Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’ Lecture Address at the Tshwane University of Technology (Nelspruit Campus) on the topic “Balancing National, Regional, Continental and International Interests – where does the Republic of South Africa draw the line through its Foreign Policy?” – September 10, 2010

Programme Director,
The Acting Vice Chancellor and Principal of TUT, Professor Johnny Molefe,
TUT Chairperson of Council, Dr Nono Mohutsioa-Mathabathe,
The Deputy Vice Chancellor and Campus Director, Professor Shongwe,
The MEC of Education, Ms Regina Mhaule,
The Academic Manager, Ms Annemarie Breytenbach,
The SRC Leadership
The staff and students of the Tshwane University of Technology (Nelspruit Campus) and the Barberton, White River, Nelspruit and Ka-Nyamazane FET Colleges,
The Senior Management and staff of DIRCO,
The People of Mpumalanga
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good day!

Let me start by thanking the Council and Management of the Tshwane University of Technology for receiving us in this Province, as we go around the country rolling out our Outreach Programme as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). We truly appreciate the gesture and hope that our interaction today will usher in a new era of cooperation and collaboration as we both strive to bring meaning to the call that “together we can do more”.

Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal, we decided last year as DIRCO to embark on a programme targeting our communities and other organs of our civil society, which will, amongst others, ensure that the preoccupations of our foreign policy are known and appreciated, and the mandate of our department understood.

Our programme seeks to ensure that ordinary South Africans can link the country’s domestic priorities with our Department’s international engagements. We consider it necessary to create a mutually beneficial engagement between the DIRCO and a host of non-state actors, just like we are doing at this prestigious University today.

Our topic for today is: “Balancing National, Regional, Continental and International Interests – Where does the Republic of South Africa draw the line through its foreign policy?”  This topic is very relevant, and at the core of many of our preoccupations as government to refine our foreign policy and strengthen its linkages with the work we are doing domestically in the country to achieve the five priorities identified by the current Administration.  Our struggle for a better life at home is indeed intertwined with our struggle for a better Africa and a better world.

DIRCO has sought to undertake interactions with non-state actors like the Tshwane University of Technology in an effort to create the necessary space for us to explain what our department does; what its mandate is; what our foreign policy is and seeks to achieve; what our challenges and successes are; and how relevant is and can our department be to ordinary South Africans and the various institutions of higher learning like TUT.

As a Department that operates on the international stage, we are obligated by our pledge and commitment to a “people-centred approach” to prioritize and emphasize co-operation over competition, and collaboration over confrontation. This we do largely due to the recognition of the fact that states are interdependent and therefore need to co-operate, hence our unfaltering commitment to development partnerships across the globe.

It will be hard to have a full grasp of our foreign policy approach and behavior without an understanding of the ruling African National Congress’s ideological perspective.  The ANC’s ideological outlook and value system are informed by the spirit of internationalism; the rejection of colonialism and other forms of oppression; the quest for the unity and economic, political and social renewal of Africa; the promotion and defense of the plight of the suffering masses and poor of the world; and opposition to the structural inequality and abuse of power in the global system. 

At the very onset, I wish to categorically state that the ANC values democracy not only for our country, but also for the entire international system; the ANC wants peace and security not only in South Africa and Africa but also in the whole world; and the ANC struggles for economic justice and prosperity not only for South Africans but for the whole of humanity.

This value-based ideological perspective is not something of the past – it is still with us to this day as reflected in what was said in the ANC’s Strategies and Tactics document that was adopted at the 52nd National Conference in Polokwane in December 2007: That (to quote at length):

“The ANC was formed and it evolved as part of progressive forces across the globe in the fight against colonialism, racism, poverty, underdevelopment and gender oppression. It drank and continues to drink from the well of these progressive global experiences.

In its conduct of struggle, the ANC takes into account the global balance of forces, the better to help create and take advantage of opportunities for decisive  advance and to avoid pitfalls of adventurism. In this regard, we proceed from the understanding that it is the task of revolutionary democrats and humanists everywhere to recognize dangers; but more critically, to identify opportunities in the search of a just, humane and equitable world order – a world with greater security, peace, dialogue and better equilibrium among all nations of the world, rich and poor, big and small.”

