South Africa, Africa’s most mature democracy, is watching the American election with great interest — and trepidation.
Residents of the country, for the most part, say four years of U.S.-Africa relations under President Donald Trump have done nothing for their lives. VOA spoke to analysts and citizens in Johannesburg, the economic hub of the continent, about what matters to them as America votes.
VOA has, during the past four years, spoken to hundreds of South Africans of all backgrounds about U.S. politics and found few who openly support Trump. Most pin their disapproval on reports that he made disparaging comments about African nations.
On the streets of Johannesburg, entrepreneur Katyala Maine says he’s pulling for former Vice President Joe Biden. Here’s what he thinks of the current president:
“He wants to make America great again, but America needs the rest of the world in order for it to be great. The fact that he believes that disinvestment or lesser aid to African countries is warranted, well, that’s his opinion,” Maine said.
Others, like technical support worker Itumeleng Mofokeng, say they pine for the past, and try to ignore the deluge of news.
“Personally, I’m still all for [former President] Barack Obama. I wish America could do the right thing and bring back Barack Obama. I’m not feeling … who’s our new president? Donald Trump? Personally, no, he’s not my favorite,” Mofokeng said.
American diplomat-turned-journalist Brooks Spector, who has lived in South Africa since the 1970s, says South Africans’ fascination with the U.S. is understandable.
“It’s a kind of mirror image of their own society with a lot of the same prickly bits and wounds, but phrased or framed in a different kind of way so that they see — and Americans see this too, obviously — race relations in the United States is a topic of surpassing importance to the American society, history politics life, religion – the whole thing,” Spector said.
The most important policy aspect, he said, is the African Growth and Opportunities Act, which expires in 2025. The act allowed South Africa to export $8.55 billion dollars’ worth of goods, duty free, to the U.S. in 2018.
But some South Africans, like photographer Ezra Qua-Enoo, say they are indifferent to the world’s largest economy.
“Donald Trump and his policy on Africa? I actually don’t know what his policy on Africa is. But, like, I actually don’t care for what’s happening in America at all, to be honest,” Qua-Enoo said.
Africa has not come up often on the campaign trail, but Trump’s periodic tweets about the continent — from his concerns about killings of white farmers in South Africa to more recent comments about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — have sparked criticisms from African leaders.
Biden has also seldom brought up the continent but counts former Obama-era policy experts on his campaign team — a sign he may seek to restore the previous administration’s Africa policy.
This election may be unfolding on the other side of the world, South Africans say, but the result could affect their lives too — and they are watching.