Address by Deputy Minister of International Relations & Cooperation Sue van der Merwe in Reply to the Budget Vote, National Assembly, 18 June 2009

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane
Deputy Ministers
Honourable Members
Excellencies High Commissioners and Ambassadors
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Guests

We gather here today at a very difficult time in modern history.  Across the globe families are in distress as jobs and livelihoods are lost.  We are not immune to this, here in our own country.  It will be our challenge to mitigate the effects of this crisis for our people. 

President Zuma said in his inauguration address:  “The dreams and hopes of all the people of our country must be fulfilled.  There is no place for complacency, no place for cynicism, no place for excuses.” 

We in the international relations field have our own important part to play in the fulfilment of these dreams and hopes.

The work of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the past administration, and now the department of International Relations and Cooperation is premised on the principles and philosophies of our constitution.  It arises from our history and has been forged and honed by great leaders of our movement, the African National Conference.  These principles still guide our work today and are anchored in our belief in human dignity and the assertion of universal human rights.  

In the introduction to a book entitled “Legacy of Freedom: The ANC’s human rights tradition” the then Secretary General of the ANC and now Deputy President of the country, Kgalema Motlanthe, wrote:

“As demonstrated by the Africans' Claims, the ANC has always linked national unity and international solidarity.  Today, our commitment to multilateral participation in the international arena is evident in our efforts to advance the African Union, the new Partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) and the vitality of the United Nations.

Of the African Union, formed during the year of the 90th anniversary of the ANC, it can truly be said that it seeks to live up to the outlook presented to our people more than 90 years ago by Pixley ka Seme when he said: ’There is today among all races and men a general desire for progress, and for cooperation, because cooperation will facilitate and secure that progress.’
He further wrote:
“… we are convinced that we share this vision and value system with the overwhelming majority of the Africans masses everywhere on our continent.”

The ANC tradition to advance human dignity and opportunity for all South Africans, underpins our work to this day.

I remind us here today of this history so that we do not forget the great and extraordinary leaders of our movement who begun nearly a century ago to craft and frame our country and our world.  ANC founder Pixley ka Seme attempted as early as 1923 to formulate a Bill of Rights. Others, extraordinary people and ordinary people in our country, continued this work. 

Our South African history is replete with examples of how our ANC leaders saw us as integrally linked to the international community, how we see ourselves as not greater nor lesser than other people of the world, but linked as one humanity.  I continue to be inspired by the vision of our early leaders in this regard.

I say all this now as I believe that the writings and thinking of our extraordinary leaders can serve to guide us, like a thread, through all the difficult challenges that we face at the beginning of the 21st century.

The Minister has mentioned the economic integration of our region. She has underscored the importance of building our region into a cohesive political and economic block.  This is both necessary, if we are to compete in the world, and desirable if we are truly to share the values and principles our leaders fought for. 

We have deep political and historic ties with our neighbours in the Southern African Development Community. The ongoing work to harmonise our economic infrastructure and planning is key to our advancement as a region.  Last year we launched the Free Trade Area at the SADC summit in Sandton.  The next steps are more intricate, but not unattainable.  It is our belief that these next steps should be based on developmental imperatives and should strengthen the region as an economic block, for trade with the rest of the continent and the world; and strengthen cooperation amongst the countries in the region as people with a common history and a common destiny.

Regional Integration is also the basis for future continental unity, a dream of our leaders throughout the decades. 

The Minister has alluded to the difficulties that have arisen in the negotiations around the Economic Partnership Agreement between SADC member states and the European Union.  This is a complex process, and it goes to the very essence of how we as South Africa, and indeed how we in SADC, see our future together as an integrated region.

I have mentioned that the FTA was launched in 2008 at the Summit in Sandton where South Africa took over the rotational Chair of the Community.  This FTA needs to be substantially implemented as part of the process towards a full SADC customs Union, which will involve, amongst other things, the setting of a common external tariff among countries with vastly differing profiles. 

We believe that we need to prioritise sectoral cooperation and infrastructure programmes including human resource capacity as essential elements of creating conducive conditions to advance the integration agenda. 

We believe we need to set realistic timeframes in our plans and continue to harmonise and implement those common policies which are in place such as the Protocol on Facilitation of Free Movement of Persons, amongst others.   

