Speech by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, on South Africa’s Foreign Policy at Atlantic Club in Sofia, Republic of Bulgaria on 2nd September 2011.

Dr. Solomon Passy, Programme Director and President of the Atlantic Club Ambassador Sheila Camerer Excellencies & Members of the diplomatic corps Senior Officials Ladies and Gentlemen

At the outset, let me take this opportunity to thank Dr Passy and the Atlantic Club for extending this kind of invitation to us. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience in Bulgaria on South Africa’s Foreign Policy.  This topic is very timely and relevant topic – and I thank the organizers for choosing it.  The world as we know it is changing before our very eyes. This is the context within which South Africa conducts its foreign policy. 

I am in this country on a Working Visit to build on the very good bilateral relations that exist between South Africa and Bulgaria. I am well aware that much is being done in promoting these bilateral relations. South Africa attaches great importance to the close and cordial relations of friendship and mutually beneficial co-operation between our governments and peoples. Ours are tried and tested relations that hold great opportunities for the future of both our countries. Indeed, bilateral engagements between South Africa and Bulgaria will continue to intensify.

The strength of bilateral relations between South Africa and Bulgaria is underpinned by our similar values and principles that are informed by our commitment to a partnership that will advance South Africa and Bulgaria’s national development priorities; a commitment to human security globally; the primacy of the role of the international law; as well as the importance of the role of the United Nations in global governance. We also share a common view that multilateralism and rules-based global governance mechanism is the best guarantor of stability, and provides a better framework for asserting our values and interests.

Programme Director,

One of the major outcomes of South Africa’s fifteen year foreign policy review since 1994 is that despite the good foreign policy work that South Africa has been advocating in our continent and internationally, we need to do more to strengthen communication and  dialogue on our foreign policy with South African and international stakeholders.

The Atlantic Club’s invite therefore presents an invaluable opportunity for South Africa to share and dialogue on our foreign policy with important state and non-state actors as well as ordinary people and members of the diplomatic corps in Bulgaria in order to work towards closing the communication and information gap that was appropriately highlighted in the fifteen year review.

It is against this background that I want to preface my presentation of South Africa foreign policy by affirming the long established link between our foreign policy and national priorities.

This link was reaffirmed in the ruling party, the African National Congress’s 1994 document on “Foreign Policy Perspective in a Democratic South Africa which stated that:   (I quote) “Foreign Policy being an integral part or an extension of national policy and interest becomes consequently an important component in our strategy for development and social purposes” (close quote).

Put simply, what this means is that our foreign policy engagement and international partnerships must show the symbiotic relationship between our national priorities and South Africa’s regional, continental and international engagements.

Therefore, at the core of many of our foreign policy engagements is to continuously build international relations and partnerships that will contribute to the achievement of South Africa’s five national priorities namely: Education and Skills Development; Job Creation and Sustainable Livelihoods; Improving the Quality and Quantity of Health, Rural Development and Agrarian reform; and the Fight Against Crime and Corruption).  In his annual State of the Nation Address (for 2011), President Jacob Zuma singled out job creation as a top priority for concerted action across all government spheres.

These national priorities are an integral part of South Africa’s national interests which are:

  • to ensure the stability of the country, its constitutional order and its institutions;
  • to create an environment in which South Africans are and feel secure, and are free from want and hunger;
  • the sustainable growth and development of the South African economy;
  • the sustainable growth and development of the Southern African (SADC) region;
  • to commit ourselves to working for a stable African continent that enables peace and development to take root; and
  • to work towards the creation of a just and equitable world order.

More importantly, these national interests confirm the high premium that our foreign policy puts on a people-centred foreign policy that strongly values cooperation over competition and collaboration over confrontation. Ours is a foreign policy that is guided by UBUNTU (HUMANITY) and a commitment to the establishment of mutually beneficial international partnerships that contribute to the achievement of the national development priorities of our continental and international partners as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The foundations and strategic perspective of our foreign policy are derived from a long standing history, ideology and values that embrace:

  • the spirit of internationalism;
  • the rejection of colonialism and other forms of oppression,
  • our quest for the unity and political, economic, and social renewal of Africa;
  • the promotion and defence 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.

