Of complacency and ideology


My good colleague Keith Campbell has again set me thinking, and he should set you thinking too, if you are not South African.

In his latest “Wheels within wheels” column in the Engineering News, Egypt awakens while South Africa sleeps, he warns that South Africa is on the verge of being sidelined, economically, even in Afica. “Egypt will soon be, in real terms, Africa’s biggest economy,” he warns, after giving the facts and figures.
“Yet the rise of Egypt goes all unnoticed and unremarked in South Africa. South Africans seem to think that the country’s number one position in Africa is inevitable and immutable. Politicians, union leaders, academics, columnists and others clearly believe they can have long discussions about whether or not to nationalise the mining industry, or about increasing the number of regulations on business, or even whether an entire business sector (labour broking) should be banned, for example, without any harm to the economy and the future of the country. South Africa is drifting in a bubble of complacency, while Egypt is surging forward to reclaim its historical place as Africa’s leading power.”

This has strategic implications: “For example, how can Pretoria claim a permanent seat on the UN Security Council if South Africa is the second fiddle in Africa?” Indeed!

He amplified his worries in another very readable editorial in November last year, In foreign relations, SA elites put ideology ahead of reality. Again I urge you to read this.

Commenting on papers presented at a conference, Campbell wrote: “For some time now, I have noted with growing concern that all too many South African officials, academics, journalists and other commentators have adopted … an ideological worldview that is not only out of kilter with reality but sometimes downright contradicts it. Fundamental elements of this ideology include a rigid North-South (developed world-developing world) dichotomy, an assumption of common interest and solidarity among all nations of the South, an assumption of a greater or lesser degree of rivalry between North and South, and a tinge of resentment, even hostility, against the West. Facts are twisted to fit this framework, and if they cannot be made to fit, they are filtered out, no matter how important they are.”

We should heed these concerns as defence and security professionals. We do no-one any favours engaging in wishful thinking, or for that matter in linear beliefs. The national defence requires us to be sober, frank and realistic. More unpleasantly, it commands us to engage those who prefer a more blinkered or insular approach and attempt an education. This duty derives from our Deeds of Commission to serve this country “with loyalty, courage, dignity and honour, to discharge [our] duties and responsibilities with zeal and diligence and to set a good example to those placed under [our] command.”