Address by Mr Marius Fransman, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, on the occasion of the International Solidarity Conference on Cuba, Western Sahara and Palestine, hosted by the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, Good Hope Chamber, 6 February 2014
Honourable Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee and Members of the Committee
Other Members of Parliament
Respected Elders and Cde Ahmed Kathrada, in particular
Members of civil society
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am profoundly honoured to address this august gathering on the occasion of the International Solidarity Conference with Cuba, Western Sahara and Palestine not only because these three countries have occupied such an important place in our discourse over the past two decades for a just, caring and peaceful global dispensation but because each in their own right have carried the flag of struggle for human rights, solidarity and freedom.
On the eve of our own liberation in December 1993 our global icon Cde President Nelson Mandela said in an article 'NEW PILLARS FOR A NEW WORLD' ...'As the 1980s drew to a close I could not see much of the world from my prison cell, but I knew it was changing. There was little doubt in my mind that this would have a profound impact on my country on the southern African region and the continent of which I am proud to be a citizen. Although this process of global change is far from complete, it is clear that all nations will have boldly to recast their nets if they are to reap any benefit from international affairs in the post-Cold War era.' (Close quote)
This year we mark two decades of freedom and the world is indeed a changed place. South Africa, for the first time in its long and turbulent history, has a truly representative and a democratically-elected government in power. The historic April 27 elections, followed by the presidential inauguration on May 10, and the installation of a Government of National Unity were indeed milestones and ushered in a period of profound and fundamental change in our country. Over the past twenty years we have indeed walked a long way from being the pariah of the world to becoming a symbol of human rights, peaceful transition and a constitutional democracy that is celebrated by all and sundry.
Our policies and programmes have, by and large, been accepted by the international community as realistic and the endeavour to transform South Africa into a truly free, peaceful, prosperous and non-racial society has been acclaimed by the very world which previously applied sanctions and punitive measures against us. Indeed, few countries, if any, enjoy the phenomenal goodwill, understanding and admiration of so many. This parliament has hosted international delegations from every continent keen and eager to learn from our experience of peaceful transition and the practice of our broad and comprehensive foreign policy framework.
This is no coincidence as our emergence as a democratic country in the last decade of the 20th century has thrust us into a fundamentally transformed world. The cold war has ended; the great contending forces of capitalism and socialism no longer dominate the world scene. A new era has dawned whose main content is, inter-alia, the ever-growing conflict between a highly-industrialised and affluent North and an impoverished, under-developed, highly populated South. More and more issues such as development, human rights, the environment, South-South co-operation, North-South relations, multilateralism, peace, security and disarmament, etc., is dominating the international agenda. Our response to these basic issues is fundamentally informed by the necessity to advance our common national interests in the first place and, secondly, to ensure that the Southern African region develops in conditions of peace, security and stability, and the larger agenda of African and International solidarity.
For this reason our foreign policy is an integral part, or rather, an extension of our national policy and interests, and consequently an important component in our strategy for development and social purposes.
This is the underlying reason for the view that our foreign policy belongs to South Africa's people and mirrors our long relationship with the international community, reflecting the rich tapestry of our international heritage and demonstrating the desire to live in harmony with our neighbours. This emphasises our responsibility to contribute creatively to Africa's future and motivates us towards international service and solidarity so that our country may fulfil its calling as a responsible global player.
Such a profound premise for our foreign policy requires all of us as patriotic South Africans to think beyond the immediate, to reach towards the challenges of the approaching century and to give full expression to the ideals of the Freedom Charter and our democratic Constitution which proclaims "THERE SHALL BE PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP!"
South Africa as a fully independent state, respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations. South Africa strives to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation - not war. A democratic South Africa promotes peace and friendship amongst all people by upholding the standard of human rights, peace and justice for all.
South Africa is both a trading and maritime nation. Our international relations should actively seek to accentuate the significance of these by promoting the economic interests of all our people.
South Africa actively promotes the objectives of democracy, peace, stability, development and mutually beneficial relations among the people of Africa as a whole, as well as a Pan-African solidarity. Grateful for the international solidarity which supported the anti-apartheid cause, we have for the past two decades of democracy aggressively supported an agenda of solidarity with all those whose struggle continues.
