What Can Africa Learn From The UK Referendum?

Published on 28th June 2016

A caller from Wales called Relebogile Mabotja's Radio 702 show on the morning of 24 June 2016 which runs from 3.00hrs until 6.00hrs. He was also on Aubrey Masango’s show which precedes Mabotja’s show and is aired between 23.00hrs and 3.00hrs and spoke while I was made to hold on for about 29 minutes by Masango’s producer.  But poor me from Kagiso, about 35km from Radio 702 studios, couldn't be afforded an opportunity to speak about my objection to the elevation of European issues over African ones on a South African radio station. I have nothing against this man from Wales. On Aubrey Masango's show he spoke about the referendum in Britain. Frankly, I have no truck with that referendum which was also discussed on Redi Tlhabi's show on the 23rd June when the guest was a University of Pretoria Professor or Lecturer. Redi Tlhabi spoke about the UK and South Africa being "trade partners."

They are not trade partners, Britain is a former imperial and colonial power and the relationship between these two countries remains the same to this day. This is true of the relationship between another imperial power - the US - and South Africa as evidenced by the one month ultimatum the former gave to the latter relating to the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Professor Yash Tandon says, “Trade is no doubt vital for the welfare of human beings. We produce food; we produce other means of physical and social existence. We need to sell what we produce. People have been trading since time immemorial. Trade does not have to be war. It can be a means to peaceful development of the world’s people – it can be, and has been in past centuries. But in our times it is not. With the dawn of Capitalism, trade has become a weapon of war between the rich nations of the West and the rest of the world.

I need to explain the use of the word ‘war.’ It is not war with bombs and drones. But trade can be as lethal, and as much of a ‘weapon of mass destruction,’ as bombs. Trade in the capitalist-imperial era kills people; it drives people into poverty; it creates wealth at one end and poverty at another; it enriches the powerful food corporations at the cost of marginalising poor peasants; it turns the poor into economic refugees in their own countries, or migrants – at least those who can and dare to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe, or across the seas from South Asia to Australia, or from the Mexican border to the USA. Today these migrants make vital contributions to the economy and culture of the host peoples. But, they also become targets of attack by neo-fascist and racist elements in these societies.

South Africa had nothing to do whatsoever with the UK referendum but on the morning of June 24, Dan Moyane of eNCA was busy saying the Rand took a knock because of the outcome of that UK referendum whose results were 48.1% in favour of staying within the European Union (EU) and 51.9% who opted out. Moyane splashed the following figures on the television screen:   

1 US Dollar           R15.50   
1 Euro                R17.02
1 Pound Sterling      R21.09
The previous day’s exchange rates were:
1 US Dollar           R14.31
1 Euro                R16.28
Pound Sterling        R21.30

These exchange rates show that the West and South Africa are not trade partners. If anything, South Africa is a junior partner. During apartheid years, the West and South Africa were perhaps trade partners because the rand was worth more than all the West’s individual currencies. However, the African people’s cheap labour was exploited, that’s probably the reason the Rand was worth more than the major currencies of the world’s countries.

Russian Television reported over the weekend that the Pound Sterling nose-dived following Britain’s exit from the EU. This is the country whose currency should plummet however unjustified, not South Africa. Local and international media outlets continued on the 27th June to report that the value of the Pound Sterling dropped without examining how and why the Rand and the Pound Sterling depreciated and if that depreciation was justified and whether it is a fact that market forces or so-called fundamentals are responsible for exchange rate regimes, are self-regulatory or that the markets perform better than governments and that money is neutral. For example, the Rand plummeted after the appointment by President Jacob Zuma of Des Van Royen as Finance Minister. While this was an obvious blunder by Zuma, it was unjustifiable for currency speculators to subject the Rand to speculative attack to which it is still suffering which left the population reeling from this shock. There are mechanisms the South African government can employ to offset these speculative attacks on the Rand by, as some economists argue, resorting to limited discretionary policies that enable central banks to pursue monetary and fiscal policies according to the changing needs of their economies. However, control of the Reserve Bank is another conundrum. The monetary and fiscal policies are a topic on their own and can be tackled in another article.

The reason I said I have no truck with the UK referendum is that while the West, including the UK try to unite, they have not only discouraged the African continent from uniting but have also put the spanner in the works of Africa's continental unity or Pan Africanism. When African leaders spoke about Pan Africanism more than fifty years ago, the West said the forging of a continental unity by Africa’s leaders was a pipe dream. But strange enough theirs is not a pipe dream.

Although one does not give a hoot about the UK referendum, there are lessons that can be learnt from the staging of that referendum.  What impresses me the most is the fact that Europeans respect their people and institutions. When there is a crucial issue such as joining the EU and have the EU exert too much influence over Britain, as some of them argued, they resort to referendums to give their people a chance to decide their destiny. There are so many issues in this country that warranted referendums but for the past twenty two years the ANC has not called a single referendum or at least a plebiscite.  After backing the wrong horse in the referendum and lost, British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. Here at home whatever the extent and magnitude of a scandal, it is unheard of that a head of state can resign.

Europeans seem to enjoy autonomy which their ruling elite deny us. Their electoral systems also appear to be iron-clad and they use proper and secure ballot boxes and not the card board boxes the ANC-controlled IEC uses but they (the West) interfere in our affairs and choose leaders and political parties for us. For example, about a month ago, the Star reported that officials from the British Defence Force were in South Africa to make sure that the ANC wins the next general elections. And it was also the West which installed the ANC as a government in 1994.

Our radio and television presenters as well as journalists should expend their energies and efforts in the direction of Africa's continental unity instead of being preoccupied with the unity of Europeans or Pan Europeanism. And before telling their listeners and viewers about trade partnerships and devaluation of currencies, they must do their research instead of the imbibing and regurgitation they often do.

By Sam Ditshego

The writer holds a post graduate certificate in Development Economics and Policy Making.

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