Notes following Briefing to Media by Director-General Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba
Media Centre, Union Buildings, Pretoria, Wednesday 14 January 2009
SOUTH AFRICA – EUROPEAN UNION MINISTERIAL TROIKA MEETING
Beginning tomorrow, South Africa will host a meeting of the South Africa – European Union Strategic Partnership. This is a meeting that will be at Ministerial level in Kleinmond, Western Cape. The South African delegation will be led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Also participating will be the Ministers of Trade and Industry and Environmental Affairs and Tourism as well as the new Deputy Minister of Finance.
On the EU side, it will be the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic – as you know, the Czech Republic currently occupies the Presidency of the European Union and Louis Michel. Louis Michel will also have some other meetings including paying a courtesy call on the President of the Republic during his stay.
Essentially, the meeting will be preceded by a senior officials meeting tomorrow Thursday 15 January 2009 and the main areas that we will try to work through will really be a reflection on the TDCA and the implementation of the new chapters; secondly, as we deal with this, is the difficult issue of the economic partnership agreements that must be dealt with. This would also explain the interest of the Minister of Trade and Industry.
The EU Czech Presidency also pays some attention to issues of climate and energy security. I think they want to make this one of the key issues of their Presidency and off course, we have an ongoing dialogue with them on these issues so again, we will focus a bit on this.
There will also be a lot of political discussions – as you know, in our discussions with the European Union we put a lot of emphasis on encouraging the EU to support the institutions on the continent especially around the area of support of the peace architecture of the continent and as you know, the EU is the biggest contributor to the African Union Peace Facility. So, needless to say, the EU will have an interest in probing some of our views on some of the burning conflict hot spots in Africa and unavoidably, the two most important ones that will have to be discussed include Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo particularly the eastern part and the Zimbabwe. So, clearly these will be on the agenda.
This is the first meeting to which I would like to refer.
INCOMING VISIT BY CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER
The next meeting to which I would like to refer, which would essentially be back-to-back with the SA-EU meeting, that will also take place in Kleinmond is a meeting between the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a delegation from South Africa and the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Yang Jiechi.
The major areas on which we will focus: off course we will review the major activities that took place in 2008 related to the celebration of the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China and look at whether these unfolded in a manner that we would have wanted and the lessons we can learn.
Secondly, we would obviously be discussing with China the second arm of our engagement which is really what we call the Partnership for Growth and Development and this, just to remind you, is an initiative that was borne out of an agreement between former President Mbeki and President Hu Jintao – essentially an attempt to see how we can balance the trade between South Africa and China. This primary focus is to look at those sectors in which South Africa may have a competitive advantage so that we can boost our export particularly of manufactured goods into the Chinese market. This was related particularly to our realisation that a lot of our exports were of primary commodities and secondly that trade is very skewed because China exports lots of finished goods into our market. It is also an attempt to identify strategic or key sectors that will be attractive to the Chinese for purposes of foreign direct investment into our economy.
We will also be discussing with the Chinese what we should be jointly doing over the next 6-7 months to ensure that the next meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) that will be held in Egypt will be successful.
And finally off course, China and South Africa do participate in a number of multilateral fora. There is the topical issue of the UN reform that will now probably move to higher gear with the commencement of intergovernmental negotiations that will commence in February and needless to say, we would want to exchange some ideas with the Chinese on how they are approaching this issue.
There are other issues that are going to be topical this year – the WTO negotiations are continuing, the current global financial crisis and the Summit that will be hosted by Prime Minister Brown on 2 April 2009 and finally, the Chinese are an active player on the continent. I don’t think the areas of focus around the African agenda will be fundamentally different to those I have already referred to.
PRESIDENT MOTLANTHE TO VISIT MALI
There will be a visit of the President of the Republic to Mali on 24 January 2009. You are all aware of the Timbuktu project in Mali. We have previously spoken about it. There has been some significant progress and we are at the point where the facility can be opened. Therefore, a South African team led by the President and supported strongly by the Department of Arts and Culture will be visiting Mali for this purpose.
