Reply to the Budget Vote by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, to the National Assembly, 18 June 2009

Honourable Speaker
Honourable President Jacob Zuma
Honourable Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe
Honourable Members of the National Assembly
Honourable Members of the Portfolio Committee of International Relations and Cooperation and the Select Committee on Trade and International Relations
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has often been said that foreign policy is the art of the possible, which makes foreign relations the means by which we intend to achieve our goals. Our approach to international relations over the next five years will be driven by the need to deliver to the masses of our people, which is at the core of our national interest. Given that the gap between rich and poor is wider in our country than in any other, it is all the more imperative that our foreign policy priorities reflect our domestic agenda. While actively pursuing our national interests, we will also place a greater emphasis on human rights issues and the promotion of political solutions to violent conflicts around the world.

To achieve these objectives, the main priority of our government in implementing its international relations will be the consolidation of the African agenda. We will focus on deepening political and economic continental integration, strengthening bilateral relations with strategic countries, resolving civil conflicts peacefully, and preventing gross violations of human rights. Beyond the African continent, our foreign relations will focus on strengthening South-South cooperation by building on our strategic alliances with India, Brazil, and China. We will capitalize on the good relations we have with countries of the Middle East to bolster trade, while at the same time supporting the motive forces in the region seeking democratic change and justice for the Palestinians. We will also continue to further North-South cooperation, particularly within the context of the G-20. As committed multilateralists, we will sustain our robust engagement in multilateral fora, while pushing for the reform of the United Nations and the international financial institutions.

As a department, we owe a debt of gratitude to our former Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and her Deputy Mr Aziz Pahad who, over many years, laid a solid foundation for our international relations, and positioned our country as a significant regional power and an important member of the global south. Without their leadership and foresight we would not be the force on the international stage that we are today. Under the experienced stewardship of our President Jacob Zuma, and our new Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, we intend to capitalize on the gains made and steer our country towards new heights in the pursuit of a moral foreign policy that makes a better life for all South Africans its first priority. 

Honourable Speaker, in order to build an environment in which socio-economic development can take place both in South Africa and the region, we need to ensure greater levels of human security for our people. Our understanding of human security is the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. One of the ways to address the pervasive lack of human security on our continent is to promote peace and stability by resolving ongoing violent conflicts.

Confronting the tragedy of our continent’s conflicts brings a certain image to mind – that of a little girl in Darfur. She walks hand in hand with a doctor from Doctors Without Borders, her naked body so thin and frail that that she can barely support her own structure. She hasn’t eaten for days, she has been raped, her family destroyed after her village burnt to the ground after the effects of a scorched earth policy had been exacted. This is the reality of our children, our African children, in some of the most neglected corners of our continent. It is such children that wait very patiently for us to say something, do something, while we talk of an African renaissance.

Is this what it means to be African if you are caught in the arc of conflict that cuts a large swathe through the heart of the continent? It is the image that we have all fought against - it is the image that we have worked so hard to change. Some of us sat through sleepless nights of negotiations between the warring parties in Burundi, led by President Zuma at the time – weeks that turned into months. We worked tirelessly to convince the Rwandan troops to withdraw from the DRC, and we painstakingly monitored progress in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan.

As South African policy-makers we have made these sacrifices out of our commitment to reverse the image of Africa as a continent fraught with endless bloodletting. We have made these contributions as we believe that Africa is the place of endless possibilities, a continent rich in human potential and untapped natural resources, a continent rich in culture and history, a place that can regain its soul once the guns fall silent.

Ultimately we have witnessed the dividends of peace in Burundi; we have watched a new democratic dispensation emerge in the DRC that has developed new levels of cooperation with its neighbour Rwanda. The peace agreement between North and South Sudan still holds as the country prepares for national elections early next year. Our efforts, and those of other peace loving nations within the African Union, have borne fruit. We will strive to consolidate peace and post-conflict reconstruction in those countries emerging from war, and assist the AU to forge new and sustainable peace processes where peace has so far been elusive, such as in Darfur and Madagascar.

