Lecture by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Ebrahim Ebrahim, on the occasion of a public lecture titled Advancing South Africas Foreign Policy I.R.O. The African Agenda Through Multilateral Diplomacy, at the University of Zululand, 11 November 2011

Programme Director;
Vice Chancellor and Rector, Professor Fikile Mazibuko;
Members of the Academic and Support Staff;
Representatives of Student Bodies;
Members of the Media fraternity in attendance;
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour for me to deliver this lecture at this 51-year old institution of higher learning in this country. Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the management and staff of the University of Zululand for organizing this public lecture and indeed for extending the kind invitation to us – the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. 

In his historic seminal writing on 5th April 1906 on the “Regeneration of Africa”, Pixley ka Isaka Seme predicted that one day a historian who, with the open pen of truth, will bring to Africa`s claim the strength of written proof.This historian, Seme prophesized will:

tell of a race whose onward tide was often swelled with tears, but in whose heart bondage has not quenched the fire of former years. He will write of a giant that is awakening!

We are here this morning ladies and gentlemen, to pay homage to the genius of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who was born here in Natal at the Inanda Mission on 1st October 1881 and was the founder and President of the African National Congress. In honouring this pathfinder and bridge-builder, we are overwhelmed by his prophesies on Africa – made more than hundred years ago. As we discuss and interact with you on the topic of today Advancing South Africas Foreign Policy through Multilateral Diplomacy, I will also indulge you in what Pixley Seme predicted – which today forms the background of understanding how South Africa interacts with other nations in the context of the African Agenda.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

South Africa’s foreign policy is guided by our national interests and those of our neighbours. South Africa is an integral part of Africa and its future prosperity is inextricably linked to that of Africa.

Last month on 13 October 2011, when His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma delivered a lecture on our foreign policy at the University of Pretoria, he said:

let me state categorically that our foreign policy is independent and our decisions are informed by our national interest. We look at what is of benefit to the South African people, and what will advance our domestic priorities at that given time.

The South African government embraces a vision that prioritizes and envisions an African continent, which is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united, and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable. As the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, our international relations policy is firmly anchored on the goal of building a better South Africa, and contributing to a better and safer Africa in a better world.

The overarching theme of our international relations is informed by our history as well as by our Constitutional values. We wish to reiterate that our strategic approach to our foreign policy principle of Enhancing the African Agenda and Sustainable Development  - is informed by our claim and understanding of South Africa as an integral part of Africa, striving for African unity, integration and prosperity. This departure point explains “the Regeneration of Africa” as our national interest.

Hence we can this morning, confidently associate ourselves with Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s words when he saidFrom these heights of the twentieth century, I again ask you to cast your eyes south of the Desert of Sahara (I take it he meant the SADC Region).

Like Pixley said in 1906, The African already recognizes his anomalous position and desires a change. The brighter day is rising upon Africa.

How can we not heed this prophetic call, made some hundred and six years ago? We have no choice but to make sure that the Political, Economic, Social, Cultural and Scientific Regeneration of Africa becomes a success. It is for this reason that, as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation we believe that in order - to build a better South Africa, and indeed a better Africa, in a better world - our multilateral diplomacy must be predicated on, for example, our diplomatic, political, military and socio-economic status in the continent.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen,

Before I venture into what constitutes South Africa’s contribution to the realization of the African Agenda, it is critical for me – as I explain our multilateral diplomacy – to briefly mention the basics of our multilateral engagements. These entail:

  • the SACU (i.e. the Southern African Customs Union);
  • SADC (i.e. the Southern African Development Community);
  • Issues of Regional Integration – giving the example of the merger of SADC, COMESA and EAC;
  • The Continental body, i.e. the African Union;
  • The various mini-lateral bodies such as IBSA, BRICS, G20, etc;
  • Then we can speak about the United Nations (i.e. the UN)

I believe the above subjects remain relevant as building blocks of our strategic multilateral engagements, especially within the context of advancing the African Agenda. The relevance of our theme today, seeks to enquire on how South Africa is representing Africa, across a broad range of issues. In pursuance of the goal of realizing the African Agenda, our role stretches across:

  • the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which continues to work towards economic diversification, industrial development, building productive capacity in SACU and creating employment in order to improve the welfare of the citizens of our people and the region;
  • the SADC Region which prioritizes and continues to promote peace, security and development within the region – dealing amongst other pressing issues as the Madagascar and Zimbabwe issues;
  • We are also a midwife to the SADC-COMESA-EAC Tripartite Regional Forum which is aimed at formally kick-starting the negotiation process to establish a Free Trade Agreement between the countries of these Regional Economic Communities.

