South Africa sticks by Gaddafi

South Africa and the African Union have remained loyal to longtime friend and ally, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Here South African President Jacob Zuma shakes hands with Gaddafi on his arrival in Tripoli, Libya on April 10, 2011.
Ntswe Mokoena

The South African government is stubbornly continuing to support Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, wherever he is.

South African President Jacob Zuma's government blocked a United States proposal at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to release $1.5 billion in Libyan assets — frozen by the United Nations to starve Gaddafi of resources. The unfrozen funds would go to Libya's rebels.

South Africa agreed to approve $500 million of the package for urgent humanitarian assistance, but it opposes the release of the remaining $1 billion because the National Transitional Council has not yet been recognized by the U.N. itself. It also opposed recognizing the rebels' National Transitional Council.

The U.N. security council has scheduled a vote on the U.S. proposal on Thursday in New York. Both the U.S. and Britain have criticized South Africa's stance. 

However it is not just South Africa. Many other African governments do not want to move against Gaddafi, because of his support for them in the past.

But a few African leaders, specifically Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade, Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan and Botswana's Ian Khama, have voiced their support for the rebels.   

More from GlobalPost: Libya: Africa stands by old friend Gaddafi

South African President Jacob Zuma has defended his support for Gaddafi. Zuma said this week that the NATO-backed revolt has undermined the "African Union's efforts and initiatives to handle the situation in Libya."

But Zuma's efforts as an African Union envoy to negotiate a solution to the Libyan crisis fell flat when the rebels rejected his proposal. 

South Africa voted for the U.N. Security Council resolution 1973 to protect civilians in Libya, but that move was criticized in South Africa. Government ministers said they regretted the move when they saw NATO's military intervention go beyond a no-fly zone.

Zuma said this week that the Libyan crisis is the latest example of Africa being shown a lack of respect by the rest of the world.

An AU peace and security council meeting in Addis Ababa on Thursday and Friday will deliberate on the "unfolding situation" in Libya, said Zuma. "The AU position has been the most logical one. It still has room in the situation right now."

Zuma may think the African Union will come up with an effective solution, but few others do. The AU has a record of sticking by longtime dictators.

Zuma and other members of South Africa's ruling African National Congress feel loyalty to Gaddafi for his support for the anti-apartheid struggle. Former South African president Nelson Mandela once said: "Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool."

But Zuma is criticized for allowing old loyalties to shackle South Africa from forming new, flexible policies for North Africa, where the situation has been fundamentally changed by the protests of the "Arab Spring." 

"The South African government has obviously been on the side of Gaddafi from an ideological and historical perspective. It was inevitably going to create a foreign policy nightmare for South Africa," said Stevens Mokgalapa, international relations spokesman for the opposition Democratic Alliance.

"The government never foresaw a future without Gaddafi," said Mokgalapa, according to the Guardian. "They misjudged and mishandled it. It's now about crisis foreign policy management. We are disappointed and appalled by the South African government's stance."

Zuma's adamant stance is also a rebellion against the West. 

"South Africa has established a position, which I think is foolish, of trying to show it's not the servant of the West and that Africa should carve out its own independent way in international affairs," said Allister Sparks, a veteran South African political analyst and journalist, to the Guardian.

"It's brought us almost to an ideology that resists anything it perceives to be outside interference," said Sparks. "I don't think Zuma has got many of his own ideas about it. It began with President Thabo Mbeki and it continues."

Sparks added: "It strikes me as absolutely absurd that while people are dancing in the streets celebrating freedom, South Africa is resisting that. South Africa owes a lot of its freedom to foreign intervention, including the West. We end up on the wrong side, the side of tyrants."