured products, it’s terribly clear who’s got the most to lose.

  6. In a talk I attended some time ago, Martyn Davies suggested that Africa’s relationship with African countries was somewhat lopsided in that China was getting the better deal. What is required is for African countries to be more assertive, for instance by demanding greater input in the benefication of the extracted minerals. It will be interesting to see how the new assertiveness of Sata’s regime in Zambia plays out. Davies thought China would likely respond positively to such assertiveness.

    Just on a silly point, I don’t think you have to be South African to understand the meaning of China, as in “howzit my Chaana”. China is Cockney rhyming slang for Mate, from China Plate.

  7. Thanks Tim – I agree Sata is going to be very interesting … although we have our own versions of that hostility to the new colonialists here – the Sactwu facilitated wage deal in the textile sector plus the raids on Chinese owned textile factories in Newcastle by joint SAPS/depts of labour and home affairs teams AND the opposition to the Walmart deal are all different ways in which domestic resentment to Chinese manufactured goods and methods are growing. And thanks re the “howzit my chaana!” I made my mea culpa to Rangjan a few comments before this and put a link to some more rhyming Cockney slang – as I said there … I feel a right berk.

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