Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, reflects on South Africa’s foreign policy in 2014.
This year has been a significant period for South Africa’s foreign policy. Our government used the occasion of the celebration of 20 years of our democracy to consolidate ties with the international community, thanking those that contributed to our freedom and committing to continue playing a positive role towards a better Africa and world.
We entered the second phase of our transition from apartheid to a national democratic society this year as the government began a new term after the May elections by embarking on radical socio-economic transformation to push back the challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Overcoming these challenges requires some far-reaching interventions and South Africa’s foreign policy has a crucial role to play in terms of realising the goals of the second transition.
We moved forward into the next five years conscious that we have a solid National Development Plan (NDP) that seeks to guide our actions and set priorities for our international relations mandate aimed at creating the South Africa we want by 2030.
The NDP has laid the framework for our country to be a globally competitive economy and an influential and leading member of the international community. In terms of the NDP framework, South Africa must promote and contribute to sustainable development, democracy, the rule of law, human rights as well as peace and security within a safe, peaceful and prosperous southern African region and Africa, as well as a fair and just world.
This year we contributed to the NDP’s 2030 vision through our bilateral and multilateral co-operation, as well as economic diplomacy. Our 126 missions abroad remain in the frontline of our efforts to realise the NDP objectives.
We have developed and maintained mutually beneficial economic relations with strategic partner countries and with the African continent. We have identified specific trade, manufacturing, infrastructure, industrial, as well as education and training niches.
We have supported regional integration efforts in our SADC neighbourhood, which is key to economic growth and intra-Africa trade. We hope to finalise the SADC-EAC-Comesa tripartite trade negotiations as they are an important step towards the realisation of the African Free Trade Area by 2017.
During this year, we also galvanised support for major infrastructure projects in our region, notably the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II and the Grand Inga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We have also given dedicated attention to the North-South Corridor and other New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad)-driven infrastructure projects on the continent.
At this year’s SADC Summit in Zimbabwe, South Africa was unanimously elected to chair the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.
As chair, we led successful election observer missions to Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius, with elections in Zambia and Lesotho expected to take place early next year. In Lesotho, South Africa’s swift reaction and leadership role averted a potential crisis that could have had dire consequence for the political and security situation in the kingdom and the region. South Africa remains seized with the situation in Lesotho as demonstrated by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s regular visits to Lesotho, where he is overseeing the implementation of SADC decisions as mandated by the regional body.
South Africa continued to play a leading role in efforts to bring peace and stability in the DRC, working with other SADC member states and the Joint SADC-International Conference on the Great Lakes Region mechanism. Progress is being made with the M23 rebel group having been defeated militarily by the SADC Intervention Brigade. Also, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda has been given strict deadlines this year by the two regional bodies to proceed with their voluntary disarmament, disintegration, reintegration and repatriation.
As a member of the AU Peace and Security Council, South Africa played an important role in the operationalisation of the African Peace and Security Architecture, which is a critical element in providing the AU with the necessary capacity to respond to our challenges of peace and security.
The establishment of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, championed by South Africa, is an interim mechanism to respond to emerging security situations, while the African Standby Force is being operationalised.
With Africa being central to our foreign policy, we have engaged in extensive consultations throughout the year with South African civil society, including Parliament, on the AU’s Agenda 2063 under the theme: “The Africa we want”. This vision, which is expected to be adopted at the January 2015 Summit of the AU, will outline the aspirations of African people across all sectors and the pledges of Africa’s leaders. When the vision is adopted, member states will have to align their national policies with it through a process of domestication which, in our case, will entail harmonising Agenda 2063 with our NDP.
The AU’s Agenda 2063, together with Nepad, and other socio-economic development programmes, will be the cornerstone and foundation of Africa’s development agenda going forward.
South-South Co-operation is an important part of South Africa’s foreign policy architecture and this year saw a number of important developments in terms of our membership to South-South such as Brics, IBSA, Focac and multilateral bodies such as NAM and the G77 plus China. Our network of bilateral relations with Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean, have also contributed to enhance co-operation in trade, investment and other economic relations and the collaboration on global issues for a better world.
Within Brics, the New Development Bank has formally been established at this year’s Brics Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil. The decision by the Brics leaders to task South Africa with the responsibility of serving as domicile for the Bank’s Africa Regional Centre, not only raises the level of co-operation within Brics in addressing global challenges, but it is yet another indicator of South Africa’s growing significance in driving the African agenda.
Another important landmark in our South-South relations is the fact that South Africa will be hosting the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) next year. The upcoming Focac meeting will inject new impetus to the development of China-Africa relations and elevating the New Type of China-Africa Strategic Partnership to a higher level.
We have also strengthened our existing political and economic relations with Europe, including with the EU, our largest trade and investment partner. The conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between our region and the EU marks a major milestone in our evolving relations. We look forward to continue strengthening this relationship on the basis of the new agreement and working with our European partners to support our region’s growth and development objectives.
South Africa’s influence in multilateral organisations has been widely recognised this year. We have developed a strong voice for the reform of global governance in the Bretton Woods Institutions and the UN, and will continue to play an active role in all forms of multilateralism. Our membership to groupings such as the Group of 77 plus China, which South Africa will be chairing in 2015, are crucial for shaping and influencing the decision-making processes of the UN.
A distinguishing mark of South Africa’s foreign policy is its commitment to upholding human rights. This was clearly demonstrated earlier this year when we voted in favour of a groundbreaking resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. As a member of this UN body for the period 2014 to 2016, we continue to take the lead in ensuring that the council implements the commitments of the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which South Africa hosted in 2001.
During the course of the year, we were involved in two critical multilateral negotiations which will reach their conclusion next year. These are the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on the basis of the Durban Plan for Enhanced Action; and the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We will continue to call for the acceleration of efforts and resources to ensure the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) up to next year and beyond.
International solidarity will continue to inspire our approach to world affairs. South Africa made a contribution of $1 million towards humanitarian assistance to Palestinians through the United Nations Agency working in Palestine. South Africa’s support for Palestinian statehood was reiterated during the recent state visit to South Africa by Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas. Our country is an integral part of a continent on the rise. Our foreign policy must therefore move South Africa forward and make our vision of a better South Africa in a better Africa and a better world a reality.
*Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is minister of international relations and co-operation.