(Close quote)

This is the ANC’s ideological standpoint which informs Government’s approach to international relations.  We are guided by what delegates at the 52nd National Conference said, that (I quote):

“Our standpoint on these [international] matters is both a matter of profound self-interest and an issue about the humanity of our own outlook. We will continue to build and strengthen progressive alliances and networks across the globe, including inter-state, party-to-party and people-to-people relations in Africa and further afield in pursuit of an equitable and humane world order.”
(Close quote)

It was the view of the ANC in 1994 - as spelt out in the “Foreign Policy Perspective in a Democratic South Africa” document which outlined our foreign policy principles, priorities and focus areas for the new South Africa – that (I quote):
“Foreign policy being an integral part, or rather, an extension of national policy and interests, becomes, consequently an important component in our strategy for development and social purposes.” (Close quote)

Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the fourth Administration since that document was written, but we remain unmoved to this day in our belief that our foreign policy should belong to you, our people, because:

  • It mirrors our long relationship with the international community;
  • It reflects the rich tapestry of our international heritage;
  • It demonstrates our desire to live in harmony with our neighbours;
  • It signals our intent to contribute creatively to Africa's future;
  • It beckons us to international service so that our country may fulfill its calling as a responsible global player; [and]
  • It summons all South Africans to think beyond the immediate, and to reach towards the challenges of the [twenty-first] century

Programme Director,
The mandate of our department (DIRCO) is derived from the policy positions of the ruling ANC on our foreign policy. This mandate entails, among others, is to:

  • Contribute to the eradication of poverty and under-development in South Africa and Africa;
  • Promote peaceful resolution of conflicts in our continent and elsewhere;
  • Contribute to peace, security and stability in Africa and the world;
  • Build and consolidate strategic partnerships to advance our developmental agenda;
  • Build the African continent’s institutions; and
  • Transforming of global political and economic institutions.

As a department, we continue to embrace the concepts of co-operation and development partnerships in our regional, continental and international work. We look at co-operation as an integral part of our foreign policy and must be articulated in a manner that enhances the attainment of South Africa’s foreign policy objectives.
The electoral mandate of “creating a better South Africa and contributing to a better and safer Africa in a better world” encapsulates and conceptualizes a South African foreign policy that enables our country to be a good international citizen. As we engage with our region, our continent and the international community, we seek to build, maintain and sustain external partnerships that have the potential to promote both a socio-economic agenda and a political and security agenda.

The foundations of our foreign policy are deeply embedded in the values of peace, democracy and development; the consolidation of the African Agenda, which entails the resolution of conflicts and the building of an environment in which socio-economic development can take place; and pursuing friendly relations with all peoples and nations of the world. We are committed to the promotion of the agenda of the South through South-South cooperation and the strengthening of North-South partnerships; including engagement with and transformation of structures of global power.

We are also committed to racial equality at both the domestic and global level; supporting efforts that seek to alleviate the plight of the poor and the vulnerable in Africa and elsewhere working towards the goal of a more equitably structured and just global order; and safeguarding South Africa’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

These are the values that continue to shape and inform our international engagements. But what is more, these are the values we seek to share with and export to the world, be it within our SADC region or the African continent, extending to the broad global community of nations.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen
The topic of my lecture this morning is about how as a Department mandated to manage the country’s foreign policy, we situate and express our national interests within our foreign policy at a national, regional, continental and international level?
I am certain all of you will agree that central to this theme is the concept of “national interest”. We therefore cannot at the end assume we have done a good job on the topic if we do not, at the very beginning unpack the concept of “national interest” and its application in our country’s context. We need to define what South Africa’s national interests are; where are they rooted; what informs them and what purpose do they seek to serve; and, what are the challenges (regionally, continentally and internationally) to the achievement of our national interests.

In our definition of the concept of national interest, we need to take into account that there are things that our State has to do to “promote the interests of the South African nation”. Critical for us to note also, is that our State acts within a contextual environment which presents opportunities and threats, whilst it seeks to promote what it values, pursues what it needs, hopes to achieve what it aspires to, and remaining relevant to the belief systems of its society.

As a consequence, the state has to define a limited number of strategic objectives, priorities, targets and sequences to promote its national interest. Our national interest therefore reflects our long-term goals and values, and what we consider to be our ongoing purpose as a nation.

Intense debates within government and among non-state actors like Universities have been held and will continue to be held on the subject of “what constitutes South Africa’s national interest”. Although the debate will still rage on, we can boldly claim that the main pillars of our “national interest” revolve around the stability, human security and prosperity of our country, including our region, the continent and the rest of the world.

