Speech by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, HE Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, on the Occasion of the Heads of Missions Conference, 13 August 2009F

Honourable Deputy Ministers Ebrahim Ebrahim and Sue Van Der Merwe;
Your Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
Senior Managers;
Ladies and gentlemen;

I must welcome all of you, especially our Heads of Missions, because I know how hard you all work to give effect to the vision in the Freedom Charter that: “South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations; South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation - not war; [and that] Peace and friendship amongst all our people shall be secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all”.

This humble approach to international affairs inspired President Nelson Mandela when he said to international guests who had attended his inauguration as our first democratically-elected President, that:

“We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil.
We thank all our distinguished international guests for having come to take possession with the people of our country of what is, after all, a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity.
We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy”.


Working together with the people of the world for justice, prosperity, peace and human security, has enabled our country to attain the stature it enjoys today in international affairs.   But more can and has to be done for a better world and Africa, working together.

This is the central thrust of the mandate given to President Jacob Zuma by our people.  Indeed, President’s Zuma reminded us in his State of the Nation  Address that:

“On the 22nd of April, millions of South Africans went out to cast their votes. They exercised their democratic right spurred on by the desire to change their lives for the better.
In their overwhelming numbers, they confirmed that working together we can do more to fight poverty and build a better life for all.
They were encouraged by the vision of an inclusive society, a South Africa that belongs to all, a nation united in its diversity, a people working together for the greater good of all.
We are humbled by this decisive electoral mandate given by the people of our country, who have chosen their government in a most convincing manner”.

Our Cabinet has since translated this mandate given to President Zuma into a Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF, 2009-2014) with the following strategic priorities:

  • Speeding up economic growth and transform the economy to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods;
  • Massive programme to build economic and social infrastructure;
  • Comprehensive rural development strategy linked to land and agrarian reform and food security;
  • Strengthening the skills and human resource base;
  • Improving the health profile of society;
  • Intensifying the fight against crime and corruption;
  • Building cohesive, caring and sustainable communities;
  • Pursuing regional development, African advancement and enhanced international co-operation;
  • Sustainable resource management and use; and
  • Building a developmental state including improvement of public services and strengthening democratic institutions.


Our foreign policy – our engagement with our partners all over the world – has to respond to these priorities.  As practitioners of foreign policy, we have a duty to make our contribution to the attainment of these priorities by using economic and political cooperation with other countries and international organisations towards a better life for all, and a better Africa and the world. 

This is one of the reasons that our Government changed the name of our Department from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in accordance with the Polokwane decision. The renaming was largely motivated by international trends which require states to put emphasis on co-operation over competition, and collaboration over confrontation. The globalised nature of the world necessitates that states continue to forge ways of co-operating better with each other.

Through the renaming of the Department, our Government desires to give more clarity and focus on the role of the Department in meeting our domestic priorities through international partnerships and cooperation.

Your Excellencies

Our foreign policy has evolved dynamically since that day when President Mandela made his inauguration speech. South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy evolved in the context of a changing world order. While the end of the Cold War in 1989 marked a shift from a bipolar world to a unipolar one dominated by the United States (US), it also signalled the emergence of a new global power in China, new regional powers in India and Brazil in the South, and the re-emergence of Russia. 

But states are no longer the only key actors in the international space.  We have to contend with the influence of non-state actors such as Trans-National Corporations and international Non-Governmental Organisations in the exercise of our sovereignty as states.  Power in the world is more diffused than ever before.  We know, for example, that our freedom of 1994 created opportunities for our companies to expand into the African continent, and this has not been without posing serious challenges to our foreign policy.  Many of our policy think-tanks are also players on the continent – some provide advisory services to the African Union Commission, others are deeply involved in conflict mediation, while others provide training to African governments and NGOs in areas within the scope of our foreign policy.  We need to use the opportunity provided by this Conference to think deeply about the role of these non-state actors – who they are and what challenges they pose to us?

Our foreign policy had to respond to the changing international context to promote our interests and values in the world.  Between 1994 and 1999, our foreign policy was focused on the reintegration of South Africa into Africa and the international system. 

Subsequent to this period, between 1999 and 2004, our central agenda shifted to the renewal of the African continent, including efforts that resulted in the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union and the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  

Since 2004, we have been working on the consolidation of the African Agenda and the intensification of South Africa’s international engagements. We have combined these efforts with the renewed solidarity with countries of the South and partnerships with countries of the North, as well as seeking concrete ways for sustained engagement with the African Diaspora.  

