Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane speech at the Gala Dinner - Ingwenyama Conference and Sports Resort – Nelspruit, September 10, 2010

Programme Director,
The Representative of the Premier
Members of the Executive Council,
The Speaker of the Legislature,
Members of the Legislature,
Executive Mayors and Mayors,
The Director General of the Province,
Senior officials of the Provincial Government,
Senior Management and staff of DIRCO,
Members of civil society, business, academia, media,
Ladies and gentlemen

Let me take this opportunity to sincerely thank the Mpumalanga Provincial Government and the Tshwane University of Technology (Nelspruit Campus) for agreeing to play host to our Department of International Relations and Cooperation today. We appreciate the warmth of your hospitality and hope that our visit to your shores will assist all of us in our mission for creating a better life for all our people and building a better Africa and the world.

The history and geology of this majestic province has many tales to tell. Archaeologists tell us that rocks of microscopic traces suggest Mpumalanga was a cradle of life – with glimpses of the surface of the first continent. Embedded in this extraordinary geology are the unrivalled deposits of coal formed in vast swamps of rotting forests 200 to 300 million years ago – which today makes Mpumalanga one of the powerhouses of South Africa.

We read with appreciation about the history of the early farmers who roamed this part of our country, and who indeed believed that their ancestors watched over them - bringing fertility, rain and good fortune for a better life.

This is the province from where the sun rises to give life to our country!

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen,

We have, as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), after some bit of soul-searching, deemed it fit to undertake interactive visits to Provinces. The primary reasons for our coming here are manifold, but suffice to say we have come to realize that our people do not know our Department, let alone knowing what it does and how it can assist our many important stakeholders across the country.

When we conceptualized our Outreach Programme, we moved from the premise that foreign affairs or matters of international relations and cooperation are no more the unique preserve of foreign policy practitioners. International relations and cooperation, including the practice of foreign policy, is a contested terrain - with academics, business, civil society, churches and Legislatures playing a role in one way or the other.

Notwithstanding the contestation by other role-players and stakeholders, the responsibility of DIRCO entails advising Government on international matters. We provide Government with strategic information on developments in the international arena and facilitate our country’s participation at international events. This responsibility includes working with all of us, across Government and civil society, to promote our national interests abroad.

It is therefore important for all our stakeholders and role-players in the arena of international relations and cooperation to understand our Department’s role. Our overall mandate is to work for the realization of South Africa’s International Relations policy objectives.

Our Department monitors and interprets developments in the international environment; communicates government’s policy positions internationally and locally; develops and advises government on policy options, mechanisms and avenues of achieving our objectives; protects the Republic of South Africa’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including assisting South Africans abroad; and lastly, assists partner Departments (and Provincial Governments) in navigating complex international dynamics.
    
Our diplomatic and consular Missions abroad are there to enhance our international profile and serve as strategic mechanisms for the achievement of our national interests and for carrying out our mandate. As we speak, our country maintains diplomatic relations with countries and international organizations through 124 Missions in 107 countries abroad. Locally, we have 160 countries and international organizations resident in South Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen

Yes, our Department decided to embark on a country-wide Outreach Programme that will, at the end, we hope, ensure that the preoccupations of the country’s foreign policy are known and appreciated, and that the mandate of our Department is understood. But we also want you – provinces and all our people – to utilise us.  In working with you we will not only be carrying our mandate, but you will also help us understand our work better.

We want to ensure that ordinary South African can link their day-to-day struggles for a better life here at home with our Department’s international engagements.

Surely, we cannot claim to be representing the interests of all South Africans, whilst at the same time we fail to interact with them. This interaction is very important to our Department. We expect the outcomes of these interactions to help us improve our work and approach to international affairs.

Critical for us, ladies and gentlemen, is that our Department should be relevant to the programmes that this Province is undertaking and the challenges that you are grappling with.

Programme Director,

The principle point of departure is that South Africa’s foreign policy is an external emulation of what we espouse for South Africa and its people. The values and objectives of South Africa’s foreign policy should thus inform the various forms of international engagement practised by all spheres of government and other institutions of state.

I am confident that this Province is privy to a Cabinet document entitled “Measures and Guidelines for the enhanced Coordination of South Africa’ International Engagements”.  I wish to reiterate the centrality of this document to our practice of international relations, in view of the fact that our biggest challenge to the conduct of South Africa’s international relations is the lack of co-ordination amongst the various role-players involved. 

