Transcript following IRPS Cluster Media Briefing, 14 February 2007

Welcome Remarks and Introduction by Minister of Defence

Let me begin by saying that there is the very important Franco-Africa Summit currently underway in Cannes, France. President Mbeki was scheduled to attend - but when we looked at the schedule - the President is scheduled to respond to the State of the Nation Address on Thursday 15 February 2007 and other party-political commitments, we realised that if the President had to attend to these commitments, he would arrive in France only as the Summit was ending. President Mbeki therefore mandated Minister of Foreign Affairs to lead the South African delegation to this Summit.

The programme of international relations is ongoing although adjustments can be made from time to time regarding the top of the agenda.

2007 will see South Africa prioritise the consolidation of the Africa agenda: we will address the strengthening of all African Union regional structures, like SADC. But most important, the peace support operations and laying the foundations of the necessary stability for the implementation of development programmes, eg. the NEPAD programme.

We have of course been making commendable progress in stabilising the continent and our most recent success has been the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is very high on our agenda since we now need to proceed with the consolidation of democracy in the DRC. Because of the nature of the problems experienced by that country for more than 40 years, the size of the country and the impact on nine other surrounding countries, it is vital that the processes must be sustained post-elections to continue to be seized with the situation in the DRC. We will have to exert determined efforts to persuade national and regional formations that were our partners in taking the DRC to a successful election. There is obviously anxiety on the part of some to withdraw from the DRC as soon as is possible. But there is a danger that too early a withdrawal from the situation could allow for a reversal of the gains that have already been made. We are therefore seeking to persuade our partners to sustain support so that the institutions of democracy take firm hold, that the rehabilitation of the economy and the redirection of the energy of the populace towards constructive economic and other activities take firm hold and that the withdrawal is therefore managed in keeping with the capacity of the DRC to sustain itself.

Key among these issues will be the strengthening of such institutions as the defence of the country, the civilian policing institutions, the DRCs public service and administration. Many will realise that for some time there was not a national public service throughout the country. Unless one can establish that kind of government it is always going to be dangerous to withdraw from the DRC.

South Africa has a number of departments that are doing work and assisting in these processes. It has taken some amount of national resources to support that process but we recognise the DRC as the single most important country in which stability must be assured for the sake of the entire SADC region.

Therefore both national resources and the resources of the region and also partners elsewhere must be mobilised over a long period. As we told the National Assembly yesterday, the countries of SADC must remain engaged with the DRC. Failure in the DRC will mean an absence of stability in many other countries.

There is also the question of the Sudan/Darfur which is impacting on a number of countries - Chad, Central African Republic, the northern parts of the DRC, Uganda and others. Again, this is an issue that is high on our agenda - to ensure that the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN resolutions on a hybrid force for Darfur are fully implemented.

This immediately flows into the area of Somalia. With regard to Somalia, I must add that South Africa is in full and unwavering support for all the efforts that are underway to rehabilitate Somalia, to support the re-establishment of institutions of governance, and so on. So we will be devoting whatever available resources we have to supporting this process. I must also hasten to say: because of South Africa's commitments to a number of theatres of conflict elsewhere in Africa, it is improbable that South Africa will itself, commit troops for the AU force in Somalia. We will provide other forms of support, including among others, making available space in our training institutions to train people. But it is not in the interests of Africa, nor South Africa, that we over commit ourselves seeing that South Africa is already rather over committed - in Darfur, Burundi, the DRC, the Comoros. If we over commit we may fail to sustain our successes elsewhere.

Burundi has already taught us this lesson: early withdrawal from theatres of conflict may result in a recession into that very conflict from which we sought to seek a solution, and therefore render useless very important investments already made in Africa.

One of the areas of prime concern for us is Côte d'Ivoire. We place Côte d'Ivoire very high on our agenda of conflict resolution. Côte d'Ivoire is a big economy in West Africa and impacts on a number of economies in the region. It is quite clear, in our view, that if there was a resolution to the conflict an excellent opportunity would present itself for the stabilisation of the greater part of West Africa and therefore, it could constitute a springboard for the launching of development projects in that region.

We were very encouraged to see that the leadership of Côte d'Ivoire has agreed to participate in the Franco-Africa Summit. We hope that the outcomes of this will be a better atmosphere of co-operation that will enable us all (ECOWAS), the AU, and France to assist in the final drive towards the reunification of Côte d'Ivoire and the preparations for elections. This is a matter that is at the top of our agenda.