We have, in our foreign policy, sought to contribute to the struggle against poverty and under development especially in Africa in terms of the NEPAD programmes; peaceful resolution of conflicts, peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction; building and maintaining partnerships; institutional and capacity building on the continent; and ensuring South Africa’s and Africa’s influence on global issues.   

We have been and continue to be  guided in this endeavour by our firm belief in the principles of respect for human rights, the promotion of democracy, peace, justice and international rule of law, as well as regional and international co-operation in an interdependent  world.

South Africa’s foreign policy engagements have and will continue to be informed by values of “ubuntu”. It is indeed a value-laden foreign policy which seeks to create a people-centred society within which prosperity and development prevail. It is on this basis that we continue to identify ourselves as a partner in development.

There are achievements we can be proud of.  We have, among others:

  • Managed to assert the sovereignty and independence of our country in international affairs;
  • Asserted, advanced and defended the African Agenda;
  • Brought the question of the African Diaspora to the fore;
  • Established dynamic bilateral relations with many countries across the world in the context of South-South and North-South cooperation, especially those with historic ties with our liberation struggle;
  • Attracted strategic international focus by, among others, hosting key meetings of the United Nations and the 2010 FIFA World Cup;
  • Participated in UN and African Union peace-keeping missions in Africa in particular;
  • Played a leading role in the resolution conflicts in countries such as Burundi;
  • Worked actively with the global progressive movement for the transformation of the international system, including the United Nations; and
  • Emerged as an important player in international trade, investment, and development assistance.


Your Excellencies

For the next five years, Government has identified six foreign policy priorities which are based on our achievements and lessons we have learnt in this domain.  These priorities are:

  • Improving the political and economic integration of the SADC;
  • The continued prioritisation of the African continent;
  • Strengthening South-South relations;
  • Intensifying strategic relations with strategic formations of the North;
  • Strengthening political and economic relations; and
  • Participating in the Global System of Governance.


The emergence of a democratic South Africa had ushered in a new component to regional integration in Southern Africa. We joined the SADC in September 1994 and subsequently ratified the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation to create conditions for peace, stability and good neighbourliness for socio-economic development. This was a departure from the apartheid regime’s policy of regional destabilisation and generation of hostilities with our neighbours.

This was informed by our commitment to contribute towards the transformation and realignment of SADC from a regional organisation preoccupied in the main by a political agenda to a Regional Economic Community (REC) that will meet the challenges of globalisation.

We ratified the 1996 Maseru Protocol on the Establishment of a Free Trade Area (FTA) in 2000, confirming our Government’s commitment to regional economic integration. As the first milestone of regional economic integration, the SADC FTA was launched in South Africa in August 2008.

We however need to revisit the 2006 SADC Extraordinary Summit agreed time-frames for the launch of the Customs Union in 2010, the Common Market in 2015 and the Monetary Union in 2016 as it has become clear that the region is unlikely to achieve the set goals of this time-frame.

We need to continue to reflect on challenges regarding our interaction with countries in the SADC, particularly our varying positions on negotiations around the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union. We need to assess the implications of the EPAs on SADC regional integration programme. 

Also, we have not missed the opportunity to play our role in our SADC neighbours to promote some of the principles we treasure.  For instance, we are involved in the post-conflict reconstruction of the DRC, and are fully seized with challenges of the implementation of the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe.

The consolidation of the African Agenda remains central to our foreign policy objectives.  We will continue to work towards achieving a vision of Africa which is united, peaceful and prosperous.  This vision of African Unity has its roots in centuries of struggle on our continent and those waged by people of African descent elsewhere in the world.  We remember in moments like these great Pan-Africanists like Sylvester Williams, WEB Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Juluis Nyerere and Kwame Krumah.  Our own Pixley ka Isaka Seme spoke to this cause when he said in 1909 that “the regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world“.

The strength of the AU is essential for Africa’s unity and development and thus every measure must be taken to ensure that we afford it the necessary resources and political support to realise this goal. We should continue to contribute towards the operationalisation of organs of the AU namely: Financial Institutions which are the African Central bank, the African Monetary Fund and the African Investment Bank; the Africa Court of Justice; and the Africa Court of Human and People’s Rights.

As the host of the Pan African Parliament, South Africa has a special responsibility to ensure that this organ of the AU enjoys legitimacy and effectively discharges its mandate. We are also to host the Pan African Women Organisation (PAWO) and have a duty live to the expectations of African women by providing political and administrative support to this organisation.   

