South Africa: Interview with International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane by "Agenzia Nova" (news agency)

Enough with foreign interference in African affairs


South Africa cannot continue to intervene and resolve crises caused by external actors, especially former colonial powers, in sub-Saharan Africa. It was made clear by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in an interview with "Agenzia Nova.”

At the head of Pretoria’s diplomacy since 2009 and since 2007, a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, the ruling party in South Africa, last Friday (Nov. 20th) in Rome Nkoana-Mashabane met her Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni. Africa, she reiterated during her visit, has the tools to create a major process of industrialization, starting from those young people who "are its greatest asset," but politically it is necessary to find "African solutions to African problems." "The influences, interferences from non-African countries in our affairs must end," cautioned Nkoana-Mashabane, albeit bearing in mind that "the world today is a global village and to live in isolation is no longer possible."

Even so, according to the Minister, it is important to give new impetus to historical relations like those between South Africa and Italy. A friendship which, she recalled, "dates from the time of apartheid." "At that time we had the support of many activists in your country and nowadays many people of Italian descent live in South Africa. We believe that this solid foundation could have been better developed in past years, but we have time to recover lost ground". An effort to be articulated both economically and politically. On the one hand, Nkoana-Mashabane underlined that the two countries are premised on complementary economies. "Italy has a network of small and medium-sized enterprises, while in South Africa the market is dominated by large cooperatives. We can learn from each other, activating many synergies". And then there is the security sector. "Italy - said the head of South African diplomacy - has a long history of participation in peace initiatives around the world, something which we are also strongly committed to."

Figures are there to show it: over 2,000 people deployed in peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. "We - explained Nkoana-Mashabane - believe in the need to solve political problems by political means. And we send our military contingents only when there is a peace to be protected. But with an important condition: before giving a weapon to our people, we give them a political education." An issue that remains highly topical, given the recent crisis caused by difficult, sometimes impossible process of transition in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa. But the South African Foreign Minister has clear ideas: "Our problems come from outside. There are former colonial powers that cannot remain arms folded. We left behind the period of military coups, but there are those who still would like to decide who will govern us. So as we do not intend to interfere in European Union matters, so we want to have the opportunity to take care of our own business, to identify African solutions to African problems ".

Shared solutions, according to the chief diplomat in South Africa, are needed also to support the economic growth that the continent has experienced in recent years and for it to be intertwined with the development of alternative energy sources. A theme that in a few days will be the focus of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (Cop21), held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December, and that is strongly supported by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who in 2011 chaired the previous conference COP17 in Durban.

"The Ministers of Energy, Environment and Foreign Affairs of the African countries - she explained - are continuing to meet regularly in light of the Paris event. The goal is to outline a common strategy and speak with one voice, that of Africa, on a problem that knows no boundaries". Not an easy job. "South Africa is leading the group known as the G77 (but let’s not be misled by its name, because today it is made up of 135 developing countries) through which we favoured negotiations for the establishment of a post-2015 development agenda. We are trying to replicate this model for the Paris conference,” the South African Minister told Agenzia Nova.

According to her experience, Nkoana-Mashabane knows "how aware developing countries are of their historic and crucial role in contributing to the mitigation of risks related to climate", but she also knows "how needy they are of international support for the implementation of the programs".

It is important, according to the Minister, for "the commitment to be understood as shared, but with different responsibilities and capabilities. In this sense, the issue of funding should be addressed seriously, with particular reference to the Green Climate Fund set up precisely in South Africa but based in South Korea. I think Paris is the place to do it."

Regarding the development of renewables, the South African Government itself has launched an ambitious programme that aims to reduce the country's dependence from coal. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is not sure to be able to view with her own eyes the time when renewables will weigh more than coal in the energy supply sources, "it will possibly happen with the next generation". But she said that South Africa, "as all", is trying to find "its balance". "The use of coal - she noted - is still there, as I could realise a few days ago in the UK. There is no country on the planet that is able to rely solely on renewable sources. We have to admit, for example, that at the moment we still do not have the necessary technology to store large quantities of solar energy. What we need to work more and more on is for clean energy to be less costly".

Nkoana-Mashabane also mentioned the critical stage of the South African economy, whose historical transition is strongly resenting the collapse of commodity prices and the slowdown in China, one of the leading investors in the sub-Saharan region. At present, according to the Foreign Minister, the South African government "is busy diversifying the economy," "a strategy that began well before the crisis in the mining sector". "We must keep in mind one thing: the prices of raw materials have cyclical trends. There are times when they go up and others when they go down. The wisest people buy goods during phases like the current one, when the cost of raw materials seems to continue falling indefinitely. It is the advice that I take the liberty to offer to potential Italian investors: buying now, it’s a good deal”. As for China, Nkoana-Mashabane went on, "no investment in the region was cut thus far. Probably (Beijing) has decided not to go ahead with some projects, but all the commitments made in South Africa have been met. The financial crisis erupted in 2008 has involved all countries in the world, demonstrating how all economies are interdependent: if China or the United States catches a cold, everyone sneezes. But I am optimistic: initiatives such as the Turkish G20, which saw the participation of both Italy and South Africa in spite of the terrorism threat, are a necessary global effort to manage the economic policies".

Another critical factor for the development of the region, according to many observers, is the lack of the necessary infrastructure. According to South Africa’s top diplomat, however, great progress "is being made right now". "Starting from the highway between Cape Town and Cairo, which will connect the continent from south to north. We hope that the Italian investors can seize the opportunities which, in this sector, are springing up in every corner of Africa. In our southern region, for example, a significant number of road links are underway for South Africa to come closer to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.”

In this regard, the prospects offered by the economic development of the Southern African region look promising. "With other countries in the region - said Nkoana-Mashabane - we belong to the Southern African Development Community (SADC). We have put on the table joint programmes of industrialization and development of mineral resources, two issues closely inter-related." Moreover, the Minister continued, "there is the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), in whose framework we decided, together with all the countries of the African Union, to give new impetus to the decolonization of the continent. We have established Agenda 2063, a tool to create a free, safe and fully developed Africa". An ambitious programme, but whose complexity does not intimidate Nkoana-Mashabane. "The best resource we have is our people. Africa's population is young, a factor which makes us proud. If we can put to good use their capabilities, if we can train engineers, scientists and craftsmen, then we can create an important process of industrialization. A process that should be based on two pillars: the development of mineral resources and the accomplishment of infrastructures capable to integrate, connect our economies”.


Date: 27 November 2015



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