Our vision is 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 and hence we have been promoting South Africa’s national interests and values, the African Renaissance and the creation of a better world for all.
To this end we have and will continue to pursue our strategic foreign policy objectives:
- Through bilateral and multilateral interactions to protect and promote South African National interests and values;
- Conduct and co-ordinate South Africa’s international relations and promote its foreign policy objectives;
- Monitor international developments and advise government on foreign policy and related domestic matters;
- Protect South Africa’s sovereignty and territorial integrity;
- Contribute to the formulation of international law and enhance respect for the provisions thereof;
- And to promote multilateralism to secure a rules-based international system.
THE PRINCIPLES OF SOUTH AFRICA'S FOREIGN POLICY
The principles which guide our foreign policy are therefore rooted in:
- A belief in, and preoccupation with, human rights which extends beyond the political, embracing the economic, social and environmental;
- A belief that just and lasting solutions to the problems of human kind can only come through the promotion of democracy, worldwide;
- A belief that justice and international law should guide the relations between nations;
- A belief that international peace is the goal to which all nations should strive. Where this breaks down, internationally-agreed peaceful mechanisms to solve conflicts should be resorted to;
- A belief that our foreign policy should reflect the interests of the continent of Africa;
- A belief that South Africa's economic development depends on growing regional and international economic cooperation in an independent world;
- A belief that our foreign relations must mirror our deep commitment to the consolidation of a democratic South Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen; our understanding of the world and the search for a better international order, one that is equitable, just, humane and democratic therefore informs a greater pursuit of collective leadership in order to secure greater security, peace, dialogue and equity between and amongst poor and rich nations.
Drawing from our own liberation history and its international solidarity character, we pursue a foreign policy strategy of working “with African and global progressive forces to advance human development in our country, our continent and across the globe”.
It is therefore no accident that this conference on International Solidarity with Western Sahara, Cuba and Palestine occupies such an important place in the pursuit of our foreign policy.
Our freedom we know would never have been had it not been for the support built through international solidarity by hundreds of nations across the world both east and west. Some supporting us with international aid, bursaries, training. Others through multilateral lobbying, others with financial support in building a worldwide ANC, as well as our internal anti-apartheid organisations and trade unions etc. Others helping through building the economic, cultural and sports boycotts, whilst others helped us with armed struggle.
Ladies and gentlemen,
South Africa remains steadfast in its support for the Saharawi people’s inalienable right to decolonisation and self-determination, through a UN supervised referendum with the option of independence.
Western Sahara has since 1976 been occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco and is Africa's last remaining colony. The Kingdom of Morocco has maintained that an autonomous Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty is the only acceptable solution. The Polisario Front proposes that the Saharawi People should be allowed to determine their destiny through a UN supervised referendum.
In 1976 the Polisario Front founded the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). In 1984 the SADR was formally admitted into the OAU resulting in the withdrawal of Morocco from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). In May 1991, the Polisario Front and Morocco entered a ceasefire agreement, following a UN sponsored peace settlement. To date, the question of the Western Sahara remains at a stalemate.
Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara remains a matter of international legality. The Moroccan claim, that the Western Sahara, in the pre-colonial period was part of the historic Moroccan Kingdom was rejected by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Advisory Opinion of 16 October 1975. The legal status of Western Sahara in the 4th Committee of UNGA is clear; it is a non-self-governing territory awaiting decolonisation through a referendum on self-determination.
South Africa’s international solidarity and support for the self-determination of Western Sahara is based on the following principles:
- The principles of multilateralism and international legality in seeking a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
- The centrality of the African Union and United Nations in the resolution of the conflict.
- The Constitutive Act of the African Union, in particular the principle of the sanctity of inherited colonial borders in Africa and the right of peoples of former colonial territories to self-determination and independence.
- Respect of international human rights law in the occupied territories, notable the right to freedom of association, assembly, movement and expression.
- Respect of international humanitarian law and support for the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Saharawi refugees in a way that is predictable, sustainable and timely.
- An end to the illegal exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara in the illegally occupied territory and the discouragement of the involvement of foreign companies in such activities.
- Support for the integration and stability of the Maghreb Union as a building block of the African Union.
Ladies and gentlemen, the year 2014 marks 20 years of fruitful relations with Cuba. Ties of culture, history, shared struggles and common aspirations, join Cuba to South Africa and the Continent of Africa. The celebration of 20 years of diplomatic bilateral relations between South Africa and Cuba is a major achievement. In respect of the pursuit of our international solidarity with Cuba, there are over thirty (30) signed bilateral agreements in place between our two countries covering vast areas of cooperation for example arts and culture, defence, education, science and technology, health services, housing as well home affairs.
Today we wish to reiterate our unvarying and unyielding support to the legitimate struggles of the people of Cuba. As a country we will continue to defend these struggles until the citizens of these countries enjoy and benefit from full freedom, independence and justice.
On 1 January 2014, we celebrated with the Cuban people the 55th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and commemorated 20 years of fruitful relations between our two countries. South Africa stands in wonder and admiration of the proficient leadership of Presidents Fidel Castro and Raul Castro that has, over more than five decades, steered our sister country to survive all efforts to reverse the gains of the Cuban Revolution. Cuba’s continuous economic oppression by the US has failed to diminish the commitment of the Cuban Government to provide for its people in education, health and social development. Never has Cuba allowed its miseries to shrink its limitless solidarity to people’s causes in all corners of the globe.
South Africa’s Strategic Foreign Policy Objectives towards growing our bilateral and multilateral relations with Cuba remain steadfast. We continue, under the auspices of the SA-Cuba Joint Consultative Mechanism, to consolidate our political, bilateral and multilateral relations and to explore avenues for further cooperation. Our mutual support in multilateral forums remains unwavering.
South Africa will continue to energetically support all solidarity programmes and activities that expose the tyranny and brutality of US policy towards Cuba and we commit to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Cuban people in their struggle against the US economic embargo.
Our country reports annually to the UN General Assembly on its cooperation with Cuba when considering the Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America (USA) against Cuba. In this regard, President Jacob Zuma has, during the past number of years, in his State of the Nation Address, called for an immediate end to the continued unilateral economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba by the United States of America.
South Africa reiterates, on an annual basis, it’s condemnation of the disregard for international law by the USA on the unjust embargo, collectively seen by the majority of Member States as a violation of the Cuban people’s right to development, peace and security. On 29 October 2013, at the UN General Assembly, South Africa, along with 35 other delegations, voted in favour of the rejection of a policy that violates international law, challenges fundamental principles of the United Nations and goes contrary to the norms and practices of international trade.
As a country committed to the defense of international law, South Africa will not tire in its efforts to demand an immediate and unconditional lifting of the US economic blockade against Cuba. For more than half a century this embargo has continued to stifle the economic and social development of Cuba, further exacerbating hardships and sufferings of the people of Cuba, sabotaging the achievement of all the internationally agreed development goals, including Millennium Development Goals, by the Cuban Government and its people.
In addition we remain committed to continue to actively campaign for the release of remaining 4 of the Cuban Five who still remain jailed in the United States today. We call upon civil society solidarity organisations to rev up our efforts this year to support this campaign.
South Africa shares the same values and principles in the context of the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, with the specific focus on maintaining the integrity and respect for good governance within the Council. It is for this reason that we, South Africa and Cuba, have unequivocally supported each other in our membership of the Council until 2016. We have seen the Council’s work being continuously undermined through the marginalisation of key initiatives of the developing countries wherein the funding of the Council is severely reduced or programmes blocked through lack of funding. Cuba and South Africa have remained steadfast in opposing these tactics, to ensure equal treatment of all human rights consistent with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993.
We will continue to work and support each other in the implementation of the outcome of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), namely, DDPA, the Open-ended Working Group on Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs), as well as issues pertaining to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issues.
Honourable Chairperson, Members of the Parliament,
In South Africa’s hour of bereavement, when former President Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013, Cuba sent a high-level delegation to South Africa, presided over by General Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, to attend the State funeral. President Castro said during the funeral proceedings, “Full of emotion, we pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, who is recognised as the supreme symbol of dignity and unyielding dedication to the revolutionary struggle for freedom and justice, as a prophet of unity, reconciliation and peace. We shall never forget Mandela’s moving tribute to our common struggle when he visited us on 26 July 1991 and stated “The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa”.
