January 19th, 2012
05:28 PM GMT
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South Africa (CNN) –It was a hot summer day when Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund visited South Africa in early January. However, it appeared that she received a rather chilly welcome from the South African government.

The South Africans, despite knowing about her visit for more than a month, had not scheduled any meetings with the Finance Minister, the Reserve Bank governor or any other key economic advisors. Crucially, no meeting was lined up with President Jacob Zuma.

It seemed that IMF staff were scrambling to pin down the South Africans even after Lagarde had arrived in the country.

In the end, Lagarde had ad hoc meetings in Pretoria with the country's economic teams the morning after she arrived. It is unclear if they apologized, but I understand that one minister told her she visiting at a bad time; most South African government employees were still on their long Christmas holiday and the ruling ANC was holding it's 100th birthday celebrations in Bloemfontein, a four-hour drive away from Pretoria.

The arrival of one of the world's most powerful women in southern Africa was clearly not a priority, it seemed.

At one stage it was suggested she would meet South African president Jacob Zuma the following Wednesday - five days away - and the only time he would be able to fit her into his schedule.

From what I understand, it was becomingly increasingly clear to the IMF folks that Zuma was not going to make the effort to meet Lagarde. She would have to go to him.

When we sat down for a wide-ranging interview in a Pretoria hotel, I asked Lagarde if she had managed to pin down Zuma yet? Lagarde smiled wryly to me and said she would be flying to Bloemfontein to meet Zuma the following day.

Deeply tanned and beautifully groomed in that indomitable French way, Lagarde appeared pragmatic, gracious and seemingly unfazed by this apparent snub.

The reasons for the South Africans lukewarm response to her visit are now more clear. The headline of the Johannesburg-based Business Day newspaper reads, "IMF taps BRICS to fund $1 billion crisis gap."

The article said, "Emerging nations asked to help bail out ailing richer economies."

South Africa is the newest, most controversial member of BRICS, a club of new financial powerhouses originally made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa’s economy is a minnow compared to their BRIC brothers but the country is Africa’s largest economy and seen as a gateway into the continent's lucrative and growing markets.

South Africa likes to think of itself as a global political heavyweight, a player on the multilateral stage and leading member of the South. The crisis in Europe and the U.S. has shifted the balance with the debt-laden North now looking to the emerging market economies for assistance.

This dynamic perhaps explains the cool South African response to Lagarde's trip.

Perhaps the South Africans viewed Lagarde has arriving with a "begging bowl" in hand? She is reportedly looking to expand the IMF's war chest to $500 billion, asking for contributions from emerging economies to help fund possible bailouts.

The tables have turned and the emerging nations are looking to use this new reality to push for more voting power and increased clout in the IMF structures.

No doubt, for Zuma, the image of the IMF head trying to meet him - like a lowly villager looking for an audience with a tribal chief - was just the kind of message he wanted to send.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. maureen

    It serves her right why would she come without confirmed appointments and expect others to drop everything to meet her because she has arrived. The balance of power is shifting

    January 19, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  2. xclusive

    finally the tables are starting to turn and I'll agree with whats been said, Now is not a good time.

    January 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  3. Steve Thompson

    Here is an article that shows how the credit lifeline to Argentina by the IMF during the 1990s led to the world's largest sovereign debt default:


    By their own admission, the IMF agrees that the default was compounded by their own questionable lending practices and policy advice.

    Apparently, lifelines from the IMF are not all that one might expect.

    January 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  4. jontini

    I wonder what reception a southern hemisphere visitor to Paris would get if arriving without appointments in mid-August?

    January 20, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  5. Seatle06

    Looking at the statistics South-Africa is clearly a cesspool of corruption. A country raking among the most dangerous, highest crime and murder rates on the planet. The white people living their mostly have their own gated communities now. They are not safe without it. The SA government is as good at making appointments as an inbred donkey. So who cares what the SA government and Zuma thinks. This is the same man trying to appease Muammar Gaddafi when the War in Libya started. Good luck with trusting them.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:12 am |
  6. Styling

    Well it was the ANC's 100th year anniversary and they did have 46 heads of states in Bloemfontein visiting for the LONG planned celebration. PLus for the rest of us South African's it was still Summer Vacation; apologies that we do it in reverse to the rest of the world, but this is when the sun shines on us for a few months and we enjoy the beach and chilling.....I wish facts could be obtained before writing them.....

