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JEAN-JACQUES CORNISH: SA has lost the moral high ground as a mediator

OPINION

In those early heady days of democracy, South Africa was often said to be punching above its weight diplomatically. There was not a country that did not want to be the friend of Nelson Mandela’s success story. Many sought help, hoping that rubbing up against it might bring some good fortune.

So, in addition to their considerable domestic commitments, Mandela and his early successors were required to be counsellors and mediators. They were expected to explain how they achieved the seemingly impossible end of apartheid and the reconciliation that brought about the Rainbow Nation. Northern Ireland is perhaps the best example of this.

Many times, South African leaders were obliged to apply these lessons by actually stepping in between parties in conflict and brokering a peace.

This applied mainly in Africa where South African mediation achieved settlements in Sudan, Comoros, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire and Lesotho.

The fact that things have lately gone pear-shaped in many of these nations is a debate for another day.

However badly things have fared, they are indubitably better off having had South African mediation and peacekeeping at a time when the rest of the world was either unwilling or incapable to intervene.

Thankfully, that is not the case in Sudan today.

The African Union has built the confidence and experience to make its presence felt by red-carding the Transitional Military Council until it hands power to a civilian administration.

The Arab nations are there, albeit misguidedly lending moral support to the military junta in Khartoum until the generals made the fatal error of deploying the former Janjaweed against unarmed protestors.

The United States has got involved, sending Tibor Nagy, its top envoy to Africa, to urge an and to the violence.

It has also named Donald Booth as its special envoy to Sudan - the ninth since 2001.

Not only Washington, but Hollywood has skin in the game through activitist actor George Clooney calling on the US Treasury to use its muscle with international banks to dry up the financial stream to the junta in Khartoum and anyone seeking to prolong the conflict in the strategically placed country bridging Africa and the Arab worlds.

Look for South Africa in this crowd and you will be disappointed. Does this mean the days of Mzanzi mediation are over? Probably not.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has his hands full pulling South Africa out of the economic swamp. For him it is very much a case of charity beginning at home.

The sad reality is the wasted Zuma years of corruption have cut the moral high ground from under South Africa’s feet.

That is ironic, because Zuma himself was a good, although tough, mediator.

“Do you really think you can twist a man’s arm behind his back hard enough to get him to sign a settlement with his free hand?” I asked him in jest after he had brought a reluctant Pierre Nkurunziza into the Burundi deal.

“What do you think they did to us at Codesa?” he retorted.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish.

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