Keynote Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the Graduation of Diplomatic Trainees, Presidential Guesthouse, Pretoria, 30 August 2007

Programme Director, Mr Robert Botha
Director-General of Foreign Affairs, Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba
Acting Head of the FSI, Ms Mathu Nompozolo
FSI Chief Director, Ms Maud Dlomo
Senior Managers & Colleagues
Distinguished Graduands & partners
Current Cadets
Ladies and Gentlemen:


It gives me great pleasure to be here today to address the graduands of the Diplomatic Training Programme as well as our cadets. Today is a joyous occasion. I understand you all worked very hard. Indeed this is a day of celebration.

You have completed six intensive months of training and are preparing to enter a new world in which you are now fully prepared to represent our country, our government, our people and indeed the people of the African continent as a whole.

In addition, the needs of the present demand of all of us that we should view education as a life-long commitment. What you have learnt in the past six months must be a foundation of what you will learn throughout your life in order to enhance your work. Diplomacy is not simply an occupation, but a pre-occupation – a calling, a vocation.

As Paulo Freire tells us:

“People educate each other through the mediation of the world…. men and women discover they are creators of culture, and that all their work can be creative. ‘I work, and working I transform the world.’”

Futhermore, in working, in transforming the world, you are extending the practice of freedom.

The kind of learning that you have experienced during your training has indeed been education for furthering our liberation, education for deepening our humanity. It enables you to understand the complexity of your role in representing a country which believes in a more people centred, humane and inclusive world.

Our history

It is this holistic view of who we are that drives our national and international agenda. This understanding dictates that the interest of our nation is best served by contributing to the wellbeing of others – there can be no free and prosperous South Africa in a poor African continent. Our economic wellbeing, our political development and the entrenchment of democracy, our trade and investment relations, can only fully flourish if we work towards the renewal of our continent and a better world.

We have been driven by the desire that there should be peaceful resolution of the problems of the world. Our new responsibilities have enabled us to contribute to this agenda of world peace and development and to push back the frontiers of poverty.

In so doing, we acknowledge that our struggle has been a long struggle for liberation and that our success has also been due to the international support that we got during our liberation struggle. We are where we are today partly because of internationalism and solidarity from those who believed that our struggle was a just struggle and that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

We have also entered a new period in our history because of the sacrifices of countless generations who have come before us. As the poet, Sipho Binda, tells us:

Today’s rhythm and melody
Is thanks to history
Never to be forgotten

Please, never forget:
For Hector Peterson and others
Never saw their youth
History called and they acted
In the true spirit of our forebears”

For this history has compelled us and our present dictates us to be a nation who supports others in our region, continent and in the wider world for the sake of the progress of all people everywhere. Thus we can speak with great confidence that our role is in pursuit of a better country in a better Africa and in a better world.

It is precisely this understanding of liberation and our role as South Africans in the world that our first president, Nelson Mandela spoke about in his inaugural address in 1994:

“Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.”

“We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.”

President Mbeki would later add to this complex self-understanding by declaring that we are

“an African nation in the complex process simultaneously of formation and renewal…. We trust that what we do will not only better our own condition as a people, but will also make a contribution, however small, to the success of Africa’s Renaissance, towards the identification of the century ahead as the African century.”

Working for government and in the Department of Foreign Affairs

Thus, to serve in the Department is to serve the country’s vision. It is not enough to just have memorised these ideals. You have to have internalised them and commit yourself to see their fulfilment, albeit only in part during your life time. Never the less what a wonderful opportunity to belong and work towards something much bigger than one’s own self.

Civil servants and civil society are the backbone of our government and our country. As we strive towards a more humane, people-centred development, we need civil servants who are humane, who are people-centred, who have humility.

Diplomats in the Department of Foreign Affairs are civil servants of a special kind. They need to know not only the work of their Department, but the work of all other government Departments as well. They need to understand, articulate and defend their Department, but those of our government and our people.

During the years that you have spent within public service, you have realised that public service delivery continues to be a challenge that requires the commitment of all civil servants to work towards meeting commitments we have made to our people.

More importantly, it also requires that you continue satisfying the members of the public in ensuring their access to quality services and the quest for a better life for all.

For this to happen at an international level, you need you to serve and do so with a high degree of commitment and a sense of duty. As civil servants of a different kind, you need to be exemplary and embrace the ideals of the South African public service captured in the phrase: "We belong, We care, We serve".

There is no doubt that the new set of our belief clearly captures and renews the Batho Pele culture. The Batho Pele principles that have been developed in alignment with the Constitutional ideals among others, include:

  • Promoting and maintaining high standards of professional ethics;
  • Providing service impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias;
  • Utilising resources efficiently and effectively;

Nothing should justify our failure to respond to these expectations for they are legitimate, noble and sacrosanct.

Multifaceted R ole of a Diplomat

Yet in the world today so much more is also expected of diplomacy in general and of our diplomats in particular.

Yet despite the complexity in present-day diplomacy, the most fundamental requirement of successful diplomacy is honesty, total commitment, loyalty and hard work. You also need to have an understanding of the “interconnectedness, interrelatedness and interdependence” of events and issues.

In the modern world, you have a much wider responsibility. In many ways, you will be representing the interests of your nation as well as the policies of the government. But, in every respect, you will be serving the national interests of our country in the broadest possible terms.

Role of the SA diplomat

One of the highest honours given to a citizen is the privilege of serving their country as a diplomat. It refers not only to one’s own purpose and destiny but impacts on that of the nation. With this comes great responsibility. Out of 47 million people, you have been chosen to represent your country abroad

As a representative of our government, our people, our country as a whole, you need to show patriotism and loyalty and a strong sense of identity not only as a South African but as an African. You need to demonstrate dedication to the Department and loyalty to the cause of South Africa. You must demonstrate ubuntu in your mission. To serve not as a lone ranger but as team player. To practice equity, to understand that we are a people committed to redressing injustice and to dealing with diverse people and that we are united in working together for the achievement of common goals.

Integrity is among the most important qualities we need to have. This is how we must relate to others - not only in what we say and do but also in the detail of our daily work. The information that we give, the reports that we write, all needs to be thorough, accurate and reliable. We must be able to depend on its accuracy. Remembering that your word is of great worth, what you promise, you must deliver on. Never compromise your honesty!

We need to render the kind of service we ourselves would like to receive, we need to live and practice batho pele. Our people deserve no less!

The qualities that we look for in our diplomats are, among others, a sharp, analytical, enquiring and inquisitive mind and being a very good listener. While being patient in understanding, we need to be activists in searching for solutions to problems that we refuse to live with!

We need to be skilled in the craft of negotiations, make thorough preparations for meetings, discussions and conferences. We need to constantly search out allies and useful networks, trying to build consensus and we need to be prepared to defend our principles.

Today’s diplomats are faced with entirely new and complex sets of challenges. Our own diplomats have to deal with issues such as the environment, population, health, science and technology, economic and social development, international crime, sustainable energy and so on. They have to function in a multimedia, multilingual and technologically advanced environment.

These are issues of great importance to the nations of the world. They did not exist in the same way as when classical diplomats applied their trade. Extraordinary capabilities are now required to represent our country, ensuring that we obtain for ourselves, Africa and the developing world the benefits that are due to us.

Countries all understand economic diplomacy in their own way as they all engage to find their own particular comparative advantage in a globalised world.

Consular diplomacy is very important since the public often meets the Department through consular matters. One practical example is the tragedy of the tsunami in the sub continent of South East Asia which was an important learning experience. The manner in which the Department responded to the tragedy and to families affected is I believe exemplary.

Furthermore as transferred officials you will take turns to be the officers on duty over weekends and after hours. In this role you will represent not only our own Department but other Departments such as Home Affairs and so on.

Public Diplomacy is also increasingly important. International perceptions play a critical role in all areas of international relations, from investment and tourism to culture and sport. As such our missions and our diplomats play a major role in branding South Africa. The image that we project, the messages that we give and the information that we share is of great public interest in the countries where you will be posted.

Many of the graduands will be posted to one of our missions abroad during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The event will offer them many exciting opportunities to promote their country and Africa.

The African Agenda also requires that our diplomats be skilled in development studies.

Yet nothing can replace hard work! It is the essential building block for success.

A few ago in London, we were very proud of the honour bestowed upon former President Nelson Mandela and on the South African people. As many of you will know, a statue was unveiled in Parliament Square in honour of former President Nelson Mandela. This acknowledgement of Madiba recognises him as one of the greatest leaders of the age and is also an honour for all those who created the modern South Africa – because they did this, not only for themselves, but for all humanity.

