Address by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation on the occasion of the Gala Dinner with the Diplomatic Corps held at Emperor’s Palace, Wednesday, 20th May 2009.
I am really honoured and humbled to have been afforded this opportunity of working together with you. I feel honoured by your gracing this occasion today. This is neither the occasion for us to elaborate on our International Relations framework nor spell out our plans for the months ahead.
In his inaugural address President Jacob Zuma reaffirmed South Africa’s determination to continue to work for a better world for all. This commitment is borne out of a recognition that we live in a time of great challenges, which calls for greater interdependence among nations.
Our government has outlined the following priorities for the next five years:
- Creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods
- Rural development
With these priorities we seek to address the problem of underdevelopment and inequities in our society. We want to build a people-centred society. Clearly this means that while we continue to do some of the things that the Department has been doing, there is also an expectation that we will have to shift the focus in some areas. Our work, both headquarters as well as in our missions abroad, has to reflect these priorities.
Since 1994 one of the defining features of South Africa’s foreign policy has been our conviction that we have to work hard to promote the well being of the people of our continent, Africa.
In this regard we recognize that important progress has been made in the continent by many countries. Even before the onset of the financial crisis there were many African countries that were registering impressive rates of economic growth. Democratic reforms have also been seen across the various sub-regions of the continent. South Africa will therefore continue to prioritise these efforts and others aimed at the eradication of poverty and the resolution of conflicts in the African continent.
It is also important that we also put emphasis on the strengthening of our regional organizations, SADC and the African Union. During this year of our Chairmanship of SADC we made a priority the enhancement of sub-regional integration on many fronts. We will also continue to engage in the broader discussions and the work regarding the future orientation of the African Union, both institutionally but also in terms of the value systems that should underpin a deeper integration.
South Africa has pursued friendly and cordial relations with all countries across the globe. As a developing country we have had natural partnerships with other countries of the South with whom we share similar challenges and constraints. We have participated in global initiatives with countries of the South as part of the efforts of making the world a better place, in particular the focus on the eradication of poverty.
The name of the Department has been changed from Foreign Affairs to International Relations and Cooperation. This has been done to help clarify the mandate of the Department. One of the important areas of our work will be to make South Africans aware of the work that the Department is doing. In this regard we plan to enhance our public diplomacy initiatives and increase the level of our engagement with South Africans on foreign policy matters. For the department to get the support of the country our work needs to be known and understood by South Africans from all walks of life. This is important, as a former American diplomat once out put it, “no nation lives to make foreign policy, but nations make foreign policy to live”.
The name should reflect the new focus that our government wishes to place on partnerships and cooperation for development. This will also allow us to streamline the work that is currently done by different departments on development cooperation into a coherent and systematic framework.
Our view is that, for development cooperation initiatives to be effective, coordination and coherence are paramount. Discussions have already started within the government on the possibility of the creation of a development agency. We believe that once created, such an agency would give effect to much needed organisational and institutional systems and also enhance the effectiveness of development cooperation in general. Therefore the change of the name gives us an opportunity to address these matters.
We are convinced that these partnerships with countries of the South are fundamental to the achievement of some of our domestic priorities, which I mentioned earlier. Across the world there is recognition that developing countries are going to be the key sources of economic growth for years to come. It is developing countries and the rest of the emerging economies that are expected to propel and be the engines of the world’s future economic outlook. Today we are also talking of a new geography of international trade – the fact that it is trade flows between developing countries that account for a large share of overall global trade flows.
We now know that the global financial and subsequent economic crisis is going to delay progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. In countries around the world, and here in South Africa, we have observed a number of job losses due to closing down of business enterprises affected by these factors.
This crisis is by no means the only challenge facing the world. There are others, but what is common is a truism that these challenges require the enhanced cooperation among nations, as no country can address them acting alone. Indeed this is the nature of international relations today.
We acknowledge the efforts of the United Nations in addressing these challenges that were raised during the last G20 meeting through a planned conference to be held precisely to address the Global Economic Meltdown for which we will play our part. Accordingly, we have also set out practical cooperation initiatives through IBSA and NAASP, among others.
Our relations with the developed countries of the North are also critical for South Africa. South Africa’s historic trading partners have been countries of the North and they are also important sources of investments and inward development cooperation for South Africa. We have also interacted with countries of the North in pursuit of broader global objectives through forums such as the Group of 8 and the Group of 20. Therefore these are important relations for our country which should also contribute to the achievement of our domestic objectives.
For a country of South Africa’s size the strengthening of the multilateral system of global governance is key among our objectives. The world has historically benefited from the multilateral system through cooperation between States and the negotiation of global rules and standards. It is difficult to conceive of another system from which the world could have achieved similar results.
We recognize, however, that the key institutions of global governance are in urgent need of reform. Some of them have been in existence for more than six decades. They were created to address problems of an era far different from the world we live in today. South Africa shall therefore continue to work with other countries towards the reform of these institutions. We believe that the current financial crisis is an opportunity for the international community to show the political will and institute the necessary reforms to the global financial architecture. We cannot allow this opportunity to pass. Reform is in our collective interest because it would make these institutions do their work better, promote broader representativity in decision-making and also enhance their legitimacy. From South Africa’s two year non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council we also draw the conclusion that now is the time to reform that important organ of the United Nations.
Once again thank you for gracing this occasion this evening. Together with my colleagues Deputy Ministers Sue van der Merwe and Ebrahim Ebrahim we look forward to a productive relationship with you. Once the dust has settled a bit, I shall follow up this initial contact with you in your regional groupings. That will provide us further possibilities to get to know each other but more importantly to explore ways in which we can consolidate and advance our relationships in meaningful and mutually beneficial ways.
President Zuma also made the important call that in pursuit of these objectives, as a government “we shall not rest and we dare not falter”. This will be the challenge for each and every official working for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
I thank you.