(Riasen Naidoo – Timbuktu Manuscripts Project) I thought I could give you some background on the project – as you may be aware, this project was initiated in 2001 when former President Mbeki visited Mali on an official visit and he was taken to Timbuktu to see the collection of manuscripts. It was on seeing the condition of the manuscripts that the need to preserve these manuscripts, the need to train Malians arose and in 2002 a bilateral agreement was signed between Mali and South Africa that looked at three areas of co-operation – the training of Malians in conservation and restoration, the creation of a greater awareness of the manuscripts and the contents of these manuscripts, and to provide adequate housing for these manuscripts.
What followed was that a non-profit trust was created and board members were asked to join and this trust was tasked with raising money for the project, most especially for the construction of a new building. The Department of Arts and Culture has between 2003-2005 trained 5 Malians selected by the Malian government. Our conservators worked with the same group of Malians in Timbuktu. The estimated cost of the new building in between R50-60 million and the Timbuktu Manuscripts Trust was chaired by Dr Essop Pahad and along with himself and other board members R45 million has been independently raised. We are happy to report that the building is close to completion, the inauguration will be presided over by the Presidents of the two countries on 24 January 2009. An invitation has also been extended to former President Thabo Mbeki.
The new building will have administrative offices for the staff of the Institute; an archive that will accommodate the 30000 manuscripts in its collection – the oldest of which dates back to 1204 covering a range of subjects to astronomy, literature, philosophy, traditional medicine; there will be a conservative laboratory; there will be a state of the art auditorium that will accommodate 100 people that can be used for conferences and with a view to promoting Timbuktu as a tourism destination; there will be an outdoor amphitheatre; and a public library for the citizens of Timbuktu.
It has not been an easy road to get this building completed in time – Timbuktu is about 1000 kms from Bamako, the last 200 of which is desert so the transportation of materials has been very difficult and temperatures reach 52°D in the summer.
SWITZERLAND HAS JOINED THE SCHENGAN GROUP OF COUNTRIES
I raise this matter particularly because of enquiries we have received from South African businesspeople wanting to travel to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum. On January 12th 2009, Switzerland joined the Schengan group of countries and therefore this means that South African citizens need to apply for visas to travel to Switzerland.
I think what we would want to report on Zimbabwe is a follow through on the briefing given to you by President Motlanthe in December which relates to the humanitarian intervention.
Just to recap – you would recall that at that point in time, he had indicated that he had sent a team led by Reverend Chikane, of which I was also part, to Zimbabwe. We were then sent by the President as his envoys to Zambia and to the Democratic Republic of Congo to basically convey some of the thoughts the President had. And following the agreement of other members of the Troika and following discussions that took place with other leaders in the region, a decision was taken to establish in Zimbabwe a non-partisan co-ordinating mechanism that essentially includes government, the multilateral organisations, civil society particularly the churches, farmers and farming community in particular precisely because the focus was going to be on two areas – food security and how to begin to work on a concerted plan that would assist with the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe as well as, off course, to do what is necessary from SADC to help Zimbabwe deal with the cholera outbreak. A lot of SADC countries have donated. On 7 and 8 January, the SADC Executive Secretary Tomas Salamoa was in Zimbabwe again to meet the various structures of civil society and government and formally establish that structure and ensure that there would be co-ordination of all the assistance that would be provided.
Now, it is still too early to assess what success we will register that that co-ordinating mechanism. But let me add, this co-ordinating mechanism is not meant to replace the work that is being done by the different agencies working in Zimbabwe – government is doing some work, the UN agencies are doing some work, the donor agencies supporting civil society but what became patently clear to us is that because there was no effective organisation, there was sometimes duplication and in a situation that requires so much, as the current situation in Zimbabwe requires, that was clearly not efficient.
So, I think this is what we are focusing on. South Africa has made her own contribution concentrating particularly on the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector. What has become clear is that the intervention by SADC in Zimbabwe, at the minimum, would have to carry through up to the next planting season which is around November/December 2009. It is quite clear that the yields that we should be expecting from the current planting session are not going to meet the current food requirements of Zimbabwe. So, for all intents and purposes, although we are talking of figures of 5.5 million people requiring food aid, that for the 2009 harvesting season which is around April we are not going to make a significant dent in that figure. So, I think, all of us in the region and the international community should brace ourselves for continued support. But the focus now is whether in fact, over the course of the year there can be a series of interventions that have been articulated and identified by the stakeholders in Zimbabwe that would then lead eventually to taking the country into its previous situation of food security.