South Africa’s central involvement in the resolution of the long standing conflict in Sudan will continue in order to ensure implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). We also need to play a more direct role in bringing peace to Darfur, a conflict which does not fall within the parameters of the CPA. The ongoing human rights violations being committed against civilians in Darfur, and the worsening humanitarian crisis are of such a magnitude that we cannot afford to dissociate ourselves from this ongoing conflict. Failure to address the root causes of conflict in Darfur could ultimately lead to the unravelling of the CPA itself.

Our government has paid particular attention over the past decade to the root causes of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This has assisted us in formulating an effective strategy for moving the country towards a sustainable peace. Given the geo-strategic importance of the DRC and the implications for the region of continued instability in that country, it is imperative that South Africa remains involved in solving the immense political and developmental challenges that exist. The DRC provides immense opportunities for South African businesses in the future, and has resources which could be harnessed for the benefit of the entire Southern African region. By supporting democratic processes in that country, and assisting the government of the DRC with long term developmental planning, South Africa is not only investing in its future, but that of the region.

We recognize that our region is also directly affected by the economic and political instability in Zimbabwe, which necessitates that Zimbabwe remains a top priority for our Government. We are well aware of the negative impact that constant flows of refugees and illegal immigrants have on our economy - an excessively heavy burden at a time when we are faced with serious domestic challenges of our own in terms of service delivery and provision for basic needs. We will prioritize the need to assist in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe’s shattered economy, and will both support and pressure the Government of National Unity (GNU) to operate as a unified team. As our President has said, we need to make the GNU work as there is no other alternative, and we call on Western countries to lift all sanctions against Zimbabwe and assist in the reconstruction of the country.

We cannot confine our efforts at conflict resolution to Africa alone. As our Freedom Charter of 1955 stated, “we strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of international disputes by negotiation not war.” Many warring parties around the world have sought, and continue to seek, South Africa’s assistance in bringing protagonists to the table, and sharing with them the South African experience in conflict resolution. Some of us have responded to the calls for intervention in places like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kosovo, Bolivia, Northern Ireland, and Palestine. It is an honour to share our lessons learned and make suggestions on how our experiences can be adapted to different conflict theatres – this is part of our progressive internationalism. We must continue to play this role internationally as it is part of a unique niche that we have carved for ourselves, emanating from our specific historical experience.

The conflagration in the Middle East is of particular concern, as tension continues to escalate between Israel and the Palestinians as well as Israel and its neighbours. The situation on the ground has dramatically deteriorated, and we are now faced with a situation where there is an escalation as opposed to a scaling back or dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements. Palestinian water sources and agricultural land are being annexed at an unparalleled rate. The recent disproportionate use of force by the Israeli security forces against the civilian population of Gaza has only served to further inflame the passions of those seeking to establish a Palestinian state.
While the region welcomed the statement made in Cairo by President Barack Obama which advocated forward movement on the peace process, the recent statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has destroyed the hope of many in the region for a speedy resolution to the conflict. We acknowledge our limited ability to significantly alter the conflict dynamics, but we will continue to advocate for an immediate return to peace negotiations that is inclusive of all stakeholders, including Hamas.

As a middle power we also recognize the limits of our ability to reverse human rights abuses globally, but this does not absolve us from standing on principle and speaking out against cases of gross violations of human rights and international law. As the Indian novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy has said,
“It has become clear that violating human rights is an inherent part of the process of implementing a coercive and unjust political and economic structure on the world. Without the violation of human rights on an enormous scale, the neo-liberal project would remain in the dreamy realm of policy.”

We intend to more robustly flex our muscles on human rights issues so that we can never be accused of betraying the ideals on which our democracy was founded.

In conclusion, to give meaning to our new name as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, we need to ensure that our international cooperation yields concrete results in terms of social upliftment, more job opportunities, and a greater measure of human security for the masses of our people.

I thank you.

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