Address by the Honourable Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, Ms Sue van der Merwe, to Senior Students at Fuller Hall, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 11 August 2005

Distinguished Students
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for inviting me to share my thought with you. As the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, I am sure you might also be interested in what it takes to have a career in international relations and the kind of path one needs to take in order to accomplish this goal. I am sure that some of you might also be interested in the challenges that a woman faces in a leadership position.

I am not entirely sure that what I have to say will give you greater clarity into this subject. So I have decided to steer slightly away from addressing this topic in a direct manner - what I really wish to focus on is what is the kind of leadership that is needed in our contemporary world - in the confines of South Africa and also beyond in the rest of the African continent and indeed in the wider world. And in answering this question, my own situation and my own views will insinuate itself into the discussion, but mainly I wish to pose to you some of the challenges that exist and what we can and should do to make the world a better place through our leadership approach, style and content. In taking this approach, my theme really is: how should we do things differently from before.

The heart of the matter is" How do we lead differently? You may ask the question: differently from what? Much has been said about the imposition of a Washington consensus on all and sundry, on the way the world works and who has rights to rule the world and who has the right to make them- but more of that later. For those of you who are not familiar with the Washington Consensus it is based on two central notions: first the not of dependence on the so-called "free market" to solve all economic problems; and second, the notion of the minimal state that works to protect the best conditions for the private accumulation of wealth.

It is my belief and that of our government that our task is to change ourselves and the world and to do so for the sake of developing countries and for the poor of the world, to work towards a more humane and inclusive approach to the world which really encompasses global governance in the spheres of world politics, economics and culture…. A more egalitarian society.

Our mission -as it were - is also about the right to be different, to embrace unity-in-diversity, to accept the myriad of cultures within our own country and within the world at large as a tremendous resource with vast potential.

A few weeks ago, speaking at a lecture series held in Pretoria entitled The Meaning of Mandela, (in order to mark our former President, Nelson Mandela's birthday), Wole Soyinka, the great Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate, in a sense complimented South Africa in giving progressive content to the idea of a rainbow nation. He spoke of the vast cultural palette from which we draw and how difference did not become subsumed or dictated upon in the desire for a monolithic and unilateral oneness. Rather, in celebrating our diversity, we could provide space for dialogue between one culture and another, between one political or ethnic grouping and another, between different forms of alliances and allow everyone to participate in the making of something new. This is what determines our multilateral and all-inclusive approach to world affairs.

Part of this new conversation that we have embarked upon as a new South African country since 1994 has been the inclusion of women in all spheres and to encourage those who have felt silenced and marginalised to speak and to give meaning to their lives and how we ought to build this country together through each individual act and through collective participation.

For some, this may seem like an ideal world, not the one which we inhabit, but in the last decade we have seen the beginning of this new reality coming into being and starting to transform the world we once knew into a world that we want it to be. And we have been blessed with the quality of leadership that can lead in this way as part of a social movement bringing about progressive change in the world.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in 2003 at her Budget Vote,

"Those who want us to depart from the Principles of the [UN] Charter want us to believe that the powerful, the rich and the technologically advanced should rule the world using their economic, political and military might. They want us to build a world where the rich and powerful can impose their will on the poor and weak. They want us to build a world where the powerful and the rich can change regimes at will. A world where the lives of the innocent and weak are not protected. A world of the survival of the fittest. This will lead to a new world order outside the framework of the UN.

We believe the multilateral system of global governance must remain our only response to all challenges facing humanity today. We must have common rules shared and applied equally by all, without fear or favour.

Ben Okri, the great African writer, in his work Way of Being Free writes; "They tell me that nature is the survival of the fittest. And yet look at how many wondrous gold and yellow fishes prosper amongst silent stones of the ocean beds, while sharks eternally prowl the waters in their impossible dreams of oceanic domination and while whales become extinct; … how many butterflies and iguanas thrive, while elephants turn into endangered species, and while even lions growl in their dwindling solitude. There is no such thing as a powerless people. There are only those who have not seen and have not used their power and will. It would seem a miraculous feat but it is possible for the undervalued ones to help create a beautiful new era in human history. New vision should come from those who suffer most and who live life the most."

I think that part of our task as those among the leadership is to defend the fishes, the butterflies and iguanas among us who constitute the vast majority of the world, those "who suffer most and live life the most", those whose poverty has deepened as a result of globalisation and international turmoil, those who merely eke out an existence as a result of unilateral acts.

Our task has been to try to stem the tide of unilateralism and to defend internationalism and multilateralism, to recognise - as has been pointed out in Monterrey at the International Financing for Development Conference, in Johannesburg at the World Summit for Sustainable Development and in Doha (at the WTO negotiations) that globalisation and liberalisation cannot be left to market forces and private financial flows if they are to be truly progressive in the long term.

At a political level, it is clear from our vantage point on the Southern tip of the African continent that the current configuration of the global system, structures and institutions have provided developed countries with the ways and means to pursue their own interests to the detriment of the interests of developing countries. Our struggle thus ought to be for the restructuring of the world system and for the advancement of the development agenda as well as ensuring that the United Nations and its structures become truly democratic fora. We need structures that can help to inculcate a culture of peace and stability in the world and a democratic world culture. As a leadership, we also need to understand that leadership comes not from government alone, but from civil society.

There is a growing role that the ordinary people can play in international public opinion, and their impact on the formulation of policy must therefore be taken into serious consideration as we attempt to strengthen the position of the south.

As George Monbiot explains in his important book, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order,

"Globalization has increased the complexity of political issues and, by revolving their resolution to levels at which there is no democratic control, exacerbated people's sense of helplessness. The global justice movement has become, for many of those alienated from national politics, an enfranchisement movement.

By lifting their sights from the national sphere to the global or international sphere, they have discovered that the potential for political engagement has not disappeared, but merely shifted to another realm…. By demonstrating that we have the means of both democratising and transforming global politics. We can turn this movement - which is already the biggest global federation ever convened - into a force so numerous and so effective that it becomes irresistible."

As the Foreign Affairs Ministry, we have been working on our responses to a number of international reports that can reform the UN and change the way the world works and we have done this in the context of the African Union.

Among these reports have been:

  • The Cardoso Report - focusing on the improvement of relations and more meaningful interaction between the UN and Civil Society.
  • The High-Level Panel's Report on Threats, Challenges and Change, which identifies the threats and challenges of the new Millennium and proposes comprehensive United Nations reforms to effectively meet these challenges.
  • The Millennium Project Report "Investing in Development" (the Jeffrey Sachs Report) that assessing progress on the promises of the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals.
  • The UN Secretary-General then issued his own Report, "In Larger Freedom, Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All" on 21 March 2005. This consisted of a package of proposed reforms "for decision by Heads of State and Government" at the UN Summit in September.

Part of our work has been to prepare for this forthcoming summit in New York from 14-16 September 2005 to review progress on the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and to undertake the broadest reforms of the organisation in its sixty-year history.

We have also bee pre-occupied with the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the African Union's socio-economic development project.

If this is what we are working towards then the question is what kind of qualities and skills one needs in order to bring about this better, more people-centred world in which there is peace and harmony and global prosperity.

  • I think that one has to be tough but the kind of toughness that comes from understanding that power is better and stronger when it is shared, that an all-inclusive approach to democracy is what we need, that every voice counts and every contribution needs to be accounted for, assessed, incorporated or bookmarked for future use or further contemplation. This is not easy when what we have been accustomed to was a top-down approach to leadership, governance and policies of deliberate and systematic exclusion. In a way, we all have to learn to live and work again without fear or favour, embracing democratic traditions that have thrived despite decades of destruction of progressive forces under apartheid rule.
  • One's contribution has to be rules based. The truth is that we all lead our lives according to certain rules - you have to be a leader as well if you are a mother or father or caregiver or you run an office or run for President. In other words, one has to know the rules and play by the rules even if you seek to change them for the betterment of the world.
  • Thirdly, in this world of rapid globalisation, one has to be knowledgeable and worldly enough to think on one's feet. This means that in a foreign policy environment, one needs to be able to generate policies, to implement them and also have the guts to go back to the drawing board and re-invent if you do not get very far. After all, this is the world of international diplomacy. As long as your principles are in tact and you do not violate them. But those with a keen sense of strategic vision, scenario planning, and a genuine concern about people's lives and future, a passion for your country, will be able to succeed in this environment.
  • Fourth, I would argue that women have to be tougher than men because the reality is that there will be attempts to sideline you for doing things differently, but you have to forge ahead and the toughness you ought to display in your daily dealings with people ought to be the kind that enhances democracy and does not destroy it. And in doing it differently, you will begin to invent new traditions that others can emulate and enhance in the future.
  • Finally, South Africa is a country - which the world is watching. It could be a wariness that we have a more progressive agenda than most and that we are not beholden to others. Or it could be that we are genuinely admired for our ability to transcend our painful past and are seen as capable of building a world, which President Mbeki has described as "wholly beautiful and new."

For those of you who may wish to enter this world in the future, your task would be to bring about a better and more beautiful world where the elephant and iguana, the fishes and the lions can co-exist, interact and thrive.

This is your task irrespective of whether you are assisting in work around peace-keeping in Burundi or post conflict reconstruction in the Congo or working on strengthening south-south relations with India and Brazil or trying to bring Palestinians and Israelis alike to accept that the Road Map, or engaging the African Diaspora on matters of Africa's development, or furthering trade relations with extended EU countries.

And the world does matter. It must matter that we give our contribution to those who have given us so much, that we make our contribution to guarantee the world's future and those of future generations. For as different as we are, there is only one globe and one world. And the kind of strengths we bring as leaders in government, as civil society, can truly help to shape the world.

The next few months will see the world frantically at work, as reform is high on the agenda. In the coming years, we shall be able to see the fruits of this labour.

As young women and men, you ought to be part of these processes that in reality determine the course of your lives.

I thank you.


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