Colleagues, we know no more than you do with respect to the political side of things. All we know if what you know which is essentially that on Tuesday next week, the Parliament of Zimbabwe is convening. At a theoretical level we should be expecting Amendment 19 to pass through but off course, you know that there is the very important meeting of the executive of the MDC on the 18th January which would have a significant impact on how the MDC approaches that amendment. So anything we would say apart from this would be speculation so I do not think we can say much more except to say again that every possible analysis that we make as a South African government clearly shows us that we cannot see any route that has immediate prospects for success that bypasses the stage of some variant of an inclusive government in Zimbabwe so we continue to hold the view that whatever the levels of discomfort amongst the different parties, the leaders will find a way to get around the difficulties they may have.
Deputy Minister Hajaig has briefed you recently on this matter but the three key issues we would like to appraise you on:
Firstly, there have been consultations between ourselves and some structures of civil society with respect to looking at what humanitarian assistance we can render. You will know that in the past we have worked very closely with the Gift of the Givers Foundation, we have also had discussions with the Council of Churches, the Bishops Conference, Cosatu and there is a general common view amongst all the structures of civil society that South Africa has to intervene and provide some form of humanitarian assistance so we are in the process of working on that and if all goes according to plan, we expect a relief flight to depart from South Africa on 22 January 2009. There are some technical issues that have to be resolved but we are sure we can work around them particularly the access to Gaza which is currently under siege. But we are working on this.
The second area of intervention is obviously to look at what happens with respect to supporting some of the political initiatives that are underway and most important amongst these is really the recent UN resolution calling for a ceasefire but there are two points that I would like to bring to your attention with regard to this. The resolution says that the ceasefire will lead to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. I want to stress that the resolution as crafted does not call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces and just to indicate, on our side, together with a lot of countries in the region, we would have hoped for an immediate and simultaneous process of withdrawal. However, in the process of negotiations around the resolution, we ended up with the formulation as it currently stands. This is risky because it is open to some form of provocation from one or the other side. But nevertheless, that is where we are. The second issue I would like to bring to your attention is basically our support for essentially what is moving on as the French and Egyptian initiatives, whose essence, is essentially to create a credible buffer mechanism that would try to respond to the concerns being raised about arms smuggling into Gaza and off course, we do know there is consultation among the countries in the Middle East and on our side I think, to the extent, that these initiative do enjoy quite a lot of support of the countries in the region, I think we support that and would continue to hope for a swift resolution to that problem.
I think we will end there for now.
Questions and answers
Question I noticed when you talked of African flashpoints you did not mention the issue of Somalia – there are more and more calls for South Africa to show a presence in the anti-piracy mission that is going on – what are the prospects of this?
Answer With respect to South African’s contribution on the anti-piracy side – I think there is an in-principle support on the side of South Africa but what we are trying to work through now is the mechanics of trying to provide that support. What I indicated previously is that the only requirement South Africa had put forward was that we were a bit uncomfortable being approached by individual countries and we were also uncomfortable about getting involved in the humanitarian project in Somalia outside the context of a UNGA Resolution. Off course, part of what we want to define very carefully if really to what extent and what role are we playing and I think so far, our focus is really on trying to deal with the issue of protecting the humanitarian corridor and supporting the efforts of the World Food Programme but off course, there are certain technical issues from a military point of view that do arise because we also cannot assume that those who are operating as pirates in Somalia will simply, because there is a UN resolution, not act in a confrontational manner. So, South Africa is trying to work through the implications of this.
Question Is South Africa accepting Israel’s concerns that these underground tunnels are being used to smuggle weapons when they also used to be the lifeline for food and other necessities to Gaza?
