For historical reasons, South Africa’s relationship with the US is a little different than other African nations. During the apartheid years, the White minority governments aligned themselves with the Western nations and leveraged SA’s militarily strategic position to maximize British and US support. This support, articulated by President Ronald Reagan as “constructive engagement,” alienated the oppressed Black majority and left a lingering bad taste with many in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, which has been the ruling party since South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994.
It’s simplistic to assume that any Trump support that exists in Africa only comes from the White right. While many South Africans often view Trump’s behavior as crass, others I’ve encountered see him as an admirably blunt crusader against political correctness and bureaucratic inertia. One example: Unathi Kwaza, who has served on the on the board of Free Market Foundation and on the council of the Institute of Race Relations, says that while she disagrees with Trump’s tariff wars with China, she would love to see him in office for the next four years. “He rubs the media the wrong way because he has never been politically correct. For me that is a great thing,” she told me. “There’s nothing worse than not knowing what a person is really thinking because they’re afraid others wouldn’t approve.”
From a developing world perspective, a salutary effect of the Trump years is that any American assumptions of exceptionalism have surely been shattered. Old and bitter social divides, long glossed over, are now on full display.
America has revealed itself to be a nation as fallible as any other — a nation that is struggling to mount the transparently “free and fair” elections that it has long lectured less fortunate countries on, and a nation where the incumbent hints at refusing to leave office on the basis of a “stolen” vote, long before the election has even taken place.
It is the nature of feelings of national exceptionalism that a country imagines itself not only to be the center of the universe but to be more benign than others actually experience it. For those of us watching from a distance, the reality has proven to be somewhat different.