Speech by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on the topic “South Africa’ Foreign Policy focus today and in the future”: University of the Free State - 30 March 2010

Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Free State, Professor Jansen,
The Academic staff of the University of the Free State,
Premier Ace Magashule and Members of your Executive Council,
Executive Mayors, Mayors and Members of the Parliamentary Legislature,
Members of the non-state actor community,
Students of the University of the Free State,
Senior Management and staff of DIRCO,
Ladies and gentlemen

On behalf of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, I wish to start by thanking the Council and Top Management of the University of the Free State for allowing us to be their guests, as we go around the country rolling out our Public Participation Programme. We truly appreciate the gesture, especially in view of the fact that our being here coincides with the Easter vacations and therefore a period of recess for the University.

In the same breath, please allow me to also thank the Premier of the Province, Comrade Ace Magashule and Members of the Provincial Executive Council for their presence and support. Without reservation, let me also thank the Speaker of the Legislature and all MPLs present here, including senior managers in government.

My presence here today, Vice-Chancellor, is also timely for our Department because we are currently on a country-wide road-show to popularize our foreign policy and interact with our various stakeholders and role-players on what our country is trying to achieve beyond its borders.  We were at the University of Limpopo and subsequently Rhodes University during the month of October last year, where we spoke to the students, academic staff, business and NGOs about the preoccupations of our Foreign Policy, its successes and its challenges.

Our interaction with you this morning seeks to revisit and demystify the mistaken notion that foreign policy is a distant, luxurious preoccupation of elites based somewhere in Pretoria and New York and Beijing and Addis Ababa - with no significant bearing on the lives of ordinary people. We are here to answer to the skeptics who wonder whether our country’s engagement with the SADC, the AU or even the UN is not just a waste of time and that of our precious resources. Some will ask - can’t we just close our borders, insulate ourselves and enjoy our wine, our gold and diamonds, our soccer and rugby and cricket, our seas, our natural flora and fauna? The answer is no, because the age of “globalization” is upon us, let alone afford to be an “island of prosperity in a sea of poverty”. 

These are the same people who, correctly so maybe, do not see why we should be concerned and engaged in issues that relate to Sudan or Somalia or the DRC or Zimbabwe or Madagascar. To complicate matters more, they see and hear us in the corridors of the United Nations or in Copenhagen at the Climate Change conference or alongside our Indian and Brazilian counterparts. To confuse them even more, they see no connection between the struggles they endure daily and our travels to far-away shores.

It therefore gives me great pleasure, Vice-Chancellor, to be here this morning to share with you my thoughts on “South African Foreign Policy Focus Today and in the Future”. We hope, through this lecture, that we will contribute to a better understanding of our foreign policy and its relevance to our domestic concerns. It is my hope that this lecture will also provide the necessary motivation and clarification that without peace in our Continent there shall be no development, and that without development there shall be no peace.

Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,

Our journey around all the nine provinces of the country is premised on the understanding that the practice of foreign policy is a contested terrain, no more a unique preserve of diplomats representing governments. Through our own assessment within the Department, we arrived at the simple conclusion that our fellow South Africans do not know our Department or what it does; or what our Foreign Policy is all about; what it seeks to achieve; what are the challenges; what are the non-negotiables; and of course how it can contribute to the building of a just, peaceful and prosperous South Africa, Africa and World.

The Public Participation Programme that we have designed seeks, amongst others, to ensure that the preoccupations of our foreign policy are known and appreciated, and the mandate of our department understood. Furthermore that that ordinary South African can link the country’s domestic priorities and our Department’s international engagements. Last but not least, the programme seeks to create mutually beneficial engagements between our Department and a host of non-state actors like this University community.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen

South Africa’s foreign policy is an integral part, or rather, an extension of our country’s domestic policy and interests. As a consequence, it is an important component of our country’s strategy for political and economic development.