    January 20, 2012 at 5:10 am |
  7. wasso

    A snub here, a snub there, who cares !

    January 20, 2012 at 5:58 am |
  8. arjay

    Until when SA can do this to the IMF head? Things might have turned the other way around, but it keeps on turning.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  9. T.O.O.

    Well if you give up civilization you have to expect uncivilized behavior to become the norm.

    January 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  10. Cortanis

    And this is what coordinators are for. Appointments please.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  11. arthur uzo

    The continued twist in our not so perfect World.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  12. Bart

    It seems Ms Curnow and some ppl here, Seatle06 among them, know everything about the world and South Africa, not to mention the politics of it all. This is exactly the condescending approach, CNN correspondent's style not excluded, that we need to agree on workable solutions in Iran and everywhere else in the world. One more thing: When in Rome....

    January 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  13. icearc

    lol, South Africa can barely afford to lend anyone money, what are they doing sitting along with BRIC heavyweights

    January 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  14. Vuyo

    I agree with Styling. To visit a country at a time when 46 heads of state are visiting, and the President is meant to address his party's most important gathering of recent years, without confirmed appointments does not make sense. There was no snub. In truth, Zuma had other more important priorities.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  15. teeboy

    It is still down to arrogance of the wealth. Shame on CNN for allowing such article. Can Zuma visit anywhere in the west without any appointment? so Largarde expect herself to come begging for money and still expects the lender to start looking for ways to see her? RUbbish!

    January 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  16. roger

    It is funny that you talk about SA corruption with your immature biased mind...Most corrupted and debased breed are found in the northern hemisphere-Ancient Rome- the cradle of dictatorship, Nicolae Caeucescu, Ivan The Terrible, Emperor Caligula etc the list is endless. Your countries were built on deceit, slavery, oppression, theft, lies...So I suggest that you go teach offspring the truth after paying reparation to those maimed and stole from.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  17. lulz

    Have you considered it is because she is white? Seems she tried to get a tan before going though...

    January 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  18. Kele

    I'm unclear as to the writer's expectations of a suitable reception for Mme. Lagarde.
    She arrived in South Africa with no appointments. If she gave a month's notice and failed to secure an audience, she ought to have cancelled her trip. Otherwise, she's no different from the average tourist.
    It should also be noted that she heads the IMF, not a country, a government, or the UN. She is basically an appointed director of a multinational bank. The tone of the article has an air of superiority that I find unnecessary and outdated.

    January 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  19. sinbad

    She was installed at the IMF in a coup that was organized by the US. No one cares about the puppet only the person pulling the strings, Geithner in this case.

    January 21, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  20. Big Bang

    The IMF staff are the ones who should be blamed. Why schedule a visit to South Africa at dates that are not agreed upon by the host country and appointments no agreed upon. It is like barging into my office when I am having a meeting with other people and expecting me to drop everything just to meet you. It shows lack of respect to the host. And why should poor countries be asked to bail oit the rich countries? The rich countries who need cash desperately may want to sell off some assets to raise the cash instead. Maybe the European countries can sell off some big companies , or some islands to Russia and China.

    January 21, 2012 at 3:17 am |
  21. Marco Hsiao


    France made millions of African black slaves, and tortured 1/3 of them to end life in French's ships, and cruelly invaded Africa to steal resources; it is evilest event on violating human right in world history.

    After WW2 Charles de Gaulle invaded north Africa and Vietnam, capital punishment should be the only sentence to de Gaulle. Recently this immoral country also destroyed African children's lives (Gadafi's grandchildren, age below 12).