Our solidarity with Cuba and South Africa-Cuba relations were established long before our democracy. Ours is a relationship of mutual and reciprocal friendship grounded in our liberation history between the then liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC) and the government and Communist Party of Cuba.
After 1994, Cuba was one of the first to offer material and human resource support. The success of South Africa’s political bilateral and multilateral relations could, therefore, be measured in the extent of the numerous development programmes, co-operation projects, as well as the strong political and social solidarity and support that exist between our two countries and peoples. It thus is critical that these relations be supported in whatever way possible, especially because South Africa’s population still benefits from the SA-Cuba relations.
The past 20 years of diplomatic relations have also experienced a robust and constructive interaction at both bilateral and multilateral level. South Africa, as well as Cuba chaired the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during this period and still contribute to the revitalisation of the movement and its relevance in the multilateral arena.
The objective of the annual Joint Consultative Mechanism Meeting is to further strengthen relations, to excel and to expand cooperation, and my Department is looking forward to welcoming the Cuban delegation to South Africa during the course of 2014.
The government of South Africa, working with civil society, has pledged humanitarian aid to the government of Cuba in the wake of the severe destruction and damage caused by three successive hurricanes in 2008.
Through the commitment and dedication of the Cuba – South Africa Friendship Organisation FOCUS, South Africans have been sensitised on issues pertaining to Cuba and FOCUS has been the driving force in mobilising support for the various solidarity campaigns for Cuba in South Africa, including the release of the Cuban 5.
South Africa continues to be a beneficiary of Cuba’s ongoing assistance in support of the 5 priorities of the South African Government, through joint programmes in health, labour, social development, housing and infrastructure. One of the success stories is the extensive cooperation between South Africa and Cuba regarding skills development and training.
During this year, more than 1,828 South African students will be receiving medical training in Cuba. So far, more than 420 South Africans from disadvantaged backgrounds have graduated in Cuba as medical doctors, providing much needed primary healthcare services to their local communities. Another 73 final year medical students are doing their final year at SA Universities and will be graduating in 2014. Similarly, 11 South African students have graduated from the International Sport School in Havana and a number of teachers in South Africa have benefitted from the Mathematics and Science skills development programme.
The deployment of Cuban doctors, engineers and technical experts across South African provinces is a demonstration of Cuba’s commitment, as is the training on Cuban scholarships, of South African medical students under the auspices of the Health Agreement, and of over 1000 students, under the Extended Health Agreement.
Following the success of cooperation in the sphere of health, various projects are being pursued in areas as diverse as arts and culture, sports, trade, agriculture, education, housing and water affairs.
Cuba’s commitment to the African Continent is evidenced by the presence of Cuban medical brigades in 28 African countries, comprised of more than 1 800 doctors and other health personnel, and close to 2 300 young people from 48 African countries studying in Cuba. Furthermore, a number of trilateral projects involving South Africa and Cuba on the Continent of Africa have borne fruit in Sierra Leone, Mali and Rwanda.
Finally, we applaud the Cuban government for its plans, announced in January 2014, to open its economy to greater foreign investment under a new law to be taken up soon by its legislature. We have noted with great satisfaction and anticipation the statement released by the Cuban government, that outside investment no longer would be merely a “compliment” to Cuba’s economy but “would occupy a major role” under the proposed law. Our best wishes are with the Cuban Government as it finds measures to open up the economy to outside investment and attract greater foreign capital, thus generating new jobs and bolstering domestic industry. This step will assist Cuba to increase its exports and reduce its dependence on goods purchased from overseas.
This, in our view, emphasises the scope for doing business with Cuba and could form part of the Parliamentary Plan of Action to grow trade with Cuba. I am glad to state that 2014 is the year of implementation of the Economic Assistance Package Agreement in favour of Cuba. The agreement, signed in 2012 became fully operational before the end of 2013 and approval has been granted by the South African Reserve Bank for the package to be delivered through the conduct of a series of international payments.