Answer I think when we talk about the issues of tunnels, it is quite clear that the tunnels are also being used for humanitarian purposes but as long as allegations exist about them being used for military purposes and given our existing position that no amount of concentrating on amassing weapons in Gaza by either side is going to give us a durable solution. So our approach, which is why I was highlighting the point that we could not get what we wanted in the UN – our first prize was not just a ceasefire but an immediate withdrawal and on the other side to try to give assurance to Israel that there is an intervention that is trying to stop any movement of arms but as I understand it, the Egyptian and French initiatives combined do make provision of how to manage humanitarian assistance which has to get into Gaza.
Question Regarding Somalia, there have been reports that Islamist insurgents are trying to take over the country – what is South Africa’s position?
Answer South Africa has always supported the strengthening of the peacekeeping forces in Somalia. We have supported the idea of African countries making a contribution; we also argued for the UN to play to a greater role in Somalia in the UN Security Council; we have at the same time, explained our own limitations – we are overstretched because of the area. That we are unable to contribute troops does not mean that we do not support the initiative.
With respect to the issue of Islamic insurgents – off course the issue in Somalia is that it will be ups and downs but they key issue for us is that before we put a blanket label on all the insurgency groupings, even those working under the broad cloak of being Islamists, we have always argued that it is important for us to recognise that we are dealing with a group that is very heterogeneous and so, our stance is that essentially, everything possible should be done to extend a hand and gauge the more moderate elements and off course, there are certain sectors what is called the Islamist insurgency in Somalia whose agenda is obviously counter to what we believe would advance the interests of Somalia so we take a rather different approach to this.
Question On the DRC – the talks brokered by Nairobi are being threatened by a split in the rebel group – what is South Africa doing to ensure stability before the AU Summit?
Answer I presume you are talking about the tensions within the CNDP – the group of General Nkunda. It is fair to say we are aware that there have been some difficulties. We have some reports of some of the sources of this but we are not in a position to say much more because we have to verify these reports. There are clearly some strategic issues with regard to the approach the CNDP should be taking.
Question Everyone is unhappy about the Palestinian situation – it is comparable with the massacre of 1948 – your government summoned the Ambassador of Israel to express your views. Do you have any other plans to do this?
Answer I think everyone will be aware that there is a lot of pressure on the South African government to make all sorts of interventions as a sign of outrage at what is happening in Gaza to the extent that the South African ambassador to Israel be recalled. I think this is a very difficult situation. And as I have alluded, we have begun to engage civil society and I think even on these issues we are trying to engage civil society to see what best we can do – again I think it will be fair to say that because this is not a new issue – aggression in Gaza and particularly through the Palestinian territories as you have pointed out – we had even in 2007 December during the conference of the ruling party, draft resolutions calling for dramatic actions. But the general view of the ruling party at that time, which off course, was consistent with the view of government, was to lend a lot of strong support to the Palestinian cause but we could not see our way clear to accepting some of the other suggestions. There was a also a call for the boycott of Israeli goods – out response at that time, based on our own experience, that when you talk of boycott of food products or commodities, it is far more valuable if it is led by the people you are supporting because boycotts do not succeed if everyone except those it is affecting participate. We have opened lines of communication with the leadership of the Palestinians across the board to understand the avenues open to us. There are lot of suggestions on the table driven by the frustration of South Africans with what is happening in Gaza.
Question Regarding the Chinese visit – will Foreign Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma raise with the Chinese the likelihood of Zimbabwe coming to the UN Security Council in the weeks to come and would you be calling on China to continue to use its veto to stop sanctions against Zimbabwe?
Question Does it concern South Africa at all, or have we stopped facilitating – is there something we are doing or are we waiting to see what will happen?
Question The South African led initiative to aid Zimbabwe – is there anything tangible on the ground because we cannot go into Zimbabwe to assess progress?
Question What do you anticipate happening around Zimbabwe and other African hot spots at the African Union Summit?
Question When President Motlanthe briefed the media he said the entire amount of R300 million will be coming from (inaudible) – what is it we are talking about in terms of this money? There is also some talk of a SADC Extraordinary Summit on Zimbabwe – is there any truth to this?
Question Has the co-ordinating committee for Zimbabwe been formed?
Question There have been calls for President Mugabe to be tried for crimes against humanity – where does South Africa stand on this issue?