As a country, our approach to strengthening the African Agenda has, we believe, correctly prioritized strategic dialogues, alliances and engagements with our own neighbours first. We need to grow and protect our interests first within the Tripartite Regional Grouping and ensure that the collective aspirations of the tripartite members are translated into reality – as we engage countries in the west.

South Africa feels honoured to have also been given the responsibility to contribute to infrastructural development in Africa. This is so, because, South Africa champions the Road and Railway projects on the North-South Corridor which cuts through SADC, EAC and COMESA – this is part of our contributions to this very important alliance.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn to the AFRICAN UNION

Our country strongly believes that a strong African Union (AU), supported by cohesive Regional Economic Communities (RECs) is necessary to drive the Agenda for  the Regeneration of Africa.

As Pixley ka Isaka Seme said, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period!  Ka Isaka Seme warns us that – for us to understand this Regeneration of Africa, it is critical that we awaken our race consciousness. He says in us resides undeveloped powers. It is my assertion therefore that Seme correctly calls on us to wake up to the realities of Africas time to regenerate politically, economically and socially has arrived. We need to use our time at this university and every-time we study to make sure that we develop these powers within us” that remain undeveloped. 

As a Continent, we nevertheless deserve to applaud ourselves - for we have travelled a long way towards deepening democracy on the African Continent. Of course that journey hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges, especially in the area of peace and security – which are prerequisites to the entrenchment and consolidation of democracy and broadening development.

In the same vein, South Africa is currently a member of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) for two years since February 2010, and is also serving a two year non-permanent seat term of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which started in January 2011. We will continue to utilize these back to back memberships to regional, continental and global security establishments to work towards a peaceful and prosperous Africa in a just world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Top-most on our African 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.

Our actions within the context of multilateral diplomacy shows that we have and continue to utilize multilateral forums to work with fellow Members States including in the SADC, the AU and the UN to find collective solutions to common challenges of peace and security, development and promotion of human rights.

Let us for instance take a look at the issue of Libya.


Allow me to use the opportunity of this forum to once more reiterate that South Africa voted in favour of UNSC resolutions 1970 and 1973, as we believed that the adoption of measures, including a ceasefire and no-fly zone as authorized by these resolutions - constituted an important element for the protection of civilians and the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to those most vulnerable and those desperately in need of such assistance.

The popular uprisings in Libya informed by the “Arab Spring” and the subsequent resolutions, including the NATO bombings, had proven to be more complex by the day. Our President and our Minister have made several pronouncements on our engagements vis--vis Libya, be it for resolutions 1970 and 1973 or our support for the African Union (AU) Roadmap. Nevertheless, we have woken-up to the mistaken reality that NATO and its backers were bent on undermining the efforts of the African Union (AU).

As a result of this, we have seen a civil war, which pitted Libyans against Libyans – with decisions on the fate of this country being taken somewhere in Paris, London and Washington. Is this not sufficient justification for us to call for the reform of the institutions of Global Governance, especially the UN Security Council?

We all witnessed NATO-diplomacy of bombardments and arming of civilians; and, we have witnessed a war exported and imposed on a country. Of course we witnessed the landscape of the conflict change from protection of civilians to NATO’s mandate of effecting “regime change”.  Political analysts and historians of tomorrow will tell of a period in our lives when “might became right”, and when “gunboat diplomacy” became a preserve of only a few. These are unfortunate times for the practice of international law.

As we converge here this morning, we all know what has since transpired in Libya – with Muamar Ghadhafi massacred like a wild animal; his family on the run and, his supporters being eliminated. There is no denying the fact that today we have a Libya that has been mortgaged to the US, the UK and France.

Libya now owes these three countries oil concessions – the very motivating factor that saw NATO receive a brief to attack pro-Ghadafi forces and supporters – in order to make way for the new colonizers comourflaged as liberators.

From where we sit, we wonder what is going to happen next, for we know Libyan politics are torn across tribal lines – with every tribe now wanting to lay claim to the dividends of a peace imported from the West. We definitely have not seen the end of the conflict in Libya.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen,

Lets turn to the IBSA Forum and the BRICS Mechanism

South Africa’s approach to IBSA and BRICS rests on the understanding that building alliances and partnerships augurs well for our future prosperity as a developing country of the South. We feel very strongly that we need to support partnerships that have a potential of ensuring there is dynamic growth and development for us in a regional context, and not stagnation.

