Speech by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim on “South Africa’s position vis-à-vis recent UNSC resolutions on Libya and the Libyan crisis as a test of South Africa’s leadership role on “African solutions to African problems” presented at the University of Venda - August 2, 2011

Programme Director, Professor V. Netshandama;
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UniVen, Professor PA Mbati;
The Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor M Makgopa;
Executive Mayor of Vhembe District, Ms Joyce Dzhombere;
Members of the University Council and Management;
Students and practitioners of Foreign Policy;
Ladies and gentlemen

Programme Director,

I bring very warm greetings from your Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), which has embarked on a programme that targets non-state actors - who we regard as our partners and potential allies. Let me take this opportunity to thank the Management of the University of Venda for inviting us to this influential institution, whose products continue to shape South Africa’s academic, social and political landscape.

We have been traversing the length and breadth of this country, moving from one Province to the other, in an effort to build bridges between our Department and our various stakeholders, be it the media, NGOs, CBOs, academia, think-tanks, sports formations – for the simple reason that we need to popularize our foreign policy. The contextual framework that informs our Public Participation Programme (PPP) is that we have to ensure that ordinary South Africans can link our country’s domestic priorities with our Department’s international engagements.

Our coming to the University of Venda today is, amongst others a result of our own analysis that “easy access to information” turns most students like you and ordinary citizens out there, into independent observers of international developments, as well as assertive and “informed” participants in the sphere of international relations.  

Additionally, we are here to share with you our conception of our identity creation and image projection of our Department and our country. We have to jointly find ways of influencing those milieu factors - here at home and abroad - that constitute the psychological and political environment in which attitudes and policies towards us as a country are debated and formed.

As the Department, we can immediately identify with the goals of the University of Venda – hence we want to embrace and lay equal claim to your goal of developing responsible citizens who will impact positively on the growth and development of our country, our Continent and our globe. We also believe that this University has the necessary human resource capital to serve as an engine that drives our regional growth and development strategy, well beyond the borders of this country.

We are equally impressed with the fact that our Department and this University share the values of Integrity and Ubuntu. We are not here with an intention to dictate what we believe should inform our domestic and international policies, strategies, programmes and vision – but to share with you our views – with the hope that we will benefit from your own views and opinions.

Programme Director,

I have been asked to speak to two intersecting subtopics to the developments in Libya, i.e. the implications of the vote in favour of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973 on South Africa’s role in conflict resolution in Africa; and the Libyan crisis as a test of South Africa’s leading role and importance in ‘African solutions to African Problems’’ in the face of foreign military intervention. In addition to this, I will also briefly speak on our policy towards the African Continent, in the context of our policy priority of “Consolidating the African Agenda”.

In a statement on the subject of human rights to the United Nations (UN) in 1968, former President of the African National Congress (ANC), Oliver Reginald Tambo warned the world that:

 “the persistent contravention of human rights is a recipe for violent conflict and war”

As we journey through the two critical questions that define our topic today, we will seek to provide insight into our country’s foreign policy position and motivations following the outbreak of civil war and the subsequent UNSC Resolutions 1970 and 1973. For a moment we need to reflect and wonder how prophetic Oliver Tambo’s words were – said some 43 years ago.

Programme Director,

Our foreign policy is by its orientation a campaign for a humane and equitable world order. Our history is a living testimony of what we gained from and will contribute to a culture of human solidarity across the globe. We remain committed to working with other countries and progressive forces to promote, amongst others, the transformation of the global political and economic order away from unilateralism, in-equality and unfairness.

A brief sequencing of our involvement in the Libyan case reveals that:

  • In the midst of the regime of Colonel Gadhafi’s bombardment of his own people in Benghazi and Misrata, we led from the front and campaigned for the suspension of Libya from the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva;
  • Our President took the opportunity of the phone call from Colonel Gadhafi to inform the Colonel that South Africa abhors his government’s violation of human rights against its own people; and that;
  • In view of the continued loss of civilian life as a result of the Gadhafi regime’s bombardment and his subsequent utterances about his “intention to kill all cockroaches”, we did not only support, but we co-sponsored all Resolutions against Libya at the UNSC, i.e. Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

Our understanding of Resolution 1970 of February 27, 2011 was and is that: it imposed a travel ban on some senior figures and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC); and of course our understanding of Resolution 1973 of March 17, 2011 was and is that: it authorized the use of all necessary measures to implement a no-fly zone aimed at protecting civilians from imminent attack, and sought to facilitate humanitarian assistance. South Africa’s positions, it has to be said, we coordinated with Nigeria and Gabon, the present African non-permanent members of the UNSC.