Therefore, our struggle for a better life for all in South Africa is closely intertwined with our struggle for a better Africa and a better world all. These values are in ingrained in the South African Constitution and inform our foreign policy and Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s enduring vision which is: (I quote)  “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” (close quote); and our mission which is (I quote): “to Promote South Africa’s national interests and values, the African Renaissance and the creation of a better world for all” (close quote).

Furthermore, these values are reflected in the principles underpinning our Foreign Policy, namely:

  • A commitment to the promotion of human rights, which are not limited to political rights but including economic, social and environmental rights;
  • A commitment to the promotion of democracy;
  • A commitment to justice and international law in the conduct of relations between nations;
  • A commitment to international peace and to internationally agreed upon mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts;
  • A commitment to the interests of Africa in world affairs; and
  • A commitment to economic development through regional and international co-operation in an inter-dependent world.

Programme Director, ladies and gentleman

South Africa has always regarded African as a centrepiece of its foreign policy, and mobilising a significant amount of our resources towards the socio-economic awakening of our continent, peace-making and peace-building, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development. We are heavily involved in various parts of the continent particularly through our bilateral channels with our sister African countries, our sub-regional body SADC, and the African Union.

The African Union is also very central to the realisation of the goals of the African Agenda. We remain committed to the African Union, including our support for its various organs such as the Pan-African Parliament that we host in our country. We are at work with other African countries and the African Union Commission to ensure that the Financial Institutions of the Union that are envisaged in the AU Constitutive Act see the light of the day. It is incumbent on all us to make sure that the African Reserve Bank, the African Monetary Fund, and the African Investment Fund become a reality, because these institutions have a critical contribution to make to the renewal of our continent. We need a strong and effective African Union – and this applies to all its institutions, programmes and organs. 

Programme Director

NEPAD is ten years old this year since our leaders launched it as a programme for the socio-economic development of our continent.  South Africa was not a spectator but at the centre with other African countries which said “Enough is Enough!”, to take on the development challenges of our continent.  NEPAD has been able to mobilize the entire African continent – ordinary people and government – for Africa to take lead in the determination of its destiny.  We are happy that the international community has followed suite, working with us for the realization of the vision behind the NEPAD initiative.  Last year, our leaders, within the auspices of NEPAD, launched a continental infrastructure initiative covering areas of water and sanitation, rail and road, ICT, agriculture and food security, and energy.  South Africa was honoured with the responsibility to chair the committee of our Heads of State and Government which is in charge of this initiative.

Similarly, democracy and good governance have to continue to spread and flourish on our continent for Africa to occupy its place in this century. The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), as a product of the NEPAD, makes what used to be impossible in Africa now possible. Countries can now review and advise each other on how best we can make democracy work for our people. But we still need to encourage more and more of our countries to join the APRM. The current conflicts in Africa, especially in North Africa reinforce the importance of the APRM as an important tool to strengthen governance and early warning and intervention that would prevent conflict and or address the root causes of conflict or potential thereof.

Peace and Security is, indeed, important to the African Agenda. Without peace and security there can be no sustainable development, and without sustainable development there can be no peace and security and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa will remain a dream deferred. We therefore need peace, not war.

Therefore our continued support and contribution to several AU and UN peace missions in Africa, including our vote and support for resolutions 1970 and 1973 regarding the situation in Libya, should be understood in this context. Our support for the AU Roadmap and the proposals on a Framework Agreement for a Political Solution to the Libyan Crisis that were adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council at the level of Heads of State in March 2011 and the Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU in July 2011 must also be seen as such.

Throughout the current conflict in Libya, South Africa and the AU have steadfastly maintained that the future of Libya should be decided by the Libyans themselves. This is what the AU roadmap is all about: An inclusive durable political solution to the Libyan crisis on the basis of the will of the Libyan people. In line with the communiqué of the 26 August AU PSC meeting, we continue to encourage Libyan stakeholders to accelerate the process leading to the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government that would be welcome to occupy the seat of Libya in the African Union.