Our increasing focus on the South, especially IBSA and BRICS, is very consistent with one of our foreign policy priorities within the context of Strengthening South South Co-operation. This membership and indeed our admission to these emerging power blocks happens at a time when on the economic front the global balance of forces is gradually tilting towards the South.

Our approach to BRICS is informed by amongst others, the need to deepen, broaden and intensify our relations within the Forum and with individual countries. We believe emerging powers offer possibilities for South Africa and other African countries an important avenue for trade and investment linkages, technology transfers, and technical cooperation on a range of sectors.

Of crucial importance to our joining BRICS is that this Mechanism of emerging economies seeks to advance, amongst others, the restructuring of the global political, economic and financial architecture into one that is more equitably balanced and rests on the important pillar of multilateralism.

I am also convinced, therefore, that based on the work we have done so far, that our accession to both BRICS and IBSA will in the long-term be beneficial to the entire continent. Accordingly, as a conduit to the African markets, we want to use our membership to build sustainable development in Africa.

On The United Nations

It may perhaps be argued that it is by historical coincidence that all BRICS Member States are serving on the UNSC as permanent (China and the Russian Federation) and non-permanent members (Brazil, India and South Africa). It is therefore our belief that this very important coincidence should dovetail with our stated objectives of pushing for the Reform of the United Nations, especially its Security Council and by extension other Institutions of Global Governance.

South Africa will continue using its membership with emerging power blocks to lobby support and influence decision at UN level. Our country’s agenda at UN is linked to developmental needs and aspirations of the African continent – this is one identity we vow never to lose in our global engagements.

Coming to the G20

With France currently holding the Presidency of both the G8 and the G20, we will seek to ensure that during our consultations with them, the interests and priorities of both the African continent and the South in general, get actively and effectively promoted. We have indeed managed to build on this momentum during our participation in the G8 Outreach Session in France in May this year, as well as the recently concluded G20 Summit in France this November.

Furthermore, South Africa’s agenda at the G20 is more of developmental nature. We have always pursued and advocated for support in African infrastructure development and regional integration. 

The COP17/CMP7

On 28 November to 09 December 2011 South Africa will host COP17/CMP7 UNF Climate Change Conference here in Durban. The purpose of this conference is to ensure that we address one of the major challenges of modern times that threaten human security throughout the world - climate change.

This challenge cannot only be addressed in isolation by a country, but needs a collective global approach at UN level – this is the reason why it is important for us to participate.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Climate change is one of the most pressing realities of the 21st century, especially in the developing world where countries still struggle to meet the needs of increasing population growth within the context of sustainable environmental practices.  The impact of climate change exacerbates inequalities and vulnerabilities. As a regional and increasingly global leader, South Africa’s engagement in international climate change negotiations is premised on the intersection of the climate and development imperatives.

Having said all these, I must also point out that our country will continue with its priority of contributing to the socio-economic and political development of Africa. This we will continue to do, using amongst others our presence in the various multilateral forums. 

We are not about to stop working relentlessly for global political and socio-economic stability and security through the multilateral system.  In this regard, we will strive to and advocate for a multilateral system that is inclusive and rules-based; and aimed at promoting development, human rights, security and the eradication of poverty.

As articulated during this lecture, you will have noticed that our multilateral strategy is that which allows us to openly engage our strategic partners and friends on our long-term ambitions.

As I conclude,

I hope by sharing with you, and indeed taking you through the journey we have travelled as custodians of the country’s foreign policy, I have – in a small way – contributed to your understanding of our multilateral diplomacy. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that through this lecture, there are a number of questions that I have prompted – if indeed this is the case, I will be delighted that we have in part achieved the objectives of this talk.

Accordingly, I look forward to a fruitful and enriching interaction with you, as I remain convinced that such dialogues can only strengthen our work, our understanding of issues and equally build dependable bonds of friendship.

As Pixley ka Isaka Seme said in 1906, our embracing of the Regeneration of Africa:

must therefore lead them (Africans) to the attainment of that higher and advanced standard of life. The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilization is soon to be added to the world.

To you as students, I wish to ask the question - are you ready to be the midwives of this new civilization?

I thank you!

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