Our vote together with the African countries in the UNSC also constituted a support for the call by the League of Arab States on a “no-fly zone” over Libya in order to protect civilians. In keeping with established multilateral diplomacy principles, South Africa trusted that resolution 1973 was going to be implemented in good faith and in full respect for both its letter and spirit, more especially it being obligatory within the UNSC resolution.

In all our statements, we have reiterated South Africa’s support of positions taken by the African Union (AU) and the UN on Libya – and this included statements and resolutions imposing sanctions on Libya. South Africa’s commitment is clearly demonstrated by our support to the objectives and subsequent visits by the AU’s High-Level Committee on Libya to Tripoli – and of course our President’s recent visit there. The thrust of this High-Level Committee’s intervention is the:

  • Need to open a political dialogue between the two opposing parties;
  • Call for a ceasefire and an end to the loss of life; and
  • Present a Roadmap to a negotiated settlement in accordance with the will of the Libyan people.

All these were done, with the sole purpose of assisting the Libyan people to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the current conflict. As we speak, we know that Colonel Gadhafi accepted the terms and conditions as presented to him by the High-Level Committee. We also know that the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi regrettably rejected the proposals presented by the delegation. Nevertheless, the AU continues to pursue both parties to agree to a negotiated settlement and South Africa confirms its support for the AU’s Roadmap to peace in Libya.

Notwithstanding the above, our view on the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Libya is that we had made the assumption that whoever entered the Libyan space meant to implement UNSC Resolution 1973. Our analysis has since revealed that NATO’s military action has now taken precedence over finding a political solution to the crisis. As South Africa, we do not subscribe to a military solution for a political problem. Our call is for the ending of all hostilities, so that we can give space to negotiations which will help us reach a political solution.

Throughout, South Africa had expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya as evidenced by the large number of people in need of humanitarian assistance and compounded by the lack of dialogue between the Libyan parties.  We have also called on the parties to ensure safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian agencies to the needy in all parts of Libya. 

Thus, South Africa has noted the decisions of the Secretary-General to send his Special Envoy to Libya and of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) to send its ad hoc High-Level Committee to Libya - with the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.

We believe a solution to the Libyan crisis will emanate from an all-inclusive political dialogue. Therefore, South Africa’s vote for the UNSC resolution 1973 and other resolutions adopted since the beginning of its tenure on the Council augurs well for peace and stability of the African continent.

It is on this score that we reiterate our position that whatever interventions, as per Resolution 1973, were all solely meant to protect human lives. Any agenda that involves “regime change” does not have our support and goes against the letter and spirit of Resolution 1973. We nevertheless support legitimate calls for change and reforms, and we will be amongst the first to support such change if done through peaceful means.

We do so informed by, amongst others, our values that embrace the spirit of internationalism; the rejection of colonialism and other forms of oppression; our 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 our opposition to the structural inequalities and abuses of power in the global system. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

South Africa is among the last African countries to gain political independence, which came on the back of the political and economic sufferings of most African countries. Since the advent of democracy in 1994, we have - as it would be expected - sought to participate in sub-regional, continental and international efforts aimed at addressing political, economic and developmental challenges.

In this context, our country has utilised multilateral forums to work with fellow Members States including in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the AU and the UN to find collective solutions to common challenges of peace and security, development and promotion of human rights. Our role in conflict resolution in Africa is ongoing and intense, and any attempt to use the Libyan case – in isolation - runs the risk of losing a better grasp on the bigger picture.

South Africa is and has always been committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the African continent and globally; and has made substantial contributions in mediation efforts, peacemaking, peace-building, and post-conflict reconstruction.

