Speech by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Nomaindiya Mfeketo, on the occasion of a Public Participation Programme on the theme: “South Africa’s Economic Diplomacy with Asia and the Middle East Region”, Centre for Conflict Management, Cape Town, 12 November 2014.

Programme Director;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps with us here today;
Members of NGOs and Organised labour;
Members of the media;
Invited guests; and
Ladies and Gentlemen;

It gives me great pleasure to be part of this important dialogue on South Africa’s economic diplomacy with Asia and the Middle East region.

At the outset, let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to our hosts, staff and management of the Centre for Conflict Management for hosting us today, and indeed, for agreeing to forge this relationship at the start of my tenure as Deputy Minister of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

We are proud to be associated with an institution whose key focus and agenda is about an important element of our key foreign policy principles – conflict management.

I must confess that when we talk of our Foreign Policy, different people put different emphasis on what they perceive to be the correct interpretation of what diplomatic relations are.

My own bias and point of departure is that peace-building is the foundation of economic development. We therefore cannot talk about the developmental agenda we have, without talking about finding solutions for a long term peace for a region such as the Middle East, for example.

My lecture today will therefore, in the main, outline our foreign policy objectives, linking them to our domestic priorities in the form of the National Development Plan. I will focus on why it is that we are engaged in international relations in the first place.

Programme Director,

When we criss-cross the world, moving from one country to another championing our diplomatic relations, we do so driven and inspired by our desire to navigate solutions to the very challenges we face at home. These include the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and unemployment. We do this guided by the foreign policy objectives of our country.

FOREIGN POLICY PERSPECTIVE

The essence of South Africa's foreign policy is to promote and

protect the interests and values of its citizens. We prize our

commitment to peace and to the human dignity in the far

corners of the globe, but recognise that the security of our people and their yearning for a non-racial, non-sexist democracy also lies close to our foreign policy.

South Africa is both a trading and maritime nation; our international relations actively seek to emphasise the significance of these by promoting the economic interests of all our people.

We actively promote 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.

We are grateful for the international solidarity which supported the anti-apartheid cause. We are therefore in solidarity with all those whose struggle continues. South Africa's foreign relations reflect our domestic character - a constitutional state bound by the rule of law.

No longer are we the pariah of the world. 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.

Issues of Development, Human Rights, the environment, South-South co-operation, North-South relations, multilateralism, peace, security and disarmament are dominating the international agenda.

Our response to these basic issues is 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.

These ideals echo the words of the Freedom Charter which proclaims

"THERE SHALL BE PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP!"

South Africa shall aspire to be a fully independent state which 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. We are non-aligned and we seek not to affiliate to any international military blocs.

As we all know, the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality remain the biggest threats to our budding democracy and this therefore logically dictates that our country should regard economic diplomacy an integral part of our diplomatic work.

What we have done over the years is in keeping with our country’s developmental footprint – the National Development Plan (NDP).

Our NDP is home grown, and remains a product of our people, and indeed our young democracy. This important blueprint seeks to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality and unemployment by 2030.

Our economic diplomacy strategy, therefore, should serve as a catalyst, in order to tie into our strategy the letter and spirit of the NDP.

This is an ideal society we want for those who will come after us.

Programme Director;

In advancing our foreign policy objectives with our friends and partners outside our borders, we have adopted peace-building as a critical tool for conflict resolution which paves the way for nation building.

This tool is an important and a potent way of framing our foreign policy interests in response to our objectives of putting Africa first in our developmental agenda. We move with an understanding that an Africa and a world that is at peace with itself will create the prospect of an integrated continent whose destiny is intertwined with that of South Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Our country has grown and matured in the past 20 years and this can be directly attributed to our leadership collective at the time of liberation that chose reconciliation, peace-making and peace building over violence and war. 

For over 20 years since the dawn of our new democracy, our country has infused, in its foreign policy engagements, key important elements that underline our pursuit of human rights. Over and above, our experience in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good story that we carry with us whenever we are invited by countries to facilitate with the peaceful resolutions of their conflicts. Our stance however has always been that we are here to share our story and experience of the past 20 years. We are of the belief that nations and their people should find their own unique solutions to their problems just as we did during the transition from an Apartheid regime to a democratic South Africa.

Today, our people continue to enjoy the fruits of our decision to engage in a negotiated settlement as oppose to the attainment of power through violence. At the time, prominent on the agenda was the notion of how do we restrain the notion of ‘white fears’ leading up to the first democratic elections.

What no one ever talked about was the notion of ‘black fears’; fears that a path of reconciliation might undermine the genuine hurt and grievances experienced by the majority of our people in South Africa. Secondly, fears that the will of the majority will be suppressed by the nursing of the anxiety felt by the minority. Lastly, collective fears that these anxieties, both black and white will derail the democratic project that we were embarking on. 

Programme Director, these are the stories that we share with our counterparts in regions such as Asia and the Middle East, who still seek peaceful coexistence of their people. These experiences are the cornerstone of our Foreign Policy, it is our legacy to the world.

Ladies and Gentleman,

As indicated above, our foreign policy is embedded on a strong history of international solidarity with nations of the world, particularly people to people solidarity.

Clearly, our foreign policy has always been guided by the principles that seek to help us realise our key national priorities through strengthened bilateral cooperation with individual countries of the South.

This we have done well so far.

But we are also aware that a lot still needs to be done in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, working together with the respective countries on issues of common interest and mutual benefit will enable our people both in the public and private sector to reap the fruits of our labour in their respective fields. What we want to emphasis as the department of International Relations is that we are bridge builders.

Programme Director;

Since the 1994 democratic elections, our relations with India have grown from strength to strength, and to this day remain excellent.

Multilaterally, interaction at high level between South Africa and India continues in the context of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Our relations with countries in South Asia are being strengthened even more through meetings in various structured bilateral meetings.

The objectives of these bilateral interactions are to, among others, follow up on commitments taken earlier and identify further areas of cooperation in fields such as trade, investment and cooperation, and in sectors such as health, education and infrastructure development.

This we do in support of our NDP.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Relations between South Africa and the ten member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) continue to grow and deepen.

President Zuma, visited Malaysia in August 2013. As with all outgoing visits of this nature, President Zuma was accompanied by a delegation of Ministers and business people.

Our Minister also had occasion to visit Indonesia for bilateral discussions with her counterpart and to co-chair the Second Conference among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development (CEAPAD II) held in Jakarta on 1 March 2014.

These are two high level visits, amongst others, that clearly define the level of our relations with these strategic countries.

Programme Director;

As part of South Africa’s foreign policy priority to enhance our partnership with the developed North, South Africa’s bilateral relationship with Japan was elevated in 2010 to the level of a “Strategic Cooperation Partnership.” 

Japan is South Africa’s largest trade partner after China and the United States and a major provider of development finance and assistance, including to the rest of Africa.

This is significant in terms of the nature of our trade relationship with the rest of Asia.

In fact, I have just returned from a visit to Kazakhstan where I met with my counterpart. Central to our discussions was our overview of the current bilateral relations, and prospects for the future. We have agreed that our current socio-economic and bilateral relations are gaining momentum.

We are pleased with the outcomes of our bilateral talks and look forward to working together on key strategic areas in the economic sector.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Please allow me to turn to another important region in our diplomatic engagements – the Middle East.

The promotion of stability and prosperity in the region is therefore in our own national interest. At the same time, it is a region with which many South Africans have an emotional or spiritual bond.

This is understandable, because the world’s three major monotheistic religions have their origins in the Middle East.

There is also a strong historical bond that exists between the people of South Africa and those of Palestine.

South Africa’s interest in the Middle East is built on two tenets, namely;

  • the economic development of our country; and
  • the promotion of peace and security in the region.

Integrated trade and investment may have been our initial point of contact post-1994, but our twenty years of relations have brought about a myriad of different areas of cooperation.

Our engagement not only ensures optimal relations between South Africa and the Middle East, but also contributes to the attainment of South Africa’s national objectives, such as job creation through trade, investment and tourism promotion, as well as the transfer of technologies and skills both to South Africa and the rest of the African continent.

We also note that the footprint of our private sector is increasing throughout the region.

Programme Director;

Despite the difficult international status quo pertaining to the imposition of international sanctions on Iran, South Africa remains committed to the maintenance of good bilateral relations with Iran and seeks to position relations for a post-sanctions era, in view of the importance of the historical and political significance and the trade and economic potential which Iran holds for the export of South African goods and services and for bilateral cooperation in various fields.

It would also allow Iran to reclaim its rightful place in the international community through the lifting of international sanctions.

Ladies and gentlemen;

We remain committed to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.

We maintain that the only hope for the Syrian people lies in the willingness of all the parties to the conflict to immediately put an end to the violence and start engaging each other constructively with the aim of reaching an agreement on a political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012. 

South Africa has steadfastly maintained that democracy is an unassailable right of the Syrian people.

South Africa remains convinced that in a complex and diverse society such as Syria, there can be no military solution to the conflict.

We are convinced that we will witness in Syria, as we have elsewhere in the world that, if the crisis continues to be fuelled with weapons, it is ultimately the people of Syria who will pay the heaviest price.

Programme Director;

Our relations with Iraq are on a sound footing, characterised by continuous engagements to find each other on issues of common interest.

Programme Director;

Clearly, a lot has been done between South Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the promotion of trade and investment on key areas where capability has been demonstrated.

Our country took advantage of those capabilities, encouraging maximum investment, and securing employment for our people.

Our believe is, despite pockets of instabilities, the region still holds great potential for our economic development.

We therefore recommit ourselves to working together with the region to unleash our greatest potential, in support of the kind of economic diplomacy we want to nurture.

As I conclude, please allow me to take this opportunity to thank you, once more, for allowing us to share with you some insights of our diplomacy, particularly our milestones with the Asia and Middle East regions.

I wish you all very fruitful engagements as we continue to navigate solutions to challenges that currently face our international community.

I thank you.

Issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation

OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road
Rietondale
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