For a rainbow nation, we are inordinately pre-occupied with notions of ‘black’ and ‘white’. We find the world easier to digest if it is trimmed into neat dichotomies of ‘good’ or ‘evil’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – ‘black’ or ‘white’. Our inability to see the world in shades of grey – or more preferably, in all its technicoloured splendour – means that we often miss out on the nuance and depth of issues.
Our analysis of foreign policy frequently falls victim to this kind of myopic discourse. This means that we are often confused when trying to digest South Africa’s foreign policy postulations. To be fair, a government that is willing to deride its largest trading partner (the US) for its excesses in Libya but obstructs a Nobel laureate from visiting (three times!) out of its solidarity with China, does not make the job easy.
Foreign policy has always been in the service of the national interest. For South Africa, the amorphous definition of national interest is expanded to included conceptions of how we choose to be seen – intertwined with our identity as well as our history. As a consequence of the latter, the issue of ‘solidarity’ is pervasive and its power is often underestimated.