Brazil in Africa – South Africa Beware?


According to South Africa's Mail & Guardian, Brazil is making a major push in the region and, it is reported, this is not necessarily pleasing to the ruling African National Congress government in Pretoria.

On the other hand, Angola – Brasilia's ally – and Zimbabwe's chief regional ally was not happy with certain statements from ANC leadership of late seeming to prefigure a change in policy toward Harare, a policy much criticized in the North Atlantic community for perceived softness toward Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF a policy often articulated by now defrocked President Thabo Mbeki.

Thus, there was some surprise when recently installed President Jacob Zuma journeyed to Harare and seemed to echo previous ANC policy as articulated by the oft demonized Mbeki and then echoed this policy further at the regional gathering a few days ago in Congo: actually the Congo edict went further and agreed that sanctions against Zimbabwe should be lifted – a policy enunciation that caused much upset in London and Washington, not to mention within the ranks of the [MDC] Movement for Democratic Change, the party yoked in a shotgun marriage with Mugabe, administering the government in Harare. Before that Mr. Zuma travelled to oil-rich Angola with a planeload of business figures and in the communique emerging from bi-lateral talks agreed that a solution to the dilemma of Zimbabwe must come from within that nation itself – which seemed to suggest that regional pressure, not to mention pressure from the North Atlantic, was a non-starter.

The back story includes investment pouring into Zimbabwe, notably in the mining sector, from Brazil (and China:  Harare's principal backer for decades and now Brasilia's chief trading partner as well).

Of course, contrary to frequent press reports, there was no love lost between ZANU and the ANC during the days of the liberation struggle. Regionally (and perhaps globally), the ANC-South African Communist Party-COSATU leadership, lost a bit of confidence in their leadership skills among some comrades when Mbeki was sacked with a few months remaining in his term. (Policy toward Zimbabwe was part of the indictment against Mbeki, though it had been thought that this was a policy devised collectively – a perception apparently validated by Zuma's recent trips to Angola, Zimbabwe and Congo and his statements in all three sites.)

There are many reasons-good and bad – for upset in Angola and Zimbabwe about the dominant weight wielded in the region by South Africa. There are those in Angola and Zimbabwe – and Namibia too – who would like to see a counter-weight to Pretoria and the increased interest of Brazil in the region may portend such a development.  Many Namibians feel further that ZANU-PF is being challenged because of the land reform that targeted the European minority – and Windhoek has a similar issue hanging fire: it is wondered how and why African nations with profound human rights problems (Swaziland, Uganda, Egypt, Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Gabon, Cameroon – the list is long) do not seem to receive as much attention in the North Atlantic community and wonder further whether the perception that Europeans are not being targeted might have something to do with this.

Brazil has a population four times the size of South Africa and a population of African descent probably larger than South Africa's – heavily comprised of descendants of enslaved Angolans – not to mention a territory larger than that of the continental U.S., a nation it is now challenging increasingly in various spheres, a reality which Washington is unable to blunt the way it would like because of preoccupation with its often unhinged concern about Havana and Caracas.

Meanwhile, South African soldiers recently rioted and, allegedly, a plot was unveiled to kidnap the Defense Minister.

There are many reasons why Pretoria has not implemented the much discussed policy of cracking down on ZANU-PF but those urging this policy on South Africa should realize that this alleged regional superpower cannot throw its weight around willy-nilly: there are constraints.