Speech by South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Luwellyn Landers, to the South African Institute of International Affairs Cape Town 20 May 2015 “South Africa’s foreign policy priorities for the 21st century”

Your Excellencies,

The Director of the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of civil society organizations and the media,  Ladies and Gentlemen,

1) Introduction

Firstly, let me thank the leadership of SAIIA for partnering with DIRCO in organizing this event and providing us with a platform and opportunity to robustly engage on South Africa’s key foreign policy objectives for the 21st Century.  Platforms such as these help our government to demystify our foreign policy. It also debunks the perception that it does not affect the lives of ordinary people.

However, before beginning to explain our current policy objectives, I believe it is important that we first understand the philosophical and ideological approach to South Africa's foreign policy. It is important to understand how these principles evolved.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

2) Historical Context

The principles of our foreign policy are rooted in the principles and objectives of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). From its inception the founding fathers of the ANC including, Pixley Ka Seme and Sol Plaaitjies, espoused the principles of progressive Pan Africanism. This philosophy was for a united, independent and free Africa premised upon the principles of Ubuntu, equality, freedom and development for all its citizens.

These principles were further entrenched in the Freedom Charter, which was adopted in June 1956. This document was developed by, and encapsulated the aspirations of the majority of South Africans.  In respect of international relations, it said ‘‘There shall be peace and friendship”. This year, we celebrate our 60th anniversary of this document which still guides our foreign policy.

Furthermore, from the outset and for the first 30 years, our founding fathers used the tools of diplomacy as their main weapon and tactic to fight colonialism and later apartheid in order to achieve the objectives mentioned above. (It was only in the 1940s, 50’s and 60s that we embarked on other strategies and tactics of struggle against colonialism and apartheid, including non-violent mass mobilization, armed struggle and international solidarity).  

As South Africans, we learnt valuable lessons in the power of practicing revolutionary diplomacy, which is rooted in the principle of international solidarity with the oppressed nations of the world. This tactic was driven by some of our greatest patriots and diplomats led by the late O.R. Tambo and supported by amongst others Johnny Makhatini, Dulcie September, and Ruth Mompati who passed away last week.

These principles of peace and friendship, progressive Pan Africanism, Ubuntu, freedom, equality and international solidarity with the oppressed were entrenched in amongst others, our constitution, supporting legislation and foreign policy after we won our democracy in 1994. Today, 21 years later, they remain embedded in our foreign policy, including our White Paper and our National Development Plan.

It is therefore important to understand that our foreign policy principles are rooted in our historical and personal experience and struggle against colonialism, imperialism and apartheid.  These principles include our steadfastness in defending human rights, our determination in creating a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic and better Africa and better world for all.

Therefore, the development of South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy is guided by:

A belief in human rights, which extends beyond the political, and embraces economic, social, cultural and environmental issues; A belief that just and lasting solutions to the problems of human kind can only come through the promotion of democracy, worldwide; and A belief that justice and international law should guide the relations between nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

3) Policy Objectives

Noting the above, our Foreign policy strategic goals are:

Enhanced African Agenda and sustainable development; Strengthening the political and economic Integration of SADC; Strengthening South- South Relations; Strengthening relations with strategic formations of the North; Participate in the system of global governance; and Strengthening political and economic relations.

Enhanced African Agenda and sustainable development

Our economic and political efforts as a country, are deployed with the recognition that we are first and foremost an African country and that we should support all efforts aimed at the attainment of stability, peace and prosperity throughout Africa.

We are therefore fully cognizant that our own peace, security, development and freedom is intrinsically connected to the rest of Africa.

We know that it is unsustainable to try to be an island of peace and prosperity surrounded by a sea of insecurity and instability.

We recognize that where there is pain in one part of the body, it will eventually affect the rest of the body.

We furthermore believe that there can be no peace and stability in Africa without development, nor can there be development in Africa without peace and stability.

Linked to this notion - democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law - is the ''sine quo non'' for the development, inclusive growth and the renaissance of Africa.  

We also subscribe to the perspective of the world renowned economist, Amartya Sen who said '' There can be no freedom without development and no development without freedom.''

It is within this context that as a country we are fully committed to building, strengthening and actively working within the multi-lateral institutions of Africa, such as the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and NEPAD amongst others. 

Since the advent of our democracy, we have continued to prioritize the deployment of our resources across Africa, including assisting with:

  • Mediation and conflict resolution,
  • National reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion across the continent, The deployment of peacekeeping forces and development and institutionalization of our continental and regional peace and security architecture, mechanisms and institutions, Strengthening democracy, human rights  and democratic institutions across Africa , through funding , training and technical support, Post-war reconstruction and development aid to African countries to strengthen democracy, growth and development, Building and actively participating in multilateral democratic and rights-based governance institutions and architecture such the AU, SADC, NEPAD and the APRM, amongst others Supporting African multilateral institutions in developing an enabling architecture for inclusive economic growth and development, Providing development aid and institutional architecture and mechanisms for infrastructure development, particularly as it relates to building roads, railway, dams, bridges, energy and ICT etc. in order to increase intra-Africa trade starting with the regional economic development zones such as SADC countries, and Supporting countries in running democratic elections.