In brief, the main pillars of South Africa’s national interest are: first, to ensure the stability of the Republic , its constitutional order and its institutions; second, to create an environment in which South Africans are and feel secure, and are free from want and hunger; third, prioritize the sustainable growth and development of the South African economy; fourth, prioritize the sustainable growth and development of the Southern African (SADC) region; Fifth, commit ourselves to working for a stable African continent that enables peace and development to take root; and Sixth,  to work towards the creation of a just and equitable world order.

It is this understanding of our national interest which informs our membership of regional, continental and international organizations – for instance. When we have a weak and dysfunctional SADC, African Union or United Nations - our own immediate or medium to long-term national interests will also suffer.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen
Many of you will be familiar with the debate among experts of international relations on “national interest” – and on whether states can act together to promote common interests and shared values.  The debate among these academics is of interest to a practitioner like me, as I believe that the various theories have an invaluable advice to offer.  I am, however, reluctant to box myself into one line of a particular school of thought.

To me, for example, to emphasize solely issues of shared values and common interest in foreign policy at the expense of national interest and the reality of power in international relations, may prevent one from seeing when the interests of one’s own country are at stake; or when others exercise their power to dominate your country and the entire international system.
We nevertheless note that to give primacy to issues of self-interest, national security and power in foreign policy at the expense of shared values and common interest in international relations may prevent a country from working with others – states and non-state actors – to build an equitable and humane world system.

Our approach to the practice of international relations therefore takes into account these various dimensions of foreign policy – that is: national interest, power, shared values, and common and collective interests.   And, as President Zuma said to the 64th United Nations General Assembly, we prefer “engagement over confrontation”.

Indeed, South Africa’s national interests are rooted  in our Constitution and our history - spelling out the values we aspire to – which we also wish to propagate through our foreign policy practices. The Preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa defines the following tasks for the state:

  • To heal the division of the past and establish a society founded on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • To lay the foundations of a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by the law;
  • To improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • To build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

The values that define our sovereign democratic state include, but not are not limited to, human dignity; the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms; the values of non-racialism and non-sexism; the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law; universal adult suffrage, regular elections and a multi-party system of government to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

As a beneficiary of many acts of selfless solidarity in the past, democratic South Africa believed strongly that what we wish for our country and its people should be what we wish for the citizens of the world.

Our international relations and cooperation work has and will at all times seek to promote our country’s national interests and support our government’s primary task of nation-building.

Indeed, the motto on our coat of-arms: ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke is written in the Khoisan language of the ǀXam people and translates literally to "diverse people unite". This poignant phrase is not on our coat-of-arms because of its literal beauty, it is there because when the fight for South Africa’s freedom from oppression was under way, our struggle made us aware of the beauty of diversity made us aware of our connections to our fellow human beings. This continues to feed our society, as we are a multifaceted, multicultural, and multiracial nation. 

The shame of the xenophobia violence that erupted in our country will always be a blemish on our reputation. But, as our motto signifies, we are not a people of exclusion. It is this violence and this shame that drives us even more to ensure that South Africa is not an island amongst our African family.

But what are the challenges - regionally, continentally and internationally - to the achievement of our national interests?

The geopolitical landscape is changing and the world-order is currently undergoing change. In cognisance of this, our country has developed our International Relations policies to acknowledge this geopolitical change; evident in our prioritising of the Africa Agenda, South-South cooperation and the strengthening of the North-South Relations. 

The era for an African approach to international relations has arrived. Africa will no longer be a peripheral role-player or receiver of donor-aid. And South Africa is conscious of our role in playing our part to ensure that our continent and our people are respected, our voices are heard and our concerns given attention – and we do with all within the realm of International Law.

The strategic perspective of our Foreign Policy is located within 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.

I wish to single out here four global trends that are or will shape the emerging world to which we must respond as a country and continent.   These trends are:

  • An emerging interest driven world
  • A new transnational resource agenda
  • Shifting demographic dynamics
  • A changing process of globalization

These global trends, which could turn into challenges, will profoundly change the global landscape over the coming decades.