The close cooperation between the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of International Relations and Cooperation, my Department, as well as the Department of Trade and Industry to implement the Agreement on Economic Cooperation, underscores the government’s commitments to plough back resources to Cuba.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Cuba continues to be an inspiration for us in pursuit of our agenda of international solidarity for as Commandante' Che Guevara reiterated: 'our struggle cannot be over as long as there is a single human being suffering anywhere in the world' (close quote).
Ladies and gentlemen,
Cde President Nelson Mandela put our foreign policy and international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle into perspective when he said that: 'the Palestinian struggle is the greatest moral issue of our time'.
Our history and support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom is one that is also linked in our historical and shared struggles. Many of our liberation leaders and revolutionaries trained alongside the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) during the dark days of Apartheid. Our history is a shared one of international solidarity of two nations that have been oppressed and discriminated against. Our own history of Apartheid therefore demands that as South Africa, we are required and morally obliged to support the Palestinian fight for freedom, equality and the right to self-determination.
Since the dawn of democracy we have developed our policy towards Palestine, based on international solidarity with the Palestinian cause which is therefore informed by the following:
- South Africa has recognized the State of Palestine since 1995.
- South Africa supports international efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, existing side by side in peace with Israel within internationally recognized borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967, prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- South Africa remains deeply concerned about Israeli settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem. The South African government has repeatedly called on Israel to abandon all settlement expansion
- A two-state solution to the conflict is under increasing threat as Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank continues to make the separation of both peoples into two states increasingly difficult
- The halting of settlement construction is seen by the South African government as a commitment already agreed to by Israel during preceding peace negotiations, including at the Annapolis International Middle East Peace Conference, which took place in November 2007 and in which South Africa participated
- During the NAM Ministerial meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on 10 May 2012, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane reiterated South Africa’s unwavering commitment in support of the Palestinian cause, and called for the self-determination and recognition of the Palestinian state.
- South Africa stands firmly opposed to the blockade of Gaza, its inaccessibility with respect to humanitarian aid and the general dire humanitarian situation that this causes.
- South Africa encourages a just solution with respect to the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
- In May 2010, South Africa recalled its Ambassador to Israel for consultations and handed a demarche to the Israeli Ambassador to protest an Israeli military assault on an international assistance flotilla to Gaza in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, which resulted in the death of seven Turkish nationals aboard the (Turkish) vessel.
- In 2011, South Africa co-sponsored a bid for statehood in the United Nations for the State of Palestine, however that was not successful. On 29 November 2013, the General Assembly voted to grant Palestine non-member observer State status at the United Nations.
- On 22 August 2012, the South African Cabinet approved Government Notice 379 pertaining to the labelling of products from the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The Israeli Government was “distressed” by the fact that the entire South African Cabinet had approved the notice requiring the labelling of products emanating from the Occupied Territories.
Our foreign policy implementation and international solidarity can therefore be summarised as using all our resources tools and tactics of diplomacy to further enhance and support the course of the Palestinian at every multilateral and bilateral fora. To provide tangible support to the Palestinians at a bi- , tri- and multilateral level through developmental aid and projects such as the establishment of sports complex for the community of Ramallah, as well as providing resources to establish and maintain the Palestinian Embassy in South Africa.
As we reiterate our support for a just and negotiated settlement of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, independence and complete sovereignty in accordance with International resolutions of the UN, we recall the wise words of Cde President Nelson Mandela that: 'South Africa cannot be truly free until Palestine is free!' (Close quote).
In conclusion, let me reiterate my support to the portfolio committee for the initiative taken to hold this International Solidarity Workshop. As we celebrate our 20 years of democracy it becomes important to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past two decades, including within the field of international relations and international solidarity with the oppressed nations of the world and in particular Cuba, Palestine and Western Sahara. It is furthermore important as we deliberate today on these three countries that our support rooted in in our liberation history is one that has and continues to be entrenched in the ruling party policy. In this regard, it becomes equally important to reflect upon the ruling party policy resolutions as it relates to these three countries in particular, and deliberate whether in fact our current government policy implementation within the context of these three countries in particular, are sufficiently in line with our ruling party policy.
Long live International Solidarity!
Hasta La Victoria – Siempre!
For enquiries please contact Mr Clayson Monyela, Spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, at 082 884 5974.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road