More importantly, we would like to stress the AU’s commitment to work with the United Nations, the League of Arab States, the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, the European Union and NATO, as well as with relevant bilateral partners, to ensure a coordinated support to the Libyan people and stakeholders, building on the relevant of the AU Roadmap and Proposals.

We are closely watching the rapidly unfolding situation Libya. With the imminent fall of the government of Colonel Gaddafi, we wish to urge the Libyan authorities to immediately institute an all-inclusive, inter-Libyan political dialogue aimed at building a truly representative and people-centred democratic dispensation.

The political and socio-economic transformation of Libya holds real prospects of ushering in a new era based on the will of the people, in which Libya should take its rightful place in the community of nations. As Libya turns a new leaf in its history, the transitional government has the immediate responsibility of building national unity and reconciliation, restoring public order, reconstructing infrastructure, and reviving the economy.

In this regard, South Africa pledges to make a contribution to the reconstruction and development of Libya. Consistent with the AU Roadmap, we believe that the way forward should include the drafting of a new constitution under the supervision of the transitional government, the holding of a referendum on the new constitution leading to the first ever democratic elections in Libya.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our soldiers are deployed in peace missions in different parts of our continent. We are also working with the government and people of Southern Sudan bilaterally and as the Chair of the African Union Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development Committee on Sudan. We also continue to support AU efforts to facilitate the resolution of the Darfur conflict and other unresolved political and security issues in Sudan, including the full resolution and implementation of outstanding matters in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

We are equally involved in the reconstruction of the DRC, helping with rebuilding of their public service. We re-affirm our continued support to the Congolese government to build durable State Institutions that inspire confidence to the ordinary people. The second Presidential elections scheduled for November this year will be an important milestone and we will continue to support efforts aimed at the consolidation of democracy in that country.

On Somalia, South Africa supports a comprehensive approach that addresses both the economic and political dimensions of Somalia. With regard to piracy off the coast of Somalia, South Africa supports the on-going efforts within the UN Security Council and the AU to address this challenge. We are of the view that addressing the scourge of piracy would require a holistic approach, which addresses both the underlying causes of the problems, promotes the economic opportunities and addresses political and security dimensions on the piracy.

In assisting the dire humanitarian and socio-economic situation prevailing in Somalia, the South African Government supports the UN efforts towards the alleviation of the position of the internally displaced persons and refugees by donating funds to the UN for its relief efforts. In the face of the famine in that country, the South African government has partnered with a number of NGO’s and relief organizations to deliver aid and medical supplies to Somalia.

With regard to Zimbabwe, we will continue to call on the parties to spare no effort in implementing the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in order to stabilize the political situation in Zimbabwe and encourage them to support efforts aimed at the consolidation of democracy in that country.  Similarly, on Madagascar, we see no alternative to the SADC mediation effort and the Roadmap as endorsed by our leaders.  Madagascar is one test of the resolve of our continent in dealing with incidents of unconstitutional change of government. We are firm in our rejection of governments that come to power through coups and other unconstitutional means.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Countries of the North, like Bulgaria, are an important partner to us in helping us attain our national priorities and play our role on the African continent.  These countries are important to our foreign policy objectives, especially with respect to our effort to promote international trade, the transfer of technology, and attracting foreign direct investment to our shores.

The SA-EU Strategic Partnership Joint Action Plan, signed in May 2007, is one good example of the potential that exists between our country and this part of the world. The Strategic Partnership and its Action Plan build on the already existing co-operation between the EU and South Africa under the SA-EU Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA), and will support the EU Strategy for Africa and the EU-Africa Joint Strategy, as well as reinforce NEPAD and peace and security initiatives on the African continent. Political dialogue and co-operation continue to cover all domestic and internal political issues of mutual interest.

In addition to the SA-EU Strategic Partnership there is also the Africa-EU Partnership, mainstreaming the African Agenda in the G8, through the G8 African Action Plan. We are also working hard in the G20 to mainstream the Africa and South Development Agenda through the G20 Development Working Group in partnership with South Korea and France.