As a product of broad consultations amongst all three spheres of government, the document is intended to improve the co-ordination of South Africa’s foreign policy interactions, so as to enhance the benefit which South Africa’s international engagement brings to all parties involved. Our country’s increasingly active international role; the changing nature of diplomacy; the growing number of role-players involved in the international arena; and the numerous benefits that can result from international interaction - have all led the spheres of government to increasingly become active international players.

However, the common constraint to gaining the maximum benefit from South Africa’s international interaction should be and is effective coherent and political accountability for international relations activities.   We all agree, I am sure, that a lack of co-ordination has led to instances which have caused embarrassment to South Africa and strain in relations with other countries. The implications of this lack of co-ordination include the unnecessary costs of duplication, lost opportunities, and loss of South Africa’s credibility amongst partner countries.

I wish to reiterate the fact that our Provincial and Local Government role players from our Premiers, Members of Executive Councils (MEC’s), Provincial Directors-General, Heads of Departments, and Provincial Legislatures to Mayors, Councillors, Chief Executive Officers, and Municipal Managers - are all important players in international affairs.

All provinces and many municipalities have agreements and programmes of all sorts with counterpart entities across the world.  And a number of provincial and municipal entities are engaged in all parts of the world in fields such as investment and tourism promotion and capacity-building initiatives. 

These efforts by our provinces and municipalities are all aimed at helping our country prosper for a better life of our people.  You are leaving a mark everywhere you go in the world to promote this country’s role in global affairs.  This is a role that must enjoy the support of our Department.  This role can best be executed when we are well coordinated.

Our department is there to support you! But in order for us to support you effectively, please keep us in the loop – make us part your planning.

It is important for all of us to note that the Head of a South African Mission abroad acts as the principal representative of the President and Government. This official represents South Africa in the full scope of its international relations. The channel of communication between South African Missions abroad and all government stakeholders is via DIRCO headquarters. It is the brief of South African Missions abroad to guide visiting delegations in their international engagements and provide briefings to them on relevant developments in countries of accreditation.

Our Missions abroad are constantly inundated with endless “working visits” by National, Provincial and Municipal delegations, who often-times are queuing to enter the same country, in order to meet the same people, on the same topic! If that is not a classic example of lack of planning – then we don’t know what it means. What we are sure of as a department though, is that we paint a very bad picture of this beautiful country. 

This brings me to the established Consultative Forum of International Relations (CFIR), which should assist all three tiers of government with respect to regular coordination and strategic planning of our country’s international programme. This will Forum will provide us with a clear and practical demonstration of what we mean by cooperation.

I want to emphasize the importance of this Forum, as it provides the necessary interactive space for information-sharing; foreign policy guidance on international issues; planning and co-ordination of international visits; and discussion of pressing issues to enable Government to convey information in a consistent and principled manner on key Foreign Policy issues to various levels of government.

We are not insisting on coordination because we are what some may call “control freaks”. We are informed here by lessons we have learnt in the past and the need to correct some of our mistakes for the benefit of South Africa - including branding this beautiful country of Madiba and its people who defeated apartheid and successfully hosted the 2010 world soccer spectacular!  

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation, as I said earlier on, plays host to 160 countries and international organizations. These Embassies and High Commissions are resident in South Africa for the primary purpose of promoting diplomatic relations. Critical though, they are resident in South Africa to pursue trade and economic relations; provide consular services; and build social and cultural relations.

I wish to emphasize that Provincial actors in areas such as business, education, culture, media, community and civil society - should all take full advantage of the relationships that our Department can assist in establishing with these foreign missions.
International agencies like those of the United Nations are also an important partner with resources that can be leveraged by provinces for local development and addressing challenges in health and education – for an example.

This province borders Mozambique and Swaziland – the two countries that are important to us in our bilateral relations, and also through the SADC and the African Union.

We remain convinced that “working together we can do more”. We invite you to build partnerships with us, because we can only be relevant to this Province, to the extent to which we are invited to provide support. We are equally convinced that we can assist you to broaden your interactions with countries of the world, well beyond your MoUs and official engagements.

In conclusion Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, I am calling for a broader engagement between our Department and your institutions of higher learning; your think-tanks around the Mpumalanga Province; your media; your Provincial Legislature (in the context of parliamentary diplomacy); your business sector (in the context of commercial diplomacy); your civil society; and the broader Provincial Government.

Working together, we can do more!

I thank you all!

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