Address by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Sue van der Merwe on the Occasion of the Training Programme for Heads of Mission of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 12 September 2005

Your Excellency, Ambassador M'poko
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

C'est un grand plaisir pour moi d'etre ici aujourd hui avec vous. Moi aussi en c'est moment ci. Je suis en entrianment a c'est institute!

On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I would like to welcome you to South Africa. It is indeed a great honour for us to host the current training for the Ambassadors and Ambassadors designate. This course, we believe will be of mutual benefit to our two countries as it presents us with an opportunity to carry the African Renaissance forward. It is also an affirmation of the warm relationship that exist between our two governments and peoples.

During 1995 my colleague Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad officially opened the Department of Foreign Affairs first dedicated diplomatic training centre, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). The establishment of the FSI so soon after South Africa's first democratic elections, deliberately coincided with a new era in our approach to diplomatic practice. From our painful past in which the country's Diplomatic style was limited to covert, politically illegitimate, socially exclusive and mostly bilateral relationships, the liberated South Africa moved into the diplomatic world of the international community. Our new approach to diplomacy would henceforth be inclusive, legitimate, increasingly multilateral and would be informed by clearly defined principles and national values.

Our new international acceptance, however, carried intimidating responsibilities and practical implications that needed to be reflected in the capabilities of our diplomats. Not least of these implications was the exponential growth in our diplomatic representation abroad: within the first three years of our democratic transition, our bilateral missions abroad tripled in number and we joined dozens of multilateral organisations. By the same token, the presence of foreign diplomats in Pretoria increased dramatically. The need for transformed and enhanced training of our diplomats became clear, and the establishment of the FSI represented our Foreign Ministry's commitment to address this imperative.

The FSI subsequently set about ensuring that the substance of its training, methodology and structure would comply with world-wide norms and standards. For this purpose international benchmarking research was conducted, such as best practice examples from across the globe were examined to extract the essential elements that would ultimately be applied within the context of a unique South African set of circumstances, and which would reflect and contribute to a unique African diplomatic corps. The result of the research can be summarised in four very important general conclusions about contemporary diplomatic training practice:

  1. Firstly, that diplomatic training can no longer be considered an optional extra - the world-wide norm is to see it as an indispensable professional education, in order to equip national representatives with competitive skills in an increasingly globalised international environment where diplomacy has become a virtual growth industry.
  2. Secondly, that training is required regardless of the seniority, expertise , experience and academic qualifications of foreign ministry recruits, as a professional equaliser and in recognition of the unique skills and knowledge required by the diplomatic profession;
  3. Thirdly, that training needs to be a continuous process, that is diplomats who are trained will inevitably need retraining at some or other point in order to keep abreast of changes in the global arena;
  4. Fourthly, that diplomatic training can no longer be restricted to officials who embark on a diplomatic career - the increasing involvement of other ste agencies in the international arena dictates that these stakeholders in diplomacy need to be trained as well, as part of a co-ordinated national pursuit of Foreign Policy objectives. In additions, the spouses of all government officials who will be posted to missions abroad, need orientation too, as they will be contributing in countless ways to the success of our diplomatic endeavours.

The process of aligning the FSI mandate with international standards has been a significant challenge and our process of transformation has by no means been completed, mirroring as it does the ongoing domestic challenges that we face. In addition, the FSI in support of South Africa's foreign policy objectives is committed to furthering the goals of NEPAD. Hence we are determined - within our own capacity - to work with fellow African states in building diplomatic capacity - the capacity of a truly African diplomatic corps. In this regard we have embarked on several co-operation programmes. In July this year for example, we hosted a group of South Sudanese diplomats who underwent diplomatic training. The programme was arranged in co-operation with the University of South Africa and will form part of an ongoing capacity-building project to assist Sudan during the six years envisaged for its political transition. We are also in the process of assisting various other African states with customised training interventions.

The programme that has been designed for you is similar in scope and substance to that of our own Heads of Mission course. What has been omitted amounts to the internal matters such as conditions of service which differ from country to country and which have, as I understand, been provided as a foundation course by your DRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Since our own freedom and the establishment of relations between our two countries, co-operation between South Africa and the DRC has gone from strength to strength. We are grateful of having been afforded the opportunity to contribute to resolving the problems faced by your country in order to create a better Africa and a better world.

In addition to this other work, this training session will provide us not only with the platform to share our own experiences and expertise but also to learn from you and how we also can do things differently and better. The different experiences that we bring in our engagements will enable us to make our contribution to the vision of the rebirth of our continent to take its place as an equal partner on the global stage, consistent with provisions of the AU and NEPAD.

But we must always be mindful that the road ahead is not going to be an easy one. We are faced with the twin challenges of stabilising our countries and developing our economies, while at the same time trying to create a world that is fair and just. We therefore have a lot more to gain by working in partnership, not only amongst ourselves, but also with other countries because we cannot ignore the increasing pace of globalisation. We will only do so at our peril.

Indeed, we have made many gains in the last century but need to work hard and consolidate these in order to make this, a truly African century. We have largely eliminated the scourge of colonialism and oppression of the continent through the relentless struggles of our peoples in achieving their independence during the latter part of the 20th century.

Since then, we as Africans have decided to take our fate into our own hands and entered the second wave of independence. We have taken it upon ourselves to eliminate the ongoing civil strife in many of our countries as well as to create the conditions for good governance and democratisation.

We remain cognisant that the democratisation of our entire continent will not happen overnight, but we have made the start. It is a difficult, yet not insurmountable process provided the will exists. By now, it should be clear to all of us that resolving our problems and creating the kind of world we want cannot be achieved through war. We need to find peaceful means to solve our problems. Given the nature of the post-colonial African State and the ever-globalising world in which we live, conflicts are no longer limited to one country but tend to spill over to others, thus expanding the scope of destabilisation in our continent. Diplomatic solutions are not quick and easy, but much more enduring because the are strongly underpinned by political commitment. Born out of struggle and revolution, our form of diplomacy is a transformational one, seeking to bring about a better live for all our peoples.

When the people of the Congo achieved independence in 1960, the future appeared bright indeed. As in many of our fellow African countries, the first Democratic Republic of Congo was, however, short-lived. The DRC has been plagued by many conflicts that have resulted in loss of lives, mainly civilian, and left scores of others internally and externally displaced. For us this is no cause for jubilation, and as a country, whose destiny is intertwined with that of the continent, we recognise the important contribution that the DRC could and must play in the rebirth of our continent. It is the diplomats of your country that will be in the forefront of this effort.

We do not intend nor do we profess the ability to find solutions for the DRC. The ultimate power to turn things around in the DRC lies with the Congolese people themselves. I am reminded here of a speech made by Amilcar Cabral in 1966 entitled "The Weapon of Theory" in which he contends that:

We … know that on the political level our own reality - however fine and attractive the reality of others may be - can only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices.

Therefore, " … however great the similarity between our various cases…, national liberation and social revolution are not exportable commodities; they are … the outcome of local and national elaboration …"

It is within this context that we understand our co-operation with the DRC. Increased collaboration between our two countries is a demonstration of our commitment to the Consolidation of the African Agenda, which is a key element of our foreign policy. In turn, we hope that anchoring our foreign policy on an African Agenda will bring us closer to the African Renaissance and make this a truly an African century.

The potential for a brighter future is immense. The growing interconnectivity amongst our people is nurturing the realisation that we share a common vision and destiny. It is our wish that our partnership, and indeed friendship, be strengthened as we work together for the reconstruction and development of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Working within the framework of the AU, we "may eventually develop the capacity to engage in both preventative and remedial diplomacy aimed at bringing about inclusive and participatory peace agreements."

The contemporary African Diplomat is required to have an in-depth understanding of the complex world of regional politics, globalisation and multilateralism. In addition, the African Diplomat also has to contend with the fact that having overcome foreign domination internally, struggle to transform the distribution and exercise of power is now contested at a global level. At this level, the stakes are quite high, where "the powerful do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." The Diplomat is challenged to be a change agent, to challenge those who wish to protect and perpetuate the status quo. Nowhere is this evident today as the world's leaders converge at the 60th Anniversary of the UN to deliberate on key issues of transformation on global governance matters. We will observe these developments with keen interest and continue to fight for our vision of creating a better Africa and a better world.

Your Excellencies,

Your country is, indeed, currently engaged in profound and fundamental processes of transformation. The over-arching objective is to break the vicious cycle of political instability, poverty, and underdevelopment, as well as to strengthen the country's capacity to defend and advance its interests in the global arena. I am confident that together we can make valuable contribution to this vision and I wish you well in your deliberations.

The importance we attach to your training should thus be self-evident: we are very much aware of the fact that you will be representing not just your own country, but also the hopes and aspirations of the African continent as do our own Heads of Missions.

Once again welcome to South Africa and I wish you a fruitful stay during your training programme and I eagerly await feedback at the end of the course. I trust this programme will continue to foster the relationship that already exists between the two countries.

Thank you.

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