The other issues that relate to our work in Africa will be to strengthen some of the institutions, to look at the issue of bilateral relations subject to where needs may arise.

Another top priority for us is to strengthen South-South relations. In this regard, the Africa-Asia co-operation is a very significant aspect and in that context the recent China-Africa Summit features significantly. In this regard, we consider that it is important that we play close attention to relations of co-operation between ourselves, Africa and China. Presidents Mbeki and Hu Jintao during President Hu's State Visit to South Africa last week indicated that this co-operation must be mutually beneficial to both Africa and China. We have an advantage in that relations between China and Africa have not had the traumatic impact of colonialism on Africa and other parts of the world. But we must manage the situation in such a way that there is indeed mutual and development benefit for both sides.

Still linked to this question of South-South relations, is the IBSA process involving India, Brazil and ourselves. We will strengthen the IBSA process. We have identified areas and continue to identify areas of co-operation in various fields - trade, military and so on.

However, the question of the sustainment of relations between the South and the North is a matter that cannot be ignored. In that context, we will remain seized with a very careful servicing of relations between the South and the countries of the North. I have just mentioned the Franco-Africa Summit, relations between South Africa and the European Union, the US and North America, the relations with the G-8 - co-operation projects and the implementation of NEPAD commitments that have been undertaken.

An issue that also looms very high on our agenda is the reform of the United Nations because it is through the UN that various other areas that require or attention, or through which we can make a better contribution, ie. conflict, tensions, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, Palestine, Iraq, etc, it is really through the UN that we have the best chance to make a contribution. If the reform process is completed we will be able to make a better contribution rather that being a unilateral player on the international stage. We see ourselves being able to make a greater contribution if we are part of the UN structures.

In this regard, we welcome heartily the formation of the coalition government in Palestine and consider that is would be very wise if the sanctions of the EU, the US were lifted to encourage the strengthening of this coalition. We think this would create a better atmosphere for the solution of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We welcome the breakthrough regarding North Korea's nuclear programme. This now gives the world an opportunity to do away with one of the tensions that was very ominous. This development is marked as important progress for the whole world.

Maybe I should at this point, focus attention regarding South Africa's recent accession of the non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council 2007-2008. Questions and expectations have been raised that South Africa would want to act miraculously. We do think that South Africa must be seen as one of the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council and we will use that position, side-by-side with other countries to advance issues in the interests of the strengthening of global governance.

We have been very sharply criticised or questioned over our position on the vote on Myanmar. It has been suggested that we are insensitive to human rights violations. I'd like to put this into perspective.

Without equivocation, South Africa condemns totally and without reserve the abuse of human rights, the arrests of pro-democracy leaders. Therefore we do not hesitate to condemn this in Myanmar as well.

This raises the question - why did South Africa vote as it did? The question relates first and foremost to global governance. There are various structures of the UN that have responsibilities to deal with particular issues. Issues of human rights, correctly speaking, are not issues for the Security Council. There have to come before the Human Rights Council.

We have observed over some time now that there is an attempt to move issues from some of the institutions of the United Nations towards the Security Council, and in this way to cut out bigger numbers of the nations who are part of the UN from participating and being part of the discussions towards decisions in how these matters should be dealt with. To take a matter of human rights to the Security Council is to place it in an area where it becomes inaccessible to countries, who correctly speaking ought to have a very big say in it.

Let matters of international peace and security, go to the Security Council. The majority of countries of the world feel needs to be reformed.

South Africa was, in the first instance unhappy that this matter was being placed in the incorrect forum. But as to the condemnation of the actions of the government of Myanmar, we are not doubtful.

Another issue at the United Nations is the condemnation of the holocaust. The position of South Africa, not starting today, even as a liberation movement, the ANC has never hesitated to condemn the holocaust and what happened in Hitler's Germany. The historical records speak for themselves in this regard. There has been some suggestion that South Africa refused to co-sponsor the resolution. No such instruction was issued from the government of South Africa to the Mission in New York to hesitate or resist on this matter. There may have been practical matters on the ground and we are looking into this matter. Even the suggestion that our mission was ordered to absent itself during the voting is erroneous and has no basis.