The historical evolution of our foreign policy confirms that ours belongs to the people of South Africa. By its very nature, our foreign policy reflects the rich tapestry of our international heritage. It also mirrors the long relationships that we have with the international community. When closely examined, our foreign policy demonstrates our desire to live in peaceful harmony with our neighbours, including our declared intent to contribute creatively to Africa's future.

The strategic perspective of our Foreign Policy is located in our history as a nation. The premise of our foreign policy is that it is unsustainable in the long term, to have a South Africa that is thriving and experiencing abundant economic growth and development - within a Southern African region or an African continent - that is experiencing poverty and underdevelopment. This is the basis of our argument that we need to ensure that we remain deeply involved in the political and economic revival (and development) of Southern Africa and the continent as a whole.

A closer and incisive study of our Foreign Policy, reveals that its dominant values are about peace, peaceful resolution of conflicts, peace-making and peace-keeping activities, mutually beneficial strategic partnerships, a multilateral developmental agenda in pursuance of the African Agenda, the building of strong institutions in the Continent and the reform of others internationally, and a desire to influence global political issues.

Drawing from our past, inspired by our present and committed to an equitable future - the conduct of our international relations and cooperation shall continue to be based on our commitment to the promotion of Human Rights; of Democracy; of Justice and International Law in the conduct of relations between nations; of International Peace and to internationally agreed upon mechanisms for the Resolution of conflicts; to Africa in world affairs; and to Economic Development through Regional and International co-operation in an interdependent (and globalized) world.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen

Our foreign policy remains firmly anchored on the African continent and the developing countries of the world. We believe Africa has to emerge from an era of political and social decline into a renaissance of hope and social progress. We have a duty to support our fellow Africans in using their newly harnessed energy, pride and self-assertiveness to chart their own course of development and extricate themselves from the lowest rungs of human development.

In the same breath, our African sisters and brothers in the Diaspora are critical to our continental revival. Their skills and know-how should be identified and harnessed as our continent seeks to re-emerge and entrench itself among the community of nations. In this regard, I am reminded of our own sisters and brothers in Haiti.

Two months after the devastating earthquake, there is disturbing information that the failures of the world’s relief effort are heartbreaking. We are informed that at least 1,2 million Haitians need urgent shelter as the weather turns fierce. With the general relief effort led by the United Nations and foreign countries, including aid organizations, apparently only half of those displaced have received the crudest means of emergency shelter, food, water, medical care and security.

Having been party to the initial response, we are obligated by the umbilical cord that enjoins us, to continue being fully involved. We know that Haitians, as a people, are eager to help themselves, but obviously they are overmatched by the scale of this disaster. We need not, as South Africa, allow our attention to be diverted and our commitment doubted – because this is Haiti’s hour of need.

It is in this regard that when South Africa celebrates its National Day on April 27 this year, I wish to see us present Haitians with packages of presents and aid – in an effort to lift their spirits and restore their hope. Let us support efforts that are underway throughout the country to ensure that people and organizations across the broad spectrum donate in kind.

In their article “Africa Observed: Discourses of the Imperial Imagination”, Jean and John Comaroff advise us on how Africans and Africans in the Diaspora should define their place in nature. They argue that Africa might have become a moral battlefield in the past, but its representation in the eighteenth century also reflected a conceptual order, in terms of which man became his own measure. No longer satisfied with the notion of himself as God’s passive creature, man sought to define his “place in nature” - on a scale of humanity rather than on a ladder to heaven.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen

Looking back some 15 years into our past, we remain proud of the progress we have registered. Today we enjoy peaceful co-existence with our regional neighbours in Southern Africa; and we have, as a collective of Africans, made impressive strides in addressing issues of conflict and underdevelopment – although we still need to do more.

As a country, we have in the past managed to aggressively put the case of the rejuvenation of Africa’s economies and development on the tables of the Bretton Woods institutions and the UN. Beyond that, we have forged and continue to nurture close collaborative ties with the wealthy nations of the G8, as well as our major trading partners. We remain committed to building strong strategic partnerships, in the context of South-South cooperation and North-South relations.