Our contributions in countries such as the Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar, South Sudan and Zimbabwe – speak for themselves. For us as peacemakers, pathfinders and bridge-builders - we know that when the heat is on, arm-chair critics have a field day pointing fingers in all directions. But when the dust settles and peace takes root, they rush to claim the dividends of peace – forgetting all what they have said when the heat was on. On this, we need not look any further than:

  • who is rushing into South Sudan;
  • who is rushing into the DRC;
  • who is rushing into Burundi;
  • who is waiting in the wings to enter a peaceful Zimbabwe;
  • who is claiming the dividends of peace in Cote d’Ivoire; etc.

The point I am driving home is that we need to rise above the noises and remain focussed on the end-game.

It must be made clear to all of us that we were not elected into the non-permanent category of the UNSC by 182 votes from the international community because they had run out of choices. Our record and performance in conflict prevention, resolution, management, including post-conflict reconstruction and development precede us – and we should not be shy to say this.
I need you to be aware of those whose brief and mission is to make us look bad, for their own selfish reasons, for we have been thrown into a leadership of the region and the Continent by history.

We continue to actively participate in all the activities of the UNSC in line with our national priorities, making inputs to its various discussions, including debates and consultations on draft resolutions, reports, presidential and press statements. All of these facts highlight that South Africa will never abandon its responsibilities and mandate as a responsible global player - in particular in the field of peace and security as well as conflict prevention, resolution and management.

In this context, South Africa supported UNSC resolution extending the mandates of the UN peacekeeping missions in the Sudan (UNAMID), Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI), the DRC (MUNUSCO) and the admission of the new state of South Sudan among others. Furthermore, it should be noted that there are no contradictions between South Africa’s UNSC membership (vote on Libya) and our country’s role and efforts on conflict resolution on the African continent. It is for this reason that we continue to advocate for alignment of the work of the AU PSC and that of the UNSC, pursuant to Chapter VIII (8) of the UN Charter on regional arrangements.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen,

I think it is important for me to journey through our foreign policy towards Africa with our young students, in an effort to ensure that they never fall victim to mis-information about their own Continent.  Our policy towards our Continent – as aptly packaged under the theme of “Consolidating the African Agenda” - has been and continues to be shaped by a number of historical, economic, political, social and cultural realities and considerations.

Top-most on our agenda is that we need to ensure that our continent economically develops and politically matures into the international systems of governance. Having been born out of struggle, our history compels us to refrain from pursuing foreign and economic policies that will make South Africa an island of prosperity in a troubled sea of under-development, war, poverty, disease and illiteracy.

South Africa’s contribution to the economic and political development, including the security of the Southern African region and the African Continent at large - is and will continue to be based on the spirit of mutual partnerships, and never as an aspiring hegemon.

We will continue to contribute towards peace and development on the Continent, including inculcating a culture of respect for human rights and sustainable development. These principles are fundamental to our foreign policy and we will make every effort to export them to our region, the Continent of Africa and the rest of the global village.

A cursory analysis of our relations with countries of SACU and SADC will reveal that since 1994, South Africa has considered regional economic relations in Southern Africa an essential component of its wider international economic relations. We have repeatedly committed ourselves to promoting regional cooperation along new lines that will correct imbalances in current relationships.

In our objective of consolidating and strengthening SACU, our vision is to march towards a common market, underpinned by a new revenue arrangement that separates customs revenue from the redistributive aspects. We also hold the view that further consideration should be given to establishing a mechanism through which transfers are directed to infrastructural and investment projects that support regional integration and development within Customs Union.

SADC remains an immediate neighbourhood with which we wish to enhance trade; advance work on cross-border infrastructural development; and sectoral cooperation with a specific focus aimed at building the region’s production structures. We remain concerned that although South African imports from the region are increasing, they remain low value commodities.

In essence, under-developed production structures in the region are proving a serious constraint to balanced regional trade. The challenge of the region’s industrial policies is therefore to expand the range of products that can be exported and to increase the value-added of those exports.

At a continental level, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) represents the clearest expression thus far of South Africa’s ‘national interest’ on the continent - which is to improve economic and political governance as a basis for enhanced economic development. We have and will continue to play a leading role in developing NEPAD and its various sectoral strategies; mobilising African and international support for NEPAD; and supporting its structures and processes.

At the same time, we note that as NEPAD turns ten (10), the pervasive mood is that of impatience, as most Africans feel the planning and coordination phases should urgently move into implementation mode. We fully associate ourselves with this view and note, amongst others that:

  • We need to encourage regional integration in a manner that will assist countries to better be able to trade, share resources and build mutually beneficial infrastructure;
  • We need to creatively deal with the aspect of food insecurity in a manner that will ensure increased amounts and quality of the food we produce on the continent to make food more secure, and exports more profitable, which will lead to improved social and political stability;
  • We need to ensure that capacity-building in the continent addresses Africa’s real capacity constraints in a sustainable manner through a strategic long-term perspective that focuses on organizational systems;
  • The APRM remains critical in ensuring that our development and regional cooperation programmes takes place in the context of good economic and political governance; and that,
  • As a country, we have also made a commitment through the NEPAD Implementation Strategy of South Africa (NISSA) to focus our country on the mobilisation and alignment of resources and institutions nationally, regionally, continentally and internationally in support of the NEPAD’s vision, mission and objectives.

In our socio-economic profiling of our Continent, we argue that Africa, with 60% of its population under the age of 35, is the youngest continent in the world. Young people represent a significant asset, in economic terms alone, they can contribute to productivity, increased consumption and income taxes. With this in mind, we will be committing a monumental mistake if we were to continue pushing to the margins our young people.

We associate ourselves with the finding of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa that access to quality education for our youth is a “pre-condition for poverty reduction, political stability, peace and security, and sustainable development”. We are convinced that well educated young people are reliable building blocks of an efficient and productive labor force, while a highly skilled workforce is essential to our continent remaining globally competitive.

We hold the view that Africa has the best possibility in this prevailing milieu to emerge from an era of political and social decline into a renaissance of hope and social progress. We can attest to the fact that a new spirit is abroad on the African continent, with the citizenry of this Continent obviously determined to use 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.

Most of the conflicts on the continent have been resolved. Democracy is spreading and economic growth is accelerating. What is more, there is a collective determination to turn Africa into one of the centers of rapid industrialization and social development. While historical experiences of subjugation have much to do with Africa's current position, it is Africans themselves partnered by others, who can bring about the renaissance of their nations and their continent.

The most immediate challenges in this regard, clearly involve the deepening of our democracy; the skilling of our workforce; the improvement of our social services; and the development of infrastructure for our economic prosperity. What is more, our collective project of regional economic and political integration, including the assertion of national and collective continental sovereignty should remain paramount.

In conclusion,

  • From the point of view of Public Diplomacy, we have come to accept that one of our biggest challenge, is to ‘establish and maintain a voice’ in the marketplace of ideas and messages. This is where we have to deal with the power of perceptions and establishing links with non-state actors like you - beyond the opinion gatekeepers.

  • In this regard we wish to use this interaction to confirm, strengthen and manage our alliance with you as part of academia, in order to ensure that we prevent situations where we express conflicting messages, purely because we have failed to share notes and views.
  • South Africa has always supported the “Responsibility to Protect” principle on the condition that it should not be abused in order to achieve other aims. Consequently, if the use of force by the international coalition against Libyan targets will go beyond the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas (e.g. specifically be aimed at regime change) this will be violating these principles, and by extension, the mandate for the use of force contained in Resolution 1973 (2011).

  • As regards Proportionality, the scale, duration and intensity of the military action should be only aimed at protecting civilians, and if the conduct of military operations would go beyond these limitations, this principle would have been violated.
  • Our historical evolution mandates us to chart a path of hope and human solidarity in the world; inculcate a culture of peacefully conflict through dialogue; and promoting mutual friendship among peoples of the world.

  • This we shall do, proceeding from the premise that all nations have a shared responsibility to improve the overall living human conditions of the global citizenry. Our standpoint on these matters is both a matter of profound self-interest and an issue about the humanity of our own outlook.

And lastly,

  • We should also, as students and practitioners of foreign policy, be quick to notice attempts by some to rubbish the situation and reduce or minimize our contribution to the bigger picture of bringing peace, security and development to our troubled Continent of Africa.

 I thank you all!

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