On the whole, the approach of the government in the period immediately before us is predicated on these views and positions.

I would like to end by sincerely welcoming the indication, seeing that it mirrors our concern as well, regarding the matter of global commitment towards the issue of the depletion of the ozone layer, we welcome the announcement by the United Kingdom that during their Presidency they will make this issue of global warming a key issue and one that they will seek to drive for international co-operation. This is a very serious issue since climatic conditions indicate that unless we proceed, as nations of the world, with caution, there could be serious and dangerous patterns around the world.

Questions and answers

Question Minister, despite approaches from Foreign Governments, especially the United Kingdom, the Anti-Mercenary Bill is still being passed through parliament, although it has yet to be signed into law. Are you still negotiating this matter?

Answer There is no negotiation with regard to the Bill. We have agreed that when it comes to implementation, we are very happy to engage with, in particular, the Commonwealth Community, because by virtue of our membership of the Commonwealth South Africans are permitted to join Her Majesty's armed forces. But there are some practicalities into which we will have to look so that we can agree on the implementation, to ensure we do not create unnecessary administrative problems, eg. It is being suggested that some of the South Africans who are already in the service of Her Majesty's forces will have to return to South Africa to obtain permission and then return to their postings. This is unnecessary. We will receive, in the near future a technical team to work out the practicalities. For the rest, there is no problem whatsoever.

Question Minister, what kind of assistance are you going to provide to Somalia, logistical/technical support or only diplomatic assistance? Related to that, is there a sense that the Somali situation has influenced your thinking on the matter?

Answer First of all, with regard to Somalia, the recommendation to the South African government from Defence has been that we cannot overstretch the armed forces.

If you take the DRC, if more of the countries currently supporting this process were to withdraw and if the UN were to take a position that their mission has been completed, the view of the AU and South Africa is that it is far too early to withdraw from the DRC. It is therefore better that we concentrate our strength on a project that we are currently involved in and ensure it is a success rather than to risk spreading ourselves too thinly and ultimately not being successful anywhere.

This is the recommendation that we have made. Nevertheless, we have recommended that we should begin a process of supporting the training in some numbers of Somalis themselves who can then, as citizens of their country, deal with the situation on the ground.

We are encouraged that an assessment we made of the situation in that country shows that the traditional leaders are at one on the matter of the rehabilitation of the institutions of government. There is some level of dissatisfaction with regard to the activities of some of the Islamic Courts which seem to be acting even in conflict with what the traditional leadership wants.

The atmosphere does allow for us to be able to provide assistance of the nature we are proposing.

In any event, the Ugandans right from the beginning, pledged military support. There are more familiar with the situation there. Somalia has been in conflict for a considerable amount of time. When you consider all logistics and practicalities it is important that countries who get involved are not caught up in the tensions that are already there. All participants in this process must understand fully the dynamics of the situation there.

Question Minister, does it worry you that the United States has created a High Command Structure for Africa that may allow for military intervention in Somalia?

Answer If I may venture a personal opinion, given the history of the United States in Somalia, it would seem to me that it would be better to introduce in that situation countries who do not come with historical baggage. I do not think it is helpful when you bring into that situation countries whose motives may be questioned. If you really want resolutions it is better to have fresh players who are untainted by the past.

Question Minister, it is apparently quite imminent that the US are deploying troops to Somalia. Could this be another Black Hawk?

Answer I have already said that our sense is that given the history of the situation in Somalia, it would really be better if the US were not one of the players there. It is worse when you receive reports that suggest that some of the people who have recently lost their lives were ordinary civilians or tribesmen who were herding their cattle. Mistakes of that nature can only exacerbate or bring up the wounds of the past. We are very very doubtful that this kind of role can be helpful. It is not sensitive to the emotions that persist over time.

Question Minister, regarding Myanmar, the point of South Africa's vote did not come through very clearly. Did South Africa look for friends in the Security Council to help us communicate our message as a bloc, rather than standing on our own?

Answer Naturally, when an issue comes up in the Security Council and the General Assembly generally, there is always caucusing and countries try to persuade each other one way or the other.

Regarding matters such as this one, we could not have gone into the voting without making our voice heard without at least making our voices heard amongst members of the current Security Council.