In the period 1999-2008, the ANC-led government clearly outlined South Africa’s aims in international relations as the advancement of the country’s national interests, particularly as they related to nation-building, the promotion of human rights, security, wealth creation and redistribution, employment creation, trade promotion and increasing the levels of Foreign Direct Investments into the country. We remain committed to realizing these interests.

Together with our fellow African brothers and sisters, we have promoted NEPAD through a sustained engagement with the G8 group of countries. In our engagements, we made sure that the concerns of the South remained on the G8’s annual deliberations. We will continue to engage the World Bank and the IMF by arguing for an international financial and development architecture that is favourable to African countries and the South.

As we all know, the recent Summit of the African Union in Ethiopia endorsed South Africa’s candidature for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2011-2012. Our candidature will be guided by our commitment to strengthening the multilateral system and our support for a broader multilateral approach to questions of international peace and security.

Our membership of the Security Council will present an opportunity for us to promote the African Agenda and to contribute to achieving peace and stability in our continent and all regions of the world. In putting our candidature forward, we recognize the importance of continuing to work together with all members of the AU and UN in pursuit of effective global governance, multilateralism and the reform of the UN system and the UNSC.

In doing all these, we want to demonstrate that through sustained and focussed efforts we can collectively transform the political and socio-economic landscape of our region, our continent and the world.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen

This African continent, to which we passionately belong and love, has a set of critical challenges that we need to acknowledge and understand in relation to its developmental path. Some of the challenges that sit at the epicenter of our developmental path, amongst others, include poverty; under-development; a democratic deficit; lack of security; gender in-equality; and leadership. I am the first to admit that there is reasonable movement in a number of these areas. The point though is that, they remain some of our biggest challenges nevertheless.

The majority of Africans still and continue to live in abject poverty, making poverty a structural problem. The faulty development models that we continue to embrace, for example by basing our economic development on a dependence on the extraction of raw materials and selling them non-beneficiated, will not help us in the long run. This we continue to do, neglecting in the process to invest education and training, including diversifying into new technologies, information communication, and industries.

Although we are doing relatively well in entrenching democratic values and practices in Africa, the tendency to gain political legitimacy through the barrel of the gun and through coups remains a cause of concern. One need not look further than our neighbor Madagascar. Tied to this aspect of a democratic deficit, is the problem associated with the lack or unwillingness to renew leadership in Africa. We know that Africa has potential, has to learn to speak with one voice and of course Africa needs capable and respectable leadership.

Our continent also continues to experience political destabilization and civil wars, the causes of which differ, but in the main coincide at the confluence of the twin evils of poverty and underdevelopment. While we are aware that the African Union has declared 2010 the year of “peace and security”, we also know that without peace there will be no development, and of course without development there will be no peace.

Our desire for peace and friendship in Africa has always been our lodestar, hence the words of our father of non-violence, Chief Albert Luthuli on10 December 1961, when he dedicated his Nobel Peace Prize:
(I quote).

“I accept it as an honour, not only to South Africa, but to the whole continent of Africa, to all its people, whatever their race, colour or creed. It is an honour to the peace-loving people of the entire world, and the encouragement to us to redouble our efforts in the struggle for peace and friendship”.  (Close quotes).

His words are still relevant today as they were in 1961, for they call on us to redouble our efforts in our struggle for “peace, security and friendship” among nations and peoples of the world.

The last, but obviously not the least developmental challenge, is the problem of gender inequality and what it poses to our society as we develop. As we all would recall, March 8th was the International Women’s Day – which we celebrated recently in Pretoria.  There is no disputing the fact that the plight of women and the girl child in Africa needs our urgent and undivided attention. Women of Africa regardless of which country they originate from seek economic, political and social emancipation. We remain convinced that no country is free until its women are free.

