Will there be defence, security and diplomatic implications from Monday’s failed attempt to elect South Africa’s Minister Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as African Union (AU) Commission (AUC) chair?

What caused more damage, putting up a candidate with much fanfare and lobbying – and then not mustering the required two-thirds majority after claiming, publicly, it was in the bag; or the singing and dancing as well as the comments made after the fourth vote when Ping was defeated?

So what happened Monday? Through three rounds of voting, neither challenger Dlamini-Zuma nor incumbent Jean Ping could muster the necessary two thirds of votes (35 out of 53) from African leaders gathered for an AU summit in Addis Ababa. Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor at Independent Newspapers quotes neutral sources are saying Ping won 28-25 in the first round, 27-26 in the second and 29-24 in the third. “The crucial point is that after the third round, Dlamini-Zuma, as the losing candidate, had to withdraw. Ping then entered a fourth round unopposed, but even so could only attract 32 votes, four short of the 36 he needed for victory. So neither candidate won and a new election, open to fresh candidates, will be held at the next AU summit, in Malawi, in six months’ time.”

What’s the upshot? Business Day put it so in an editorial: South Africa “has not only been snubbed diplomatically but it has happened in an embarrassingly public fashion. This might be brushed off as an unfortunate temporary setback. But regrettably, South African diplomats made things much worse with their reaction to the outcome.
“At the press conference after the event, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane emphasised that she thought the result showed that Africa wanted ‘a strong organisation irrespective of influence from former colonisers’. This is code for what South Africa’s diplomats were prepared to say more directly off the record: that South Africa had ‘defeated the French agenda’.”

One of her officials blamed the defeat on “French influence”, adding: “Even though we didn’t receive an outright win, South Africa has emerged victorious as we have defeated the agenda of the French and foreign intervention in African affairs.”

Business Day notes casting the result in this way “is both diplomatically imprudent and mathematically self-defeating. Given that 31 [out of 53] African states are Francophone, a South African candidate will never win if the government chooses to set up the contest as a battle between Francophone and non-Francophone states.”

Fabricius added to this for his readers that South Africa had put up Dlamini-Zuma because it felt the AU [and AUC in particular] had been “weak and too ready to do the West’s bidding”, especially in the crises in Ivory Coast and Libya. “Pretoria wanted the AUC to be much more assertive of Africa’s sovereignty in both these crises

Jakkie Cilliers, head of the Institute for Security Studies, who was at the summit, made the point that President Jacob Zuma had campaigned for his candidate very much on the thesis that the African National Congress, Africa’s oldest and strongest liberation movement, now celebrating its centenary, had liberated South Africa, and now the ANC would liberate Africa from neo-colonial interference. But, at most, 27 countries bought that rather anachronistic anti-Western line, leaving the continent deeply divided, Cilliers said to Fabricius.