Off course, there are many elements in the UN - among the permanent members for instance, there are certain blocs that exist and we have no pretensions of being able to intervene simply because we are South African. This is so because their interests go way beyond Myanmar and we were therefore not successful.

In the end we had to follow our conscience and we voted accordingly. We remain firmly convinced that we were right.

Question Minister, regarding the DRC - is South Africa going to take a leaf out of America's book and send in our private companies?

Answer The DRC is now a democratic government. They had their first sitting of Parliament yesterday. The new Cabinet has been nominated.

In the same way in which the South African government has contributed towards the resolution of the tensions, we do expect that South African business people must support the efforts of government to rehabilitate the economy in that country alongside business people of other countries to go into the DRC, once they are satisfied with elements of safety and security, to open up businesses, to give the people of that country jobs, the possibility of rebuilding their lives in their motherland, to make it possible for those who have migrated to return to their country and rebuilding their homes, their communities.

We think that South African business people must not be shy and hesitate to support the people of the DRC. As they make profits there, they will also contribute to the upliftment of the society through development projects - schools, roads, healthcare.

There are huge opportunities that require injections of capital not just in aid but from the private sector through business.

Question Minister, regarding Myanmar, should the situation arise again where we find ourselves faced with a contentious situation, will South Africa consider abstaining?

Answer No, we will not consider abstaining. Our position was very well considered. I say again, we cannot support a situation in which questions and issues that need to be considered by relevant institutions of the UN are hived off and become the special preserve of a few privileged nations within the United Nations Security Council.

This principle is important and at this time of the unipolar world it is increasingly important that more nations are heard on issues rather than fewer because this in itself weakens democracy at international levels. This is a very dangerous formula.

We have no hesitation in condemning the abuses of human rights that are happening in Myanmar. The issue on the voting on the matter in the UN has to do with the matter of affording more countries of the world to have a say. This is in the interests of the people of Myanmar, that more nations of the world are participant in what happens in that country. When people own a decision there will be greater support for it.

When the issue of Apartheid came up, it was important for it to be heard in a greater body so that the whole of the UN, having participated in the decision were most loyal in ensuring it was implemented fully.

If this is a decision of few, then it will not be possible to predict how other countries will respond to it since they may feel it was not their decision.

Question Minister, it is interesting to note that countries like Somalia, the DRC, Cote d'Ivoire rate very highly on South Africa's agenda. Yet no mention is made of Zimbabwe? Or is it simply that the South African government does not consider the economic meltdown and increasing humanitarian crisis very important?

Answer It is impossible for South Africa to consider its work in Africa without standing within the SADC community of nations since this impacts immediately on ourselves.

The issue of Zimbabwe continuously enjoys our attention.

There has been for some time now, an attempt to make Zimbabwe the problem of South Africa rather than that of the SADC region. We are uncomfortable and refuse to take an approach that we should be the ones to be seen to dictate what must happen with the problems in Zimbabwe.

We are one of the countries of SADC. We have, because of our position, taken extra responsibilities to try and get an all round acceptable resolution to the situation in Zimbabwe. But we cannot make this our own property. And within the councils of SADC, we will continue to make our positions known so that when decisions are taken, ours is a voice amongst others. And if we make special commitments ourselves, outside of the councils of SADC, we are falling into the trap of maybe throwing ourselves into confrontation with Zimbabwe. This is not a position we would like to take.

We are very keen that Zimbabwe is able to confront its problems, to confront the reality that some of the problems it is experiencing is impacting on her neighbours. They are not impacting on South Africa any more than any of the other neighbours.

We have said before, that prior to our democratisation, countries of the region more specifically, and the continent as a whole, were quite united in dealing with the problem of supporting liberation struggles and we benefited greatly from the unity of countries of the region.

Therefore, when we became a democracy, we saw it as a responsibility and continue to do so now, to reinforce the unity of the countries of SADC, rather than to be seen as a player that having benefited from that unity, we now destroy that very unity.

It was in that context therefore, that even when it came to the question, that there must be respect for the will of the people and we would therefore need to have regular elections, SADC adopted the Principles and Guidelines for Elections and we all periodically go to elections where we give the people of our countries the right to vote. It was in this spirit that we went to SADC and said, let's agree that nobody should recognise in SADC anyone who comes to power by unconstitutional means. This was agreed.

It was in this spirit that we then adopted the Mutual Defence Pact between the countries of our region so that none of the countries of our region, however powerful, feel that it is entitled to attack another. Therefore the problems of the region can be solved through negotiation and not conflict.

These kinds of agreement are intended to consolidate unity amongst the countries of the region and at the same time, unity based on a respect for human rights, etc.

Although people have been unhappy about the progress in this regard, there is greater appreciation that the SADC community is moving in an increasingly stronger and stronger implementation of democratic practice. We have elections in Lesotho this weekend. We support each other. We are going to fly ballot papers to remote areas to ensure that the people of that country are given an opportunity to express their will through the ballot box.

Therefore, even with Zimbabwe, although painfully slow, we are advancing in that direction. We do not want to stick out as a better than thou in a community in which we are one of the partners.

Question Minister, are negotiations ongoing between South Africa and Zimbabwe? What is the view of the South African government of the problem in this regard? Is the historical relationship between Zanu-PF and the ANC a stumbling bloc and hindrance rather than a support?

Answer South Africa has well represented relations with Zimbabwe. We talk to each other all the time and explore ways of addressing challenges. We are in continuous discussions, probably more than with most countries.

This must necessarily address all challenges in Zimbabwe - how best to deal with economic challenges, how best to deal the humanitarian crises, the management of the opposition, etc.

The economy of Zimbabwe impacts on our economy, we have to discuss this. There is no question that we do not discuss.

I am however, not prepared to discuss the outcomes of these discussions - we must respect the confidentiality of these discussions.

The friendship between the Zanu-PF and the ANC is indeed a factor, in the same way in which it is a factor when we discuss with Namibia or FRELIMO. This does not mean that while we were fellow freedom fighters we always agree.

Question Minister, has the South African government raised its concerns regarding Somalia with the US government? Are you concerned that potential US involvement will be playing into the hands of the Islamic Courts?

Answer I am not aware that we have had the opportunity to discuss this at a bilateral level as yet.

Question Minister, does your decision to not deploy troops to Somalia since you do not want to overstretch your resources indicate that you will not be able to accept any further requests for assistance?

Answer This will not be a situation of one size fits all. First of all, Somalia, because of the long hard road that the country has come through and the difficulties experienced, any country who commits to Somalia will have to commit for a very uncertain but certainly long commitment. At a time when we are already committed to the DRC, which for more than 46 years has been in turmoil, we must consider whether we want to make our involvement in the DRC a success before committing to another theatre of conflict that will require the same if not more than the DRC has needed.

Recently however, the Comoros have requested assistance with the forthcoming elections in terms of their security. This is a small project with a specific timeframe. We have been there before and we know we can do it again.

If there were another mission of a similar nature, we would consider it.

We are also expanding the contingents of our armed forces that should be available for peace support operations. Commensurate with the expansion of our capacity, we can undertake more commitments.

As we deal with the SADC Brigade, one of the things we are doing is to encourage within the SADC Community that the SADC Brigade must become actively involved in deployment so that requests should be directed at SADC and not individual countries. Then the Community can also share the commitments.

Question Minister, regarding Zimbabwe - when you say that this is a matter for the SADC Community as well, what is the SADC Community doing?

Answer I have just been discussing the agreements that have been made, non-recognition of people in power not installed democratically, the mutual defence pact, the guidelines and principles on elections, the African Peer Review Mechanism are all agreements of the Community and AU.

This stands as a benchmark for the governments and intended to create a common approach, an atmosphere that reinforces democracy, human rights for the countries of the region. This is what we are all doing. Even when there are elections, a SADC observer mission is deployed which then reports back.

Question Minister, at the World Economic Forum, President Mbeki was quite strong on Prime Minister Blair regarding the Saudi arms deal. Is this matter being discussed at all?

Answer I am afraid that we are unable to respond to this matter. This is in the hands of the British government. I am not sure how they will choose to handle this matter further.

Question Minister, I understand that the Secretariat of Defence has hired a British company to revamp the Defence Force. Can you tell me how much this is going to cost and why we need it?

Answer You may recall that when we democratised this country, there was no defence secretariat which was abolished in 1966 by the old regime. We worked with a British team when we restructured the Defence Force and re-established the Secretariat. I am not sure how much this is going to cost but can let you know.

The Defence Secretariat is a civilian unit.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

14 February 2007


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