What this movement for the emancipation of women calls for, is nothing less than supporting all women and the girl child. The call is for society to ensure that the place of the African woman is and should be where she wants to be. As the saying goes, educate a man and you educate an individual, but educate a woman and you educate a village.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen

Our emergence as a democratic country in the decade of the 20th century has thrust us into a fundamentally transformed world. The cold war has ended; the great contending forces of capitalism and socialism no longer dominate the world scene. A new era has dawned whose main content is, inter-alia, the ever-growing conflict between a highly-industrialized and affluent North and an impoverished, under-developed, highly populated South.

More and more issues such as development, human rights, the environment, South-South co-operation, North-South relations, multilateralism, peace, security and disarmament, etc., will continue to dominate the international agenda. Our response to these basic issues obviously would be informed by the necessity to advance our common national interests in the first place and, secondly, to ensure that the Southern African region develops in conditions of peace, security and stability.

More specifically and despite all the various challenges the African continent is going through, our Department of International Relations and Cooperation will, amongst others:

  • Work together with people of our continent for cohesion, unity, democracy and prosperity of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union;
  • Continue to work towards regional economic integration in Southern Africa on a fair, equitable and developmental basis, promoting SADC integration based on a developmental model that includes infrastructure development, cooperation in the real economy and development of regional supply-chains;
  • Spare no energy in our efforts to finding democratic and lasting solutions to the situation in Zimbabwe, Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Western Sahara;
  • Continue to support the global campaign to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015;
  • Work together with the countries of the South to promote south-south relations and agitate for a fairer and more humane international trade and financial system and a just world order; and
  • Commit to the peaceful resolution of all conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and rest of the world.

 Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,

In the spirit of participatory democracy, we are aware that most of the progressive and democratic principles of the country’s Constitution will not be effectively implemented without the active mobilization and participation of all our people. As the Freedom Charter has directed, "The people shall govern". We believe democracy is more than electing representatives to power once every five years. It means empowering people, especially women; workers; youth and rural people, to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Our country’s Constitution encourages active citizen participatory democracy and empowerment in people’s lives through social cohesion. It is also in the context of enriching our intellectual content that I met with leading minds in academia (as non-state actors) on 17 October 2009. This interaction is intended to establish an engagement between the DIRCO and research institutes/academia. Because our programme is a listening and learning encounter, we need to hear your observations, displeasures, views and opinions on our practice of South Africa’s foreign policy.

In the same vein, I wish to appeal to all non-state actors here in the Free State Province, starting with academics of this institution, to “work and walk” with us. Think-tanks and Universities have a critical role to play in generating ideas and options for South African foreign policy.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen

As I conclude my talk this morning, I am calling for a broader engagement with Universities like this and think-tanks around the Free State, to engage us on issues of foreign policy. Although our duty is to ensure the realization of South Africa’s foreign policy objectives, we are the first to admit that the terrain of international relations remains contested.

In the same breath, we need to ensure that our business, in the context of commercial diplomacy, remains a player in regional economic development and integration. We also wish to encourage our business community to have regular information-sharing session with Embassies and High Commissions that are based in Pretoria. These are our important guests who are in the country to promote diplomatic relations, but most importantly to lay bare opportunities for trade in their sending states.

I also want to emphasize the need on the part of our institutions of higher learning to interact with these Embassies and High Commissions on issues of education, scientific research and training. We also wish to invite the students of this University to take full advantage of our internship and learnership programmes.

It is worth mentioning that as embrace the 2010 FIFA World Cup, let us make sure that our visitors leave our shores with fond memories of a cultured and hospitable people. All of us should contribute to creating a good international image of South Africa.

We have to work together here at home for a better South Africa, in a better Africa and a better World. 

In the words of Mahatma Ghandi we “have to be the change we want to see in the world”.

I thank you!

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 30 March, 2010 4:26 PM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa