South Africa's Vision of a New World Order
Though relations with the United States are solid, the country wants its economic voice heard.
"It all revolves around that struggle-era sentiment," Wheeler said, adding that South Africa and the United States have stronger relations today than do South Africa and Cuba. "It's not rational."
Last year South Africa joined BRIC, an economic coalition composed of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The addition changed the group's name to BRICS. As South Africa's deputy minister of international relations and cooperation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, explained in an October speech in Johannesburg, BRICS wants to create "a more democratic international system founded on the rule of law and multilateral diplomacy."
He said the group believes that "today's world order should be based on the rule of international law and the strengthening of multilateralism, with the United Nations playing the central role" -- instead of one nation. This decision makes sense in light of South Africa's relationship with the United States, Wheeler said.
"My sense is that the relationship is better, not brilliant. There's always this sort of 'wicked West' attitude that floats around, but it's not as expressed as it was before," he said. "We've got to get along with the Americans; we can't just write America off."
That studied indifference was evident when Zuma dodged this reporter's question seeking his thoughts on the upcoming American election and American policy toward Africa.
"All that we are interested in is to ensure that the American people make their choice," he said. "Once they've made their choice, we'd like to see our relationship growing stronger. We'd want to see the policy of the United States being good toward Africa, but as to who must win, that's the business of the Americans. I wouldn't want to venture into that one."
At least he was less blunt than his Cuban hero. In January, Castro weighed in on the race in a scathing editorial in state-run media. If Americans had to choose between Obama, a Republican candidate and a robot, he wrote, "Ninety percent of voting Americans -- especially Hispanics, blacks and the growing number of the impoverished middle class -- would vote for the robot."
Anita Powell is a Johannesburg-based journalist who has covered Africa for five years and Iraq and Afghanistan previously. Follow her on Twitter.