Answer I don’t think we will necessarily discuss the matter of the veto – there has been up to now, and I don’t think China has necessarily required probing from South Africa – I think there has been some co-incidence in views towards the approach to Zimbabwe to the extent that we are all focusing on giving a chance to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. I can only assume that China, whether South Africa is in the UN Security Council or not, work on that basis. But off course, it is another issue whether China is in a position to use its veto in any given situation because it is quite clear that off course, as South Africa’s own concerns about that situation would have had some influence on some of the countries in terms of some of the positions they took, but the main thrust of China’s approach as we understand it is really to oppose – but whether the resolution will be framed as the last one that would necessitate a veto – I think it will be difficult to say. I think the Chinese are as anxious as we are to avoid the Security Council getting to that point which is essentially around what is it that can be used to nudge the parties to meet their own obligations and that probably does relate to two questions – the first one around the facilitation – I think that is a difficult one – the facilitation is continuing, there have been recent contacts again with the parties by the Facilitation but off course, as you would understand, this Facilitation is now sub-ordinated to the latest decisions of the Extraordinary Summit of the 9th November and as you will recall the clear issue of that Summit was to move on and pass Amendment 19, move on agree on the text and gazette it, go to the legislative process but before this, form an inclusive government. I think that part of the difficulty the Facilitation is left with is little room now is that we are at a most difficult point because one, the parties are expressing views about whether they will do what they have to do with respect to the inclusive government, but the difficulty is that the parties have not moved away from the Comprehensive Agreement that they signed so, to a large extent, it will be different ball game altogether if, for instance, the MDC took a decision and said, now the 15 September agreement is no longer an issue because we are moving away from it, then I think a new chapter will open. But for now, no party is signalling moving away from this. Therefore this forthcoming meeting of the MDC is very critical.
I am unaware of any Extraordinary Summit but I think, what we can logically expect is that on the margins of the AU, SADC will have some consultations either at Ministerial or Heads of State level. Quite clearly, as you can expect, the AU has given a task to SADC, this is the next AU Summit following the Sharm el-Sheik meeting and quite clearly, the AU will expect a detailed report on where we are currently.
On the issue of any additional pocket of money – I am unaware of any additional pocket of money. I am aware of a lot of arrangements related to exactly the areas that are covered in the R300 million. I think, it is fair really to say that the primary basis for the concerns government had about releasing the money without an inclusive government had to do with the issue of distribution of partisan resources and that would have been the primary reason and to an extent given the challenges and the need for us to sort out these issues. There has been a delay but there is urgency on the agricultural side. There is a lot of pressure on countries to move and I think that whatever movements are taking place, I think the Department of Agriculture which leads this initiative is working on the basis of this same R300 million. This is why South Africa has invested so much effort in trying to create some non-partisan co-ordinating mechanism so that we can be sure that whatever support is given by whatever country, including South Africa, is not used to advance party-political interests in Zimbabwe.
The issue of what is concretely happening – up to now, the most visible support that South Africa is rendering would be that that we are rendering around the Beit Bridge area on the fight against cholera and with respect to the agricultural side, I don’t think we will have anything visible at this stage. We are now at the stage where we are trying to identify beneficiaries for these inputs largely because we had reached a point where it became clear that for any concentration like the large grains like maize, we were completely off season so we are really now focusing on the small grains like sorgum and things like that. And then off course, beginning to lay the ground for the next intervention for the winter crops, which in the case of Zimbabwe, is wheat. I think this is the planning work that is going on on the agricultural side.
On the co-ordinating committee – there is a structure – it is led by the SADC secretariat.
Regarding the calls for President Mugabe to be tried – this is always difficult for us and for various countries – we have argued in the past and we continue to argue that the calls about taking people to the International Criminal Court at a time when we are trying to broker a peace deal – I think is essentially counter-productive. We don’t see this as assisting and I don’t think we can expect South Africa to join this chorus in the near future. This is the position we have raised in the past – not just regarding Zimbabwe. We have raised this regarding the DRC and you know the AU position with regard to Sudan and I think we continue to hold this position. This is far more an approach that is guided by what holds promise for peace so that more lives can be saved.
Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
14 January 2009