Program Director

Our engagement with the South has entailed joining multilateral bodies like the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77 because of the progressive role they continue to play as a voice and representative of the interests of the South in global affairs. We also value the intensity and strength of our bilateral relations with strategic countries of the South such as China, Brazil, and India. We have even elevated our partnership with Brazil and India to a forum (IBSA) that the three countries use for regular consultation, cooperation in various sectors, and coordination of our diplomacy where necessary and that of China to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

 At another level, we see the formation of IBSA and our membership of that body as a mechanism not only for enhancing our trilateral partnership with India and Brazil, but also as an important pillar for strengthening the muscle of the South in global affairs.

We believe that IBSA has become even stronger now that South Africa is a member of BRICS. The rationale for South Africa’s joining BRICS was in consideration of a matter of crucial importance to BRICS Member States, namely the role of emerging economies in advancing the restructuring of the global political, economic and financial architecture into one that is more equitable, balanced and rests on the important pillar of multilateralism. It is our believe that the mandates of both groupings (IBSA AND BRICS) to co-exist as they are also highly complementary. We will actively promote trade and investment which enhances industrialization and promotes job creation. New areas of cooperation within BRICS are also been explored in science and technology, culture, sport, climate change and energy.

Ladies and Gentleman

South Africa and BRICS Member States already collaborated and will continue to collaborate closely in various international organizations and formations such as the United Nations, the G-20 and the IBSA Dialogue Forum. All BRICS countries are serving on the UNSC in 2011 as permanent (China, Russian Federation) or non-permanent members (Brazil, India and South Africa), which augurs positively for enhanced cooperation efforts in terms of the salient issues of common interest as quoted above.


South Africa, as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for the period 2011-2012, is cognizant of the enormous challenges associated with serving on the Council. You will recall that the UNSC bears primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with Article 24 of the charter of the United Nations.

Our role in the Security Council is informed by the central thrust of our foreign policy which stands on four pillars – that is:

  • Promoting and advancing the interests of our continent, including the SADC sub-region;
  • Working with countries of the South to address challenges of underdevelopment, our marginalization in the international system, and the promotion of equity and social justice globally;
  • Work with countries of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world; and
  • Do our part to strengthen the multilateral system, including its transformation, to reflect the diversity of our nations, and ensure its centrality in global governance.

In this regard, we will continue our efforts aimed at bringing greater alignment to the work of the Security Council and that of the African Union, especially the AU Peace and Security Council of which South Africa is currently a member. Concerted and dedicated efforts will be made to achieve stability and security in our Continent and all other regions of the world. This will be the continuation of our firm resolve to strengthening effective partnerships between the UN and regional organizations in the maintenance of international peace and security. Closer cooperation between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council will contribute to enhancing the convergence of perspectives and approaches of the two bodies in tackling and responding to peace and security challenges in Africa – be it in Libya, Ivory Coast, Sudan or in Somalia.

Programme Director

Our presence in the Security Council affords us the opportunity to build on the capacity demonstrated by South Africa during its first term in the Council in 2007 and 2008 and further enhance our commitments to being a responsible member of the international community. Our membership in the Security Council for 2011-2012 is guided by our commitment to strengthening the multilateral system and our support for a broader multilateral approach to questions of international peace and security.

Hence we continue to call for the transformation of the international system for a better world and Africa. Such transformation will about making organizations such as the United Nations more effective and efficient in discharging their role and responsibilities.

The developing world has also been calling for the reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, because without a better consideration by these bodies of financing and developmental needs of our communities, it will be difficult for the South to prosper. For us the transformation of the Bretton Woods institutions entails:

  • Reconfiguring institutional and economic systems away from the legacy of colonial relations; and
  • Building closer synergy between the activities of Bretton Woods’ institutions and those of Africa’s own institutions, particularly those that have been given critically important mandates for infrastructure provision and improved regional interconnectedness, such as the African Development Bank and the Regional Economic Communities.

Ladies and Gentleman

The events in North Africa and the Middle East are a reminder to all of us of the strategic significance of that region to global peace. These regions continue to be areas of priority in our foreign policy in the context of the African Agenda and South-South cooperation. We have very good and active bilateral relations with countries in this region.

The Israeli-Arab conflict is one of the major issues enjoying world attention. The principal international objective of the Middle East Process is the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, existing side by side, in peace, with Israel within secure and internationally recognized borders according to international agreements. We will continue our role in support of the Middle East Peace Process informed by the following principles:

  • The inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence, which entails a principled position against the military occupation of the Palestinian people and their land;
  • A belief that there can be no military solution to the conflict and that peaceful negotiation is the only means of ensuring lasting peace, security and stability; and
  • A commitment to multilateralism in order to secure a sustainable solution and a rules-based international order.

Our role in this regard include the sharing of our negotiating experience; enhancing Palestinian Government capacity and supporting capacity building and institution building efforts in Palestine; humanitarian assistance; and facilitating inter Palestinian Dialogue.

With regard to the current situation in Syria, South Africa condemns all forms of violence, including the use of force against unarmed civilians, as well as hostility against security forces and sectarian violence. We call for an immediate end to the violence and urge all sides to act with the utmost restraint, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and to refrain from reprisals. It is our believe that the only solution to the current crisis is through a Syrian-led political process that is inclusive, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population which will allow for the full exercise of fundamental freedoms, including that of expression and peaceful assembly. Accordingly, we welcomed the announcement by President Assad to allow for multi-party democracy in Syria, and urge the Government to speed up the reform process.

Ladies and Gentleman

Today marks approximately 3 months before the start of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol in Durban from 28 November-9 December 2011. With just less than three months to go, we can proudly say that South Africa is ready to host the UN Climate Change conference. We have been part of the Climate Change negotiations even before the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. We are therefore quite familiar with the history and dynamics of this complex process, as well as the substance.

It is also important to confirm that in our preparations for Durban, we have been working closely with Mexico in its capacity as current COP President. South Africa as an incoming COP President has been undertaking informal consultations at ministerial, negotiators and stakeholders’ level to facilitate a credible outcome that is equitable, fair and inclusive. The party-driven principles underpin our approach.

A balanced outcome in Durban should entail inter alia the operationalisation of the Cancun Agreements and a commitment to deal with unfinished business from the Bali Roadmap and Action Plan.

We have every intention to utilize, in an inclusive and transparent way, all opportunities to advance the COP17/CMP7 process to ensure that Durban is a success.  

Programme Director (to conclude)

The events that are unfolding in Libya will leave a lasting dent on how as the international community we should work together, in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations, for the maintenance of global peace and security.  They will leave the United Nations, and its Security Council, wounded, and weakened in the face of the many challenges confronting our epoch.

This is one context within which South Africa, as a member of the international community, including our non-permanent membership of the Security Council, must play its role in world affairs.  We live in a world where power is not equally distributed among all nations of the world, and this inequality is reflected in the manner that those who are powerful interpret international law and use international institutions that are responsible for the governance of our international system.  Hence working for the transformation of our international system is one of the pillars of South Africa’s foreign policy.

There is another context which informs South Africa’s approach to the world – that we are an African country; and that we are part of the developing part of the world.  We stand on two legs – Africa and South-South Cooperation – in our interaction with the world.  This explains our behaviour on the African continent and our outreach to other countries of the South, notably those in the IBSA-BRICS formations, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement and the G77 plus China.

As changes sweep across the globe and touch the lives of people in even the most remote of habitants, we cannot be mere spectators. Our people, our history and our diplomacy demand more of us. We will continue to engage in the international relations and cooperation with a sense of purpose, to effect change rather than to just be affected by it. In this time of rapid and constant change, interdependence amongst nations is self-evident. It is also evident that mutually beneficial co-operation is a necessity.

Consequently, the world is experiencing the practical necessity of making the philosophical paradigm shift from “power to partnership” in international relations. In short, the world is experiencing and discovering “UBUNTU” which, as our revered Chief Diplomat and Leader, OR Tambo outlined, “ is an expression of the unity of purpose among concerned compatriots as equals engaged in a common endeavour to create a better future for us all”.

I Thank You


OR Tambo Building

460 Soutpansberg Road

03 September 2011

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa