“Celebrating 19 years of South Africa’s Foreign Policy”, Public Lecture by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, H. E. Mr Ebrahim I Ebrahim, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), 04 July 2013

Chairperson and Members of the SAIIA National Council;
National Director of SAIIA, Ms Elizabeth Sidiropoulos;
Senior Government Officials;
Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be engaging this distinguished gathering at SAIIA, which has been voted as the premier think tank in Sub-Saharan Africa by its peers from across the world for the fourth consecutive year. We congratulate everyone at SAIIA on this great achievement, for your institution as well as for academic excellence in South Africa. As SAIIA heads towards its 80th birthday, we look forward to your continued contribution to research, robust and balanced debate, and inputs on key issues in international relations.

As we prepare to celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, it is appropriate that we pause to reflect on how we have fared thus far in our international relations. Perhaps more importantly, we need to draw lessons from our experiences, take stock of the ever changing global environment we operate in, and look ahead at how we will forge ahead to achieve the goals and aspirations of our people.

Building a new FP for a new SA

The roots of our foreign policy of course extend well beyond the historic events of 1994. It draws from the Freedom Charter and other landmark decisions and events that formed the rich tapestry of our historic struggle for freedom. It is informed by our experience of international solidarity, our values and principles for which so many of our heroes paid the ultimate price, and the visionary leadership that emerged from South Africans who were determined, against all odds, to build a nation that would be free from oppression, segregation and discrimination. Our constitution, which entrenches these values, is therefore an important foundation of our foreign policy.

Endowed with this rich base of norms and values, we sought to codify a foreign policy for a new South Africa that would guide our renewed engagement with the rest of our continent and the world at large. In 1996 we adopted a Green Paper on South Africa’s Foreign Policy. It must however not be forgotten that the positive burst of diplomatic engagements with South Africa happened whilst we were in the process of building a new department, developing a new foreign policy and that we had to do so immediately to meet the expectations of a world eager to welcome us back into the global family of nations.

Any country going through a transition will know the challenges that accompany such a mammoth task. This was all the more difficult because we consciously opted for a unique approach that sought to promote reconciliation and friendship at the national level among old and new civil servants as well as with all nations, including those who did not always support our cause. We also asserted a foreign policy that was independent and would project our national values and interests in a unique way that recognised our indebtedness to our friends, our responsibility to others who still seek their own freedom and our desire to forge partnerships with those who wished to commit to supporting our transition and development. The vulnerability of a nation in transition is the ultimate test of gifted leadership and its unflinching resolve to consolidate the gains of their new-found freedom. It would therefore not have been unreasonable to expect a democratic South Africa to be inward focused and to promote a narrow-nationalist agenda, even in the short-term. However, we were mindful of our responsibilities to others on our continent and beyond, even if the expectations on us were at times quite high, as well the imperative to play an active role in shaping an equitable and development-friendly world order in which a country such as ours would be able to prosper.

Much has been written about post-apartheid South Africa’s foreign policy but I believe that scholars often omit to recognise the realities that limit and sometimes even inhibit the conduct of an active foreign policy on the scale that we did, given our limited resources and the immediate pressing needs and expectations of the majority of our people during this relatively short period. We therefore have good reason to celebrate our successes as we pause to look back, because we have come a long way, and have achieved an extraordinary amount, despite the constraints and understandable reasons we could have heeded to do much less.

Some of our major achievements

South Africa’s conduct in international relations is based on mutual respect, sovereign equality and peace. Our foreign policy is informed by the fundamental values and principles enshrined in our constitution, including human dignity; the achievement of equity; the advancement of human rights and freedoms; non-racialism; non-sexism; democracy; and a respect for the rule of law.

Nineteen years on, we can identify six areas where our new foreign policy has made positive strides:

  • We have moved our country from its pariah status to being an active and respected player in world affairs. This has resulted in an increase of resident diplomatic missions, consulates general, consulates, and international organisations to 315, the second largest number of diplomatic representation accredited to any capital after Washington DC. In turn, South Africa’s representation abroad increased from 36 missions in 1994 to 125 missions currently.

  • We have established our foreign policy as a projection of our domestic priorities and continue to sharpen our focus in promoting our national interest through our foreign engagements;

  • We have reorientated our approach to foreign relations to prioritize Africa, placing the continent at the center of our foreign policy. Our commitment to the continent is demonstrated by our continued promotion of the African Agenda. We are also the top investor on the continent and work towards greater regional integration.

  • We have established dynamic relations with countries of the South on the basis of shared interests and common challenges. In support of South-South cooperation we engage countries of the South, including the emerging economies and play an active role in formations of the South such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Group of 77 (G77), IBSA, BRICS and others.

  • We have maintained and continue to build strong working partnerships with countries of the North who continue to play a key role in our socio-economic development and remain partners in our endeavors to support global peace and security, democracy and good governance.

  • We are a recognized player in the multilateral system both in the United Nations and our regional body, the African Union, as well as in other multilateral forums such as the G20. We have consistently championed the cause of reforming the global system of governance, in particular the Bretton Woods Institutions and the UN Security Council, and call for a more equitable, rules based system.

Africa

From the outset our approach to our neighbourhood has been that South Africa cannot exist as an island of prosperity in an ocean of poverty and instability. We have thus invested heavily in Pan-African efforts to energise Africa’s renewal through the African Renaissance that our country has championed. As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), our country has been in the vanguard of efforts towards strengthening this important institution. Having found the OAU ill-equipped to address the needs of Africa in the 21st Century, South Africa worked with partners to spearhead a revised continent-wide organization, and hosted the inaugural Summit of the African Union in 2002. 

We can be proud that the first female at the helm of the AU brings with her the experience of being the former South African Foreign Minister, which also demonstrates our commitment to strengthening the AU.

South Africa continues to play a substantial role in policy formulation at the AU, with one of the most important instruments adopted being the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which along with the Constitutive Act, frontloads the strengthening of democracy and human rights, making provision for the suspension of Member States that have undergone unconstitutional changes of government. 

Over the past 19 years, and in collaboration with the OAU/AU, our country has participated in and contributed to Peace-keeping and peace-making on the Continent.

We have played a key role in the establishment of the AU’s Peace and Security Architecture, so that the Continent now boasts the most elaborate security regime of any region. 

Given the demands placed on our continental body in this area of work, we have also recently championed the establishment of an African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. This is a transitional arrangement, pending the full operationalisation of the African Standby Force, that will provide the AU with a flexible and robust force, to be voluntarily provided by Member States, to be deployed rapidly to effectively respond to emergency situations.

We are proud of our contribution to peace missions in Africa, ranging from mediation in Zimbabwe, Burundi, Madagascar, Sudan, Cote d’ Ivoire and Libya; to assistance with post conflict reconstruction and development, for example, our work in Sudan; Somalia, the DRC and CAR; and of course deployments. In this regard, South Africa has contributed personnel to Regional, African Union and United Nations missions in Lesotho, Burundi, Comoros, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Our support for the socio-economic development programme of the AU, NEPAD, has been a major focus area of our work since 2000. NEPAD has managed to mobilize our collective energy for the economic renewal of Africa.  Today, we talk of a Rising Africa, and NEPAD has played a significant role in making this possible.

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has helped respond to the challenges placed before us by the African Renaissance. It has given sharp focus to what needs to be done to strengthen democracy and good governance in the Continent.

South Africa was one of the five founding fathers of both NEPAD and the APRM and has continued to be in the forefront of the promotion and implementation of these initiatives and the resulting programmes of NEPAD. We continue to host both the NEPAD Agency and the APRM Secretariat pursuant to this commitment.

Through our SADC membership, we have succeeded in enhancing regional integration. Regional and continental integration is the foundation for Africa’s socio-economic development and political unity. In this regard, it is imperative that we deepen the continental integration process and infrastructure development, which lays the foundation for intra-Africa trade and holds the key to rapid economic development. Today, the attention that our leaders are giving to infrastructure connectivity is unprecedented.

The NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee met in Kampala in July 2010 and adopted the Presidential Infrastructure Championing Initiative (PICI).  We are honoured that our own President was bestowed with the responsibility to Chair a Committee of eight NEPAD Heads of State, whose primary responsibility is to ensure forward movement of critical projects. In this regard, the President also champions the North-South Road and Rail Development Corridor.

In these and other developmental initiatives, such as the negotiations underway to form a Tripartite Free Trade Area combining COMESA, the EAC and SADC, our role has been and continues to be key in the advancement and unlocking of Africa’s economic capabilities.

Critical to understanding the impact of the AU is acknowledging that the AU has championed the principle that Africa should take the lead in deciding our own future and in spearheading solutions to our challenges.  The AU insists that Africa be approached in terms of partnership, among its own states and also when engaging with other regions of the world, including the former colonial powers.

Global Governance

Since 1994, we have taken up many international positions of responsibility. Often the task was daunting, but through innovative hard work and dedication, we have consistently recorded resounding successes. 

A central pillar of our foreign engagement is the prime importance South Africa places on the United Nations.  South Africa is fully committed to actively participating in the UN specifically with the aim of ensuring that the UN’s mandates are not usurped by less representative international bodies and by ensuring that the UN is responsive to the needs of its membership, not only the narrow interests of a few states.

The successful completion of our second term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council that ended in December 2012 strengthened our stature in the international community. We worked tirelessly to promote and achieve international peace and security, especially on our Continent.  We also picked-up where we left off in 2008 and successfully formalized consultations between the UN and AU on matters of peace and security on our Continent.  Throughout our term we executed our mandate independently – not bowing to outside pressure – and with integrity by upholding and defending the principles and purposes of the UN Charter. 

A central challenge has been to ensure that the Security Council acts “without prejudice to the rights, claims and positions of the parties” involved in a particular situation.  Too often the Permanent Members of the Security Council tend to promote their own narrow interests, which are fleeting and not geared toward achieving peaceful, sustainable solutions that reflect the will of the affected populations. 

We have learned from our own experience domestically, as well as in our efforts on the Continent, that the peaceful resolution of disputes is preferable to the destruction and furies unleashed by military interventions, that dialogue is the only way to achieve such outcomes, and that as uncomfortable as it is, parties should engage with their enemies to find solutions as the zero-sum approach to conflict has an expensive and bloody price tag paid by the people on the ground.

Our most recent term in the UN Security Council, and the consistent failure of the Council to address the situation in Syria, has reinforced our belief on the urgent need for the reform of the Council.  Continued failure to do so will affect the UNSC’s legitimacy, undermining the entire system of global security. The Council cannot continue in its unrepresentative form.  I reiterate the challenge posed by Minister Nkoana-Mashabane in the General Assembly in April this year – let’s not celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the UN in 2015 with an unreformed Security Council!

South Africa has played a leadership role in the field of sustainable development, which encompasses economic and social development and environmental protection. At the Durban Climate Change Conference in 2011, we facilitated a comprehensive package of decisions that takes forward the urgent work under way to meet the challenge of climate change, which is possibly the greatest sustainable development challenge humanity faces today. We have also been elected to ECOSOC, which is the principal coordinating body for economic and social matters within the UN system.

South-South Cooperation

In view of the changing patterns of global economic power as well as shared principles regarding inclusive global governance, President Zuma pursued South Africa’s membership of the BRICS grouping. The President met in the course of 2010 with all BRICS Heads of State/Government and as a result South Africa was invited to join the grouping at the end of 2010.  South Africa hosted the Fifth BRICS Summit on 27 March 2013 under the theme: “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialization”. President Zuma also hosted a post-Summit BRICS Leaders-African Dialogue Forum Retreat, which was attended by the AU Chairperson, the Chairperson of the NEPAD Heads of State/Government Orientation Committee and the Chairperson of the AU Commission, as well as various African Leaders representing the AU’s Regional Economic Communities and the Presidential Infrastructure Championship Initiative.

Pertinent outcomes of the Summit included the warm support articulated by BRICS Leaders for the AU’s infrastructure development programmes, the decision of BRICS Leaders to launch the new Development Bank as well as the launch of two new structures, i.e. the BRICS Business Council and the BRICS Think Tanks Council.

South Africa’s membership has contributed to further expand BRICS’ geographic reach, representivity and inclusiveness. South Africa’s membership of BRICS recognises South Africa’s systemically important economic position, including its non-energy in situ mineral wealth estimated at USD 2,5 trillion by Citibank, it’s internationally recognised role as a leading financial services centre, as well as its driving role as champion for integration and development initiatives in Africa and its well-developed infrastructure base.

South Africa’s international relations into the future

Whilst we celebrate our successes, we are also cognisant that more needs to be done. However, our successes, and the many I have not mentioned, must inspire us for the challenges ahead. 

Rooted in our own rich history and heritage, our foreign policy remains unique, and continues to speak to our domestic priorities. We continue to do more with less. In the face of the global financial crisis, we have stepped up our economic diplomacy objectives of attracting investment and boosting job creation as well as ensuring that tourist arrivals continue to grow year after year.  

South Africa’s foreign policy of Ubuntu simply means that what we want for ourselves, we also wish for others. Our struggle for a better life in South Africa is therefore intertwined with our pursuit of a better Africa in a better world.

It is therefore in our best interest that Africa and the world emerge a better place for all to live in. In all we do as a country, we must tap in to the wisdom of our forebears to achieve some of the ideals placed before us by our history. It is the very character of our history that should place us firmly as champions of democracy, good governance, human rights, development, peace and justice.

I Thank You.

Enquiries: Mr Clayson Monyela, Spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, 082 884 5974.

Issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation

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