The United States of South Africa

Mar 07, 11 The United States of South Africa

This is not a reference to the (hopefully) soon to be deposed Muammar Gaddafi‘s “United States of Africa”. Rather, this is about South Africa and the disturbing similarities to the country we all like to hate – the United States of America.

There are a plethora of videos on YouTube demonstrating the ignorance of Americans where they can’t even point out Iraq on a map. While it is ridiculous that they have no sense of the world that they dominate, let us apply the same exercise to South Africans in reference to the continent they believe they dominate – ask your average “Saffer” to locate Nigeria, Uganda or Ghana on a map…

South Africans are more akin Americans than they would like to believe, and for the same reasons: we dominate the continent financially (the Gauteng province alone contributes 10 percent to the African GDP!), we believe that all of Africa’s poor aspire to be like us, and we refer to ourselves as being separate from the continent.

The legacy of apartheid informs the last point significantly; it was the aim of the nationalist government to differentiate South Africa from her neighbours. This has carried through to post-1994 South Africa, as the periodic xenophobic outbursts demonstrate that it is not only the white community that is often scornful of their northern neighbours.

While we emulate these negative aspects, there are positive American attributes we would do well to replicate. South Africa differs significantly from the US in demonstrating her hegemony. And whilst this may seem like a compliment, it is not. South African ambivalence (read: “quiet diplomacy” and our dithering with the turmoil in Ivory Coast) has cost her any strength of place when assisting in conflict resolution on the continent.

There are further aspects of American society that we should reproduce, such as political participation. For all the complex lobbying in the US, it goes to the core of democracy – participation. The ANC’s dominance does not preclude any of the electorate from pressuring an elected official. That is to say even if your choice of local councillor did not win election, you still have the right to petition the victor, that is the advantage of a secret ballot.

There are numerous other countries that one could compare South Africa to, but given South African dominance on the African continent and how it mirrors the USA’s global position, learning from American successes (and failures) is not a bad place to start.

Image by AZRainman