We know that for Africa to rise and develop, we must firstly end all dictatorships and conflicts. We must ensure sustainable peace and stability and entrench democracy and the rule of law.

We must develop an enabling environment that moves our continent away from its current archaic, exclusive and extractive economy where, for example, currently all our roads and rail systems lead to the harbours and all our raw materials leave our continent in raw form to be processed in the countries of the North. 

We know that we must replace this with a continental legislative and policy architecture and infrastructure that are premised on interdependence, interconnectivity and intra-trade across our continent if we intend to achieve more inclusive and equitable economic growth. 

 We believe that there should be no African child who should not realize their dreams because of circumstances of war, instability, insecurity and lack of democracy in their country.

We aim to be part of the African countries that positively strengthen the African institutions so that we can reach the targets outlined in the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 framework document.

Whilst we are fully aware of the numerous challenges and threats in achieving our objectives, the body of evidence that has emerged over the past decade indicates that the winds of democracy and development are spreading across our continent.

For example, within the SADC region alone the majority have all undergone successful democratic elections in the past 3 years, half of which occurred in 2014/15. These include Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Malawi, Madagascar, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, and Lesotho. This year, Angola will also hold elections. 

We are making incremental progress in the establishment, development and harmonization of our regional economic architecture, institutions and projects. This will help us to achieve our objectives of creating an enabling environment for more inclusive regional and intra and intercontinental trade, investment, infrastructure development and economic growth.  The Lesotho Highlands Project is one such example.

We know that this goal is a long term one and that integration does not happen overnight. It took the European Union decades to ensure today’s integration in Europe and yet they still have a number of challenges.

Strengthen relations with strategic formations of the North & South-South Cooperation

Our National Development Plan Vision 2030 informs us that for South Africa and Africa to achieve its foreign policy objectives we have to continue establishing geostrategic partnerships through strengthening South-South relations. At the same time we must also advancing strategic relations with the formations of the North. 

South - South Cooperation
This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference, which laid the foundations for the Multilateral battle to change the political and economic paradigm in favour of countries of the South.

As we pay tribute to the principles espoused in Bandung we can proudly say that our relations with countries of the South are alive and vibrant. 

Our shared common history with most of these countries remains central to the fraternal and diplomatic relations we are building with this part of the world.

With the changing global trends, it is important for South Africa to diversify its relations particularly with other emerging economies in order to open up new ways of finding sustainable solutions to global challenges.

This relationship has changed how we do business, how we conduct our diplomatic relations, how we approach economic diplomacy, how we plan and monitor our work for a mutually beneficial relationships.

 As we move forward, the region will continue to be an important partner in our multilateral agenda. It will also continue influencing our policy approach to developmental challenges that we share with countries such as Brazil and Cuba.

Strengthen relations with strategic formations of the North

Europe and North America still remain South Africa’s strategic regions.  We are encouraged to see that in both regions, there is a widespread recovery following the crippling economic crisis that started in 2008.

With an Africa that is rising there are numerous economic and trade opportunities for Europe to invest in. We welcome their participation in this journey. However, it cannot be business as usual. Our relationship must be premised on the proviso that our relationship is one that is equally and mutually beneficial.

The European Union is still our primary trade and investment partner in the world and we have focused our bilateral engagements with this region in the areas defined by our five national domestic priorities, the African Agenda, and our global governance priorities. Furthermore, Europe is a Continent that Africa should continue to share important experiences with particularly, given that this region continues to be in the forefront of ground-breaking innovations and inventions.

Our structured bilateral relations with both countries of the South and the North provides us with a platform to engage in sustainable partnerships for development, including through the promotion of trade and investment; the establishment of joint projects for infrastructure development; and the sharing of technical skills that can help upscale delivery to our stated five national priority areas.  

Multilateralism- Creation of a fair global governance system & participation in the system of global governance

One of the foundations of South Africa’s foreign policy is our firm belief in multilateralism as a tool for collective solutions in order to build a better Africa and better world for all.

However, we are fully cognizant that the most important Multi-lateral Institutions of the United Nations, such as the Security Council and the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and IMF) are archaic, unfair, unrepresentative and insensitive to the needs of developing countries. 

The UN, which was established almost 70 years ago, remains mired in and framed according to the historical colonial paradigm, material conditions and maps. It has not changed its rules, structures and operations, whilst the rest of the world has undergone a damascian change.

To this end, knowing that most of the Western countries are resisting such change, we will continue to muster all our power and leverage to call for the reform of these institutions. The UN needs to reflect the needs of the current and future political and economic trajectory of the developing world as well.

The 70th anniversary of the UN in 2015 provides an opportunity to make meaningful progress on the reform the UNSC. We believe that transforming these institutions will also provide testimony to the principle of sovereign nations participating in foreign relations as equal partners. 

Whilst we continue with our fight to transform the UN structures, we will also simultaneously support and partner with like-minded countries of the South to develop alternative organizations, structures and institutions that are more fair and sensitive to the needs of the developing world. This includes IBSA, the BRICS, FOCAC (Forum for China-Africa Cooperation), NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) and the newly-established development banks.

South Africa is of the view that multilateral cooperation is more relevant than ