"There must be a kernel of morality also to international behavior," Mandela said. "Of course, nations must place their own interests high on the list of considerations informing their international relations. But the amorality which decrees that might is right can not be the basis on which the world conducts itself in the next century."
One can appreciate Mandela's bitterness towards the West, which saw fit to carry on with apartheid South Africa while preaching a gospel of human rights. But it was strange to condemn the philosophy of "might is right" while praising a crackpot who, at the time, had ruled his country with an iron fist for three decades and was one of the leading state-sponsors of terrorism. The ANC's positions on a number of international issues (not the least of which was its bizarre response to the killing of Osama bin Laden) a part of a broader worrying trend in its foreign policy, from helping to prop up Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to selling weapons to the regimes in Syria and Venezuela.
South Africa's stubbornness on Libya is unusual on two levels. For one, it changed its position on the military intervention. From its perch as a non-voting member of the UN Security Council, South Africa backed resolution 1973, which authorized the NATO operation. Yet in June, Zuma blasted the mission, saying, "The resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation." Zuma visited Qaddafi twice since fighting began in an attempt to broker a ceasefire, both times emerging with proposed peace deals that were so slanted in Qaddafi's favor that it's hard to imagine he truly believed the offers would ever be accepted. When these efforts failed to win support from the rebels, Zuma blasted NATO, accusing it of undermining his attempts at reconciliation.
In July, Zuma's spokesperson said that the South African president was "disappointed" with the International Criminal Court's indictment of Qaddafi. Last month, South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe took the critique further, saying that the ICC should investigate human rights violations committed not by Qaddafi and his men, but NATO.
South Africa's turnaround on Libya is surprising given the ANC's own history. While it was still a banned opposition movement, the group sought international sanctions against the apartheid government as it waged its own armed struggle to bring that regime down. But, in its 17 years ruling South Africa with a massive parliamentary majority, the ANC has never seriously criticized Qaddafi. A charitable explanation for the ANC's conciliatory behavior towards the Libyan dictator might be that it sees a global, transferrable template in South Africa's transition to democracy, which involved a years-long process of negotiations with the apartheid-era National Party. Stubborn and authoritarian as the "Nats" were, moderates did exist among the Afrikaner elite, particularly former President and Nobel Prize winner F.W. de Klerk. In other words, voluntary, within-system reform was possible. But such a moderate faction never existed in the Libyan regime. Though many considered Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the leader's son and possible heir, such a moderating force, few held on to that notion after he warned, in February, that "rivers of blood will flow through all the cities of Libya."