Jacob Zuma’s anger and poor understanding of the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya apparently still shapes his approach to the West.
On September 15, President Zuma briefed the foreign diplomatic corps accredited to South Africa on the country’s foreign policy. According to the South African media, the speech was prepared by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (the foreign ministry). But, the South African media reports that at one point Zuma departed from the text to say, inter alia, “Before the Arab Spring and before the killing of Gaddafi there were no refugees flying or flocking to European countries. It was all quiet….Things were normal in the north of Africa…. Those who were part of destabilizing that part of the world don’t want to accept refugees. It is their responsibility. They caused it. They must address it.” Zuma appears to be mixing together the migration from and through Libya with the much larger flow of migrants from countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.
Zuma has long been angry at NATO and the west about what happened in Libya. He argues that NATO exceeded its UN Security Council mandate to protect innocent civilians to bring about “regime change” by destroying the Gaddafi regime. He resents the NATO and the west’s ignoring an African Union (AU) “roadmap” for a solution to the Libya crisis. He particularly resents NATO’s decision instead to work with the Arab League during the Libya crisis rather than the AU. He shares the widespread sentiment among African leaders that North Africa is an area of responsibility for the AU and not a part of the Middle East.
In light of Zuma’s comments about the flow of migrants to Europe, it is ironic that South Africa has been dealing with an immigrant crisis of its own, mostly from other African states, which has led to widespread xenophobic violence. The South African government has been working with the Southern African Development Community to deal with this crisis. But, contributing to the crisis has been the policy of successive South African administrations to tolerate the policies pursued by Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe government that has generated a flow of migrants from that country.