Our country played a role in the establishment of the NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and we are proud that we were given the honour of hosting the Secretariats of these two bodies.  The NEPAD, as a blue print for Africa’s socio-economic development, represents the incarnation of the objectives of the AU at a practical level to intensify the struggle against poverty and underdevelopment. NEPAD remains the main frame of reference for Intra-African relations and Africa’s partnerships with international partners such as the EU-AU Strategic Partnership, Forum for Africa China Partnership (FOCAC), the G8, New Africa Asia Strategic Partnership (NAASP), and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.  We have to continue to support its programmes and its Secretariat, including through the excellent work being carried by our Missions.

Work towards the establishment of the South African Developmental Partnership Agency (SADPA) is currently underway.  This Agency, as you are aware, will be tasked with the management of South Africa’s developmental assistance to contribute to capacity and institutional building, as well as support socio-economic and human resource development.   A proposal on modalities pertaining to this Agency will be before Cabinet in due course.

Your Excellencies

The outcomes of the recent AU Summit in Sirte have underscored the importance of building partnerships and forging alliances in pursuing our objective of African unity.  The decision on the African Union Authority should be implemented with the view to taking advantage of the lessons we have learnt since the establishment of the African Union in 2002 and helping us to strengthen the Union and its various organs.  South Africa will continue to advocate for a gradual and an incremental approach, focusing on the regional organizations, as building blocks towards the Union Government. This approach is premised on our understanding that the African Union is a union of independent and sovereign states, thus the actions of the AU Agency are contingent on the mandate of Member States.

Similarly, the current debate in the AU on the application of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction, as occasioned by recent indictments issued by the International Criminal Courts to key African personalities, requires our special attention. We should strive to balance the need for transitional justice and safeguarding political processes towards peace. We must ensure that neither is compromised, and that South Africa’s integrity in Africa and its commitment to international obligations are not compromised.  We have an important contribution to make to finding a lasting peace in the Sudan as we chair the AU Ministerial Committee on post-conflict reconstruction in that country.   Our troops are an important component of the AU-UN peace-keeping presence in Darfur. And former President Thabo Mbeki is leading a High-Level Panel of the AU whose work should help us address challenges of justice and reconciliation in that country.

It is also worrying that there is a re-emergence of unconstitutional changes of governments in some parts of our continent. These governments legitimise themselves by holding elections to regain recognition by the AU. We need to dissect this phenomenon in order to understand its implications for our quest for a better Africa.

Your Excellencies

In the spirit of the African renewal, we should continue to engage the African Diaspora as the motive force for Africa’s development.  The African Diaspora is undoubtedly a repository of intellectual, economic and social capital that Africa needs to rebuild its institutions, infrastructure and human capital.  But the plight of the African Diaspora is also of concern to us, not least because of problems of racism and other forms of discrimination and exclusion that these African sisters and brothers continue to face in countries where they reside.  Our Missions have to continue the engagement with African Diaspora communities in countries of their accreditation.  The African Union Summit on the African Diaspora is still on the cards.

Furthermore, South Africa will continue to build relations based on solidarity and cooperation with regional and sub-regional groups in the South such a the Non-Aligned Movement, Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Africa-India Forum, G77 plus China, the India–Brazil-South (IBSA) Africa Dialogue forums and the New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (NAASP) in pursuit of the consolidation of the African Agenda.

Our trade with China has increased exponentially in recent years, and so is that with India and Brazil.  This development will help diversify our trade relations beyond our traditional trade partners of the North especially that the latter are going through a difficult economic phase.

However, countries of the North are undeniably an economic power base of the world and remain essential to the economic wellbeing of the developing world. We will continue to forge partnerships with these countries within the context of trade, development and cooperation.  The recent visit to our country of Secretary Hillary Clinton and our ongoing engagement with the European Union are but some of the positive measures which should help us cement our relations with our partners in the North.   The European Union remains our leading trading partner, and our country has taken full advantage of the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Your Excellencies

We believe that the transformation of the international system will not only give Africa a bigger voice, but will also put us in a better position to address the developmental plight of our continent.  We will continue to work with other nations and progressive non-state actors for the reform of the United Nations, including the Bretton Woods Institutions.  We cannot achieve our objective of a better world when the current configuration of the Security Council of the UN is informed by the geopolitics and security concerns of the 1950s when most of Africa was under colonial rule.  Also, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are a critical resource in efforts of the international community to combat poverty and reverse underdevelopment, and as such their governance, capitalisation and programmes must be based on the principles of equity, people-centeredness and transparency.  We cannot expect countries to be governed democratically and yet live in an international system that is governed undemocratically.