Students of international relations will know that some people have argued that ideology is no longer a primary driver of state behavior. This new reality has ushered-in a new interest-driven world. In this new interest-driven world order, our national interests diverge and converge, resulting in states cooperating or opposing each other as their interests dictate. In the meantime, we notice a shift in global wealth and power, from West to East, as new economic powers arise.
Looking at these new economic powers, one notices alternative growth models to those pursued by many of our countries in Africa.  These are developmental models built around and led by developmental states – that is: states that are not spectator in the economy and society but active and leaders in the country’s development.   The ANC-led government has also chosen this model of development.
On the new trans-national resource agenda, we realize that resources (energy and strategic mineral resources in particular) are gaining prominence on the international agenda. These new focus, we believe, is a result of the ever-present need for economic growth and development, including the challenges that come up with population growth pressures and their impact on energy, food and water.

As a consequence, we can expect that such topics as cleaner, renewable and sustainable sources of energy will become common. We will also have to find creative ways to manage and address the question of food insecurity and the urgent need for new mechanisms to manage access to water sources. As we grapple with the question of the trans-national resource agenda, we will need new technologies to help address our resource constraints.

Africa’s response will have to, amongst others, combine attributes such as stronger and better governance; strengthened intra-African trade and investment; improved rural development strategies; strategies to mitigate resources scarcity; and strengthened partnerships with states rich in these resources. 

Africa is well endowed with people – its population.  Population dynamics have played an important role in the rise of emerging powers in Asia – as a resource that can be harnessed by governments for the country’s development.  Africa, with its young population, can learn from this experience, including migration and population issues facing nations of the North in the form of the challenge of aging and increasing migrant population.

These global trends will also necessitate a changed process of globalization. The redistribution of power and wealth from the West to the East will change the globalization process, in terms of its size, speed and directional flow. The advent of a new globalization will impact our continent and influences our developmental models.

For Africa, our trade and investment strategies will need to be diversified to include new emerging powers and regions. As a country, South Africa will have to be ready to tap into new technologies.

As a country which is committed to playing a meaningful role in the future of the African Continent, we see a role for ourselves in helping create circumstances that will enable Africa to strengthen its position in this emerging world. It is for this reason that we vigorously pursue regional integration as SADC and the African Union in order to position our continent. Our own view is that Africa must be counted among emerging powers in this century.

I believe that Africa, as we celebrate 50 years of our independence, will not miss the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past to get things right in the next 50 years.  Few things we have learnt and include the following, that:

  • Governments work better when they are governed better!
  • Governments work better when they serve the people better!
  • Our resources befit us better when they are managed better!
  • Our resources benefit us better when they are managed for a better life for our people!
  • And that wars don’t build but destroy!

Programme Director

I have journeyed you through the past and future of our foreign policy, including the priorities of our policy vision. These issues are not abstract or far removed from our reach. This very Province bears testimony to what we always say that our future is inseparably-linked to that of our neighbours and the rest of Africa.

We are also encouraged by strong bonds of family and friendship between the people of Mpumalanga and those of Swaziland and Mozambique. Many of our people in the Free State, Eastern Cape and Gauteng have families in Lesotho. The people of the North West also live side by side with those of Botswana. These people-to-people ties is one best example we need for the kind of future we envisage for the SADC region.

We cannot look at ourselves in isolation from our location in this region. South Africa cannot be an island of peace and prosperity. What we do in the SADC, the rest of Africa, and in our relations with countries of the South and those of the North – is in our interest now and in the future.

We have been consistent since 1994 in what we do in our international relations, but there has also been areas of change by virtue of the dynamic nature of the environment we work in and the lessons we learn along the way. We harbour no illusions that this consistency will continue into the future, but our effectiveness in our foreign policy will also depend on how we respond to changing circumstances.


Again, let me thank all of you for your audience. We will need to work together, hand in hand, for a better life for our people and a better Africa and the world. But this will not be easy as it will take a lot of determination and courage like we did during the difficult years of our struggle. I am reminded here of what Mwalimu, Comrade Julius Nyerere, said in December 1987 in his address to the ANC Conference in Arusha, that:

Throughout these long years the struggle has been waged inside South Africa, by the people of South Africa. It has waxed and waned. There have many setbacks, until sometimes the faint-hearted despaired and occasionally even the courageous retreated for a time into sullen resignation. But never was the flame of resistance extinguished. Always new people came to pick up the torch of freedom from those whose strength had been exhausted, and to carry it forward.

We need this strength! You, students, better be prepared for one day you will have to pick up the torch!

I thank you all!

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