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Mbalula and the perils of public diplomacy!

It is avowedly necessary, in this think-piece to start with the assertion from Ian Hurd (2011), who in his seminal article “Law and the Practice of Diplomacy”, states that “the interaction among sovereign states inevitably produces dialogues of diplomacy – states talking to states about the business of states”.

To employ Hurd’s reasoning, diplomacy is, first of all, a social activity. It connects a public language to the business of the state, giving meaning, reasons, and explanations for state action. All uses of law by public figures can be seen as strategic on the part of states, in the sense of producing desired results that fit the state’s interests.

With such reasonable firepower, an analysis of the “fire with fire” remarks by the South African Minister of Police – who is regarded in some political circles in SA as unfit to head the SA Police Service SAPS – criticises the need for a whole government minister to resort to organised state violence than good neighbourly political settlement.

The minister’s conclusion that bank robbers who ply their criminal trade in SA are “defectors” from the Zimbabwean army are highly unpalatable, and unnecessarily create a diplomatic gridlock between Harare and Pretoria. Perhaps my fair share in this discussion would be to argue that the minister deliberately, and I pause, considered that every Zimbabwean illegally enters SA.

Further, if a Zimbabwean doctor works in the minister’s kitchen, then Heaven brought him an Ark. No wonder Ambassador Isaac Moyo expressed regret that the remarks were made without due regard to their accuracy!

That public diplomacy is found at the boundary where sovereign states meet the outside world is axiomatic. Unfounded confrontations on sovereign states in the nation system, is not only consequential; but also finds its corpus under international law (IL).

Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter speaks to the need for nation-states, South Africa (SA) included, to respect sovereignty, and mitigate risks to threat to state sovereignty. International law is fast becoming virile – there are important doctrines such as state responsibility (SR).

Traditionally, SR was based on the “do no harm to aliens” principle. Put simply, aliens was frequently used interchangeably with foreigners. The treatment of most Zimbabweans who currently live in SA fits into this definition.

The colour of violence was in bad taste considering the wave of xenophobic attacks against foreigners that rocked SA in the not-so-distant past. Xenophobia does not necessarily result from direct or feared contact with foreigners – it has much to do with prejudice.

Social science – and existential jurisprudence – tell us that the concept of otherness is one of the chief determinants of xenophobia, itself a mental attitude.

SA and Zimbabwe are part of the human family described by the soft law sources of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action speaks to the need for speedy and comprehensive elimination of all forms of, among other things, xenophobia and related intolerance. This must be a priority for the international community, SA included.

The Vienna Declaration enjoins governments to take appropriate measures in compliance with their international obligations and with due regard to their respective legal systems to counter intolerance and related violence based on belief.

Accredited lies inflict terror and suffering on innocent citizens. Constitutionally speaking, or in general legal parlance, the mere mentioning of soldiers immediately takes the argument to Section 207 of the Constitution: security forces. Police service, Prison and Correctional Services, Defence Forces, Intelligence Services and any other security service to be established in Zimbabwe.

If a minister – a respected public figure – looking at the way the Police Service in his country must deal with alleged perpetrators of crimes, who form part of a Defence Force of another country, chooses to be carefully careless in his utterances, he must take a leaf from one fine dramatist, William Shakespeare.

In Shakespearean lexicon, one must “appear like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it”. In diplomatic circles, just like any other professional circle; etiquette is usually the buzzword. Ministerial statements that hinge on national security policies must be pitched in a manner that speaks to courtesy as being contagious. Minister Mbalula was supposed to start an epidemic in this regard.

The minister spoke against Zimbabweans and appeared like venerating South Africans. He had forgotten that he once, sometime in 2010, urged the SA Police to kill anybody (South African) endangering the lives of people. He was then the Deputy Minister of Police. Fast forward to 2017, a media briefing is used to score cheap diplomatic points.

In the diplomatic field, there are times when public utterances demand that those who utter them become “carefully careless”. It is not, and shall never be good, for people to affirm in public the desirability of what they believe privately.

It was important that the Zimbabwean Embassy responded and corrected the misinformation on the employment status of those in the Defence Forces. It is not true that soldiers cannot leave the military.

The Zimbabwean Government does not condone criminality by any of its citizens, soldiers included. In this light, Section 211 (4) states un- equivocally that the Defence Forces must be maintained as disciplined military forces.

Ambassador Moyo rightly demonstrated that Zimbabwe cannot accept the many ill-informed elements in the said statement.

Zimbabweans have much to worry about when they consider the ministerial pitching of the criminal disposition of “deserters in the army”. South Africa is home to many Zimbabweans.

Having become potentially insecure from the experience of xenophobia, the concern for Zimbabweans – at home or in SA is simple Minister Mbalula was supposed to personally engage in some “damage control”.

The scathing diplomatic remarks define my approach in this think-piece. Clearly, as an international legal opinion, I will approach the discussion of public diplomacy in the following manner:

Firstly, there is a colossal link between political creed and diplomatic tension. A national gloss was added – threat to SA’s security. Then the package was dressed up with disinformation, located within the specificity of the insinuations by the minister.

Of practical significance, the ministerial statements has gone a long way towards exacerbating the worst excesses of cruel acts such as xenophob

Secondly, if the diplomatic offensive of Minister Mbalula was taken out of context, if the “damage control” model by his spokesperson is anything to go by, the exposure of zeal without knowledge on the part of the minister becomes very dangerous – there is the fall of a servile press the world over.

Add the huge impact of social media to the minister’s display of incredible confidence in his utterances. The political culture leaves the Zimbabwean migrant worker, tourist and even cross-border trader who cross Beitbridge into SA – feeling that he or she is at the tail-end.

Thirdly, it goes without mentioning the need for a diplomatic culture across borders. Most ministerial statements have huge policy implications. Were Minister Mbalula’s “no goodwill” remarks inspired largely by defecting soldiers from Zimbabwe?

Surprisingly, even after so much international outcry, the minister has spoken through a mouthpiece: no apology, but maladroit correction of the disinformation.

Fourthly, in many ways, the provocative speech by the minister was ingenuous and behind the constitutional times. In many ways, it was an insult to diplomatic protocol. The minister needed to qualify his statements. Surprisingly, he did not. Now this raises alarm.

The minister deliberately embarked on some “poetic” security justice. He had the wherewithal to put every Zimbabwean in SA at risk through the raising of false security alarms. Because risk cannot be easily eliminated: South Africa – punctuated with melodrama – anti-apartheid fighters such as Minister Mbalula do not know where AK47 guns that are found on South African soil originate from.

The scene has a to-do list. Enter the Zimbabwean ex-soldiers. A risk-formula emerges from the minister. For him to get legitimacy – the ex-soldiers from Zimbabwe are a threat. SA is vulnerable because the Police Minister believes AK47s come from this side of the Limpopo. “Hopefully”, for the minister, SA is invincible and capable of “hitting the ex-soldiers with what is equal to them”.

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