However, democracy goes hand-in-hand with economic justice and prosperity.  We must ensure that Africa stays the course in its pursuit to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), mindful of the impact of the global financial meltdown. We therefore need to continue to work with progressive forces in the world to implore the international community to play a constructive part in complementing our efforts.

President Jacob Zuma recently participated in the G8-Africa session of the G8 Summit in L’ Aquila, Italy. The G8 countries have again committed themselves to supporting African efforts towards promoting development, good governance and achieving the MDGs. This would include making sure that commitments made in Gleneagles and at the G20 London Summit are honoured.

Colleagues, this world we live in will continue to change and thus present our foreign policy with new challenges.  Our success in implementing our priorities for the next five years will depend, to a large extent, on how best we respond to these new challenges.  New issues – such as climate change – cannot be ignored; the masses of our people are in streets in cities like Delhi, Rio, Lagos and Paris to protest high food prices.  The collapse of the global financial system has shattered pillars of neo-liberal market fundamentalism to open new frontiers to innovation in how our economies can best be run for the benefit of our people.  The Obama Administration in the United States has also introduced new dimensions to the unipolar world that has evolved since the collapse of the Cold War.  This is a world that will be with us for the next five years.  We have to respond and do so effectively to advance our country’s national interest and that of our continent.

Your excellencies

These developments in our foreign policy and challenges ahead of us present Government and our Department with both threats and opportunities.  Among our main challenges in the pursuit of our foreign policy objectives is the alignment and coordination of South Africa’s economic diplomacy across all spheres of Government; strengthening economic diplomatic capacity in our Missions; and improving efforts aimed at marketing the brand South Africa and Africa abroad. South Africa’s economic diplomatic strategy will continue to focus on the consolidation of economic relations with traditional and established economic partners; expanding trade relations with emerging markets in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe; and the promotion of intra-African trade to enhance economic development on our continent.

Our Department has to continue to strengthen its capacity and capability to respond to our changing world.  More than that, however, the service we provide to our President as the custodian of our foreign policy, has to continue to improve.  We have to do more work to elevate the quality of this service and our capacity to respond rapidly, effectively and timeously to the President’s foreign policy needs.  We have to give our President the information that is useful and usable, timeously!

The role of our Missions is as important, and so is the support they receive from the Department.  Approximately five million South African’s reside outside South Africa, and each year South Africans make more than thirty million trips abroad. While most South Africans living or travelling abroad do not encounter problems, various factors can pose challenges and risks. New and emerging threats have led to a more security-conscious world. Heightened public awareness and anxiety about the risks involved in international travel have led to an increase in the number of South Africans who seek information, assistance and protection from our Missions. The changing profile of South African travellers, more frequent travel to remote and dangerous destinations, the pursuit of business opportunities in areas of the world that are politically and economically of higher risk, and the growing impact of extreme weather events and other natural disasters worldwide, have also had significant consequences for the consular work of our Missions.   Assisting citizens who are abroad mainly as tourists, students, business people and expatriates, is one of the defining aspects of the consular service of every nation.

You, our Heads of Missions and other colleagues deployed to our Missions, are our link with the world – you are our ears and voices.  Your ears provide us with invaluable advice to guide our foreign policy.  Also, what you say about our country is our voice to our partners in the world.  Our message to our partners has to be uniform and project a country and leadership that is united behind a common vision and programme to deliver a better life for all our people.

Your Excellencies

Let me conclude by wishing you fruitful and robust discussions, and I trust that by the time you return to your Missions you will continue to strengthen our partnerships with countries and regions of your accreditation. I would like to encourage you to continue to popularise our readiness to host an African World Cup in the next ten months. I have confidence in your abilities to facilitate the movement of a large numbers of spectators from your countries of accreditation who will be joining us during this historic global showpiece. We must give life to our slogan: Afrika, Ke Nako!!

Let us always remember that a better Africa in a just world is what keeps our hearts beating. Working together with our partners in Africa and the world we can do more to achieve this goal.

Thank you

Enquiries: Nomfanelo Kota: 082-459-3787

Department of International Relations & Cooperation
Private Bag X152
Pretoria, 0001

13 August 2009

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