In other words we favour a developmental approach to integration, including importantly, the implementation of infrastructure projects in association with NEPAD and other international investors and donor agencies. The development of infrastructure is essential in creating the atmosphere and conditions for successful and sustainable economic integration.

We plan in the coming weeks and months to take up this debate with our neighbouring countries in the SADC family in a robust, open and transparent manner, to thrash out our common vision for our region and to move the debate to an active phase where we can consolidate the gains we have made and move towards a sustainable and cohesive region, one of the building blocks for eventual Continental Union.

It is unfortunate that, despite the good intentions of the European Member states, the EPA negotiations have had the opposite effect.  Those negotiations have tended to divide us as a region and have, we believe, set our integration agenda back. 

We therefore also plan a robust engagement with our partners in the European Union in this regard, together with our SADC colleagues.

Linked to this and as part of our pursuit for a more cohesive and integrated region and continent, is the development of the South African Development Partnership Agency as described by the Minister.  Already South Africa’s foreign policy approach has been to align our domestic priorities and interests with our work with neighbours on the continent.  This is not altruism; this is purposeful fulfilment of those hopes and dreams of our people of which President Zuma spoke.  As we work with our sister departments to give life to this Agency we will remember that this is another stage, not only in fulfilling the dreams and hopes of South Africans today, but in realising the dreams of our leaders in the ANC, past and present. 

The Agency should therefore be responsible for the implementation of South Africa’s international development cooperation and partnership policy.  It will involve cooperation with developed and developing countries and will focus, although not exclusively, on our work in Africa.  It will articulate South Africa’s objectives in joint programmes with countries of the South, and will seek to strengthen our relationship with Northern partners through, amongst others, tri-lateral cooperation.

The thread of our history will be drawn through in this process. We will seek in this Agency to strengthen democratic institutions and effective governance structures. Much of our work will focus, as it has done, on peace making, peace building and post conflict reconstruction on the continent and we will seek to improve and manage the effectiveness of South African efforts in this area.

Also, we will seek to build capacity in areas including education and in health, and cooperate in many other areas with our neighbours on the continent and our partners elsewhere.

Over the next 3 years, the African Renaissance Fund is expected to expend over R1billion, and this is provided for in our medium term expenditure framework.  How we align the work of the ARF with the new Agency will be a matter for discussion and decision over the next few months.

During the course of this year, the work in developing the Agency will be taken forward by our department as lead department, working together with our sister departments and the details of its functions and modus operandi will be articulated more fully by the end of the financial year.

Speaker, Ministers, Honourable members,

In these difficult times, we remain committed to the fulfilment of the hopes and dreams of our people.  We believe this can be achieved in the broadening of our international cooperation efforts - whether this be:

  • in our regional efforts at deepening integration;
  • or through our support for post-conflict reconstruction in Sudan;
  • with our partners in the north through trilateral cooperation;
  • through deepening our cooperation with countries of the South such as IBSA partners;
  • with our engagement on such matters as trade agreements with the European Union. 

All this work is reflected here at home in the way our own country develops.  It reflects in:

  • how we grow our economy and see jobs being created;
  • how we cooperate with other countries to expand and better our education system so our people become skilled in the areas appropriate to modern global realities;
  • it will reflect how the world sees us and we them – will they visit us as tourists and business people, will we visit them? 

All these things will improve the lives of our people.  Our election slogan… “Together we can do more”, applies as much at home as it does in work we do in the international sphere.

Speaker, honourable members

As I have the privilege to return to this position having served for 5 years in the previous administration, I would like to take this opportunity to thank those I have worked with during these past 5 years. To former Foreign Affairs Minister Dlamini Zuma and Deputy Ministers Pahad and Hajaig, I thank you for your wisdom and guidance. I learned an enormous amount from all of you.  And to the dedicated and resourceful officials of the department, led by our exceptional Director General, Ayanda Ntsaluba, I owe a debt of gratitude for all of your professionalism in the past 5 years. I am delighted to be working with you all again.

As the President has said, there is not place for complacency, for cynicism or excuses.  We have work to do… and with guidance of Minister Nkoana-Mashabane and Deputy Minister Ebrahim, and the support of our Director-General and a dedicated and resourceful staff in our department, I am sure we can achieve our goals. 

Thank you. 

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