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The late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe used to rile the United Kingdom’s then leader Tony Blair with “keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe”.
When the UK tightened its border controls two weeks ago in response to Covid and kept South Africa on its “red list”, people here would have been justified to want to respond to Boris Johnson the same way Mugabe did to Blair.
But however unpalatable it might be to South Africans, this country needs the UK more than they need us.
The flimsy reasons about the beta variant of Covid still being prevalent here that stop UK citizens from travelling to South Africa and vice versa make it plain who the master is in this supposedly bilateral relationship.
Much has been said about how the SA high commissioner and Naledi Pandor’s department of international relations have slept on the job while their Kenyan counterparts have worked their socks off to successfully get their country off the dreaded red list – but the truth is the UK has continued in much the same manner as they have been doing during the Covid crisis: it’s “UK first and the rest of the world to hell”.
They shamelessly joined the developed world in hogging vaccines while people were dying in the rest of the world.It is unproductive for South Africa to keep whining about being on that list of “undesirables” because this country needs those British pounds from those UK visitors.
Crying and moaning about it will not bring back those 450,000 UK tourists who came through when the worldwas still normal in 2019; so, yes, begging bowl in hand if necessary, Pandor must do what needs to be done to get South Africa off that list.
This would not only be for economic reasons but also compassionate ones, given that the UK rules for its own citizens returning from a “red list” country have an added crippling expense to the trip by forcing people to pay exorbitant quarantine charges.
Covid did not introduce inequalities in relations between countries, it only magnified them.
Power relations between the West and developing countries have always been those of a master and servant. The separate responses by Kenya and South Africa to get themselves off the list also expose the sham that is the African Union.
In a time that the world is hoarding life-saving resources that their humaneness should be compelling them to share with developing countries, the African Union should be more united than ever in formulating a response to the bullying of the West.
Yes, this continent needs the West more than they need it, but there are bargaining tools that can be used to negotiate a better deal for the poorest nations on this continent.
South Africa will get off that red list, not because the country’s vaccination programme is exemplary and going according to plan, but because they will convince their British counterparts of the folly of their ways.
This country and others on the list will suffer temporary economic hardships due to these short-sighted indiscriminate border control rules, but eventually, for the UK and the West to live freely, they will need to invest massively in vaccinating those they are trying to keep out.