    France could be said as one of dirtiest countries on violating human right and violating morality. Every African country are 1000 times better than dirty France on human right record.

    Declining is the only destiny to France. South Korea's export and auto industry are surpassing France. In 2021, ROC Taiwan's export will surpass France, too. In 2040, Korea's GDP will surpass France certainly.

    Every suffering African country should get apology and compensation (US$ 20-30 trillion) from immoral France. Africa must make effort for justice continually; you will win; because 38 years later a dominant justice power will emerge on the earth.

    January 21, 2012 at 3:38 am |
  22. Fluux

    I love the way these people in powerful positions, who poop just like the rest of us, expect to treated as if they were the second coming. If I were Lagarde I'd fire my PA, apologise to the South African government for arriving without prior arrangements and then make a hasty get away in my bullet proof car before it gets hi-jacked by one of Zuma's henchmen.

    January 21, 2012 at 5:26 am |
  23. Brett Shru

    Apparently South Africa has something called reverse appartheid now, basically the white men and woman can't get jobs and have to move overseas to find work or run there own business. It's also the only country in the world where the majority is protected against the minority in terms of job fairness.

    With that being said it was silly to go to a country where appointments had not been made.

    January 21, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  24. Nervern

    Hahaha. Some of you people talk alota crap. Gerhard mentioned a genocide against white people, but infact more black people gets killed in South Africa. I agree with the corruption part though, its actually a major stumbling block in our country and I believe the only way forward is to get the DA into power, then we'll probably deserve our brics position. Brett Shru its true dude, but not only whites but also blacks cant get jobs here.

    January 21, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  25. Peter

    European nations have donated millions to "developing countries" for decades and no doubt they are continuing to do so, for example UK donations to India. Expectations that these nations will help them now is however completely unrealistic.Serves them right.

    January 21, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  26. Floyd Burgoz

    Being a European she should know about beloved vacations.

    January 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  27. Lauremtis

    snub?...why? because she is from europe?
    no way.
    she and other europeans must respect the host.
    This CNN is a racist

    January 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  28. thirdworld child

    Bart, Robyn Curnow is a South African :)

    The South African government runs around like it's more important than they really are. Bunch of corrupt, fat tenderpreneurs.

    January 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  29. freddy banana

    What. Snub a snob. How dreadful. Not.

    January 21, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  30. Challa

    If one nows that South Africans are on holiday, at least between, mid December to mid Jan, they should not plan an official visit there except a holiday. On the top of that, when you are meeting a leader of a nation.

    January 22, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  31. swagga

    She's got tickets on her self who is she anyway?

    January 22, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  32. wwellivcou

    Good!!! Who does she think she is??? These people's arrogance is disgusting. Just cuz they give away some expired drugs and say the right things, doesnt actually make you a savior! What the hell does the IMF do but promote their corrupt and irrelevant self-interest? Leave African nations aloneee!!!

    January 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  33. ercan

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    January 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  34. octopus

    Looks like she should be fired because she's unable to handle even the simplest tasks... like scheduling an appointment maybe instead of coming to a country in hope that someone will meet her.

    January 23, 2012 at 3:59 am |
  35. Jason

    she looks like a man

    January 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  36. Ben (White South African)

    Seatle06 – Please come visit South Africa before writing such utter rubbish. Get my address from CNN and I will provide you accomodation free of charge – as long as you report back the truth you find here.

    Robyn Curnow – What is the point of this article? Slow day in the news department?

    Do you expect South African President (or any other country's president) to leave planned meetings and engagements with 40+ heads of state and senior government officials to take meetings with unannounced head of a commercial company?

    January 25, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  37. zedana01

    very sad situation See the elephant is dying and die


    January 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  38. Pleb

    The usual arrogant disorganized imbeciles that run SA

    February 3, 2012 at 3:52 am |
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  42. NYC fitness events

    It was becomingly increasingly clear to the IMF folks that Zuma was not going to make the effort to meet Lagarde. She would have to go to him." Sad! I understand people are busy but come on.

    February 20, 2014 at 2:10 am |

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