Clearly this also shows that South Africa occupies a pride of place in the world and this puts a great responsibility on present and future generations never to betray what our heroes and heroines have stood for but to continue with their good work. As civil servants, you have an even greater responsibility to uphold our national values and not to betray what previous generations have built.

In this regard the dialogue and contact that diplomats have with civil society, where they are based, is an important priority. Our history informs us that when you mobilise at national level coupled with international solidarity, great changes can take place.

The former anti-apartheid movements around the world still offer important networks of seasoned internationalists who are batting for our interests and together with whom we are struggling to bring an end to racism in the wider world.

This places a huge responsibility on all of us to uphold the values for which we stand and which have shaped the modern world. We need to carry out your work with the full knowledge that the struggle for justice, equality and freedom in South Africa has also been the struggle for justice, equality and freedom in the world.

Yet, your task should also be to continue to honour all those heroes and heroines who have paved the way for our freedom and to act in a manner that is true to the ideals they stand for and the sacrifices that they have made.

 Our priorities

Among our current priorities is of course the development of the African continent and we also continue to be engaged in regional dialogues on co-operation with the African Diaspora with a view to receiving contributions towards a common programme of action. We look forward to the African Diaspora Summit which we are honoured to host early next year.

 In this context, the issue of working towards a continental government in Africa remains a challenge. This is a great dream that was cherished from the earliest days of Pan-Africanism. At the recent AU meeting in Accra, South Africa has also argued that in order for a continental government to succeed, the regional economic communities must be strengthened to serve as the locomotives for development.

Certainly the matter of a continental government and the idea of a union of African states, will be on our agenda for a long time to come; and our diplomats would have to keep abreast with these developments and contribute to the discussions of what needs to be done.

We will continue to support the African Agenda, including the promotion of more effective functioning of the Regional Economic Communities, the organs of the African Union (AU) and NEPAD as a socio-economic initiative and vision and strategic framework for Africa’s renewal. We are continuing our work in the strengthening of PAWO (the Pan African Women’s Organisation) because we recognise that while there have been many strides taken towards gender equality especially in the area of political representation, a lot of work still needs to be done.

Together with other countries we continue to advance the collective agenda of the South through pushing for UN reform and the conclusion of the Doha Round of trade talks in a manner that it ensures that it meets the needs of the developing world.

We have also argued that if the world is to meet the deadlines envisaged in the Millennium Development Goals, this requires multilateral action especially to support the African continent.

After all, the achievement of these goals of halving poverty in the world, of improving access to education and health among others, can become the basis of a world in which there permanent peace, collective security and social and economic development.

Our role in the international arena has been further enhanced with our occupying a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. At the same time we continue to strongly support and actively participate in the former and current UN Secretary-General’s initiative to comprehensively reform the United Nations.

We have worked towards greater unity between Africa and Asia through our ongoing work in the New Africa Asia Strategic Partnership with a particular focus on China. This is an important relationship both to strengthen political ties but also to pave the way for closer economic co-operation and to increase trade and investment links. We continue to strengthen our relations with the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) countries.

We have also sought greater and more extensive relations with South America. The IBSA trilateral forum has been another very important platform in which we strengthen the relations between three countries of three different continents and expand co-operation in various sectors, through the IBSA fund and also on multilateral matters.

The EU continues to be one of our important trading partners, as is also the case with Japan and the United States.

Concluding remarks: The Future

I hope that you realise that you have indeed been privileged. This privilege however comes with the responsibility that requires us as representatives of our country abroad to conduct ourselves in a manner that is consistent with the offices that we hold and occupy.

It demands that we honour the trust and confidence that our people through our government have placed on us. We should look, behave and work like R.S.A diplomats!

Frantz Fanon in Chapter 4 of The Wretched of the Earth (quoting from Sekou Toure) says that:

“In order to achieve real action, you must yourself be a living part of Africa and her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for the freeing, the progress and the happiness of Africa.”

He goes on to say that:

“Each generation, must out of relative obscurity, discover their mission, fulfil it, or betray it.”

I do hope that you have discovered your mission and that you are determined to fulfil it.

I hope that, as you pursue the goal of representing our country abroad, you will do so with honour, distinction and humility.

I wish all the graduands and cadets well now and in the future as you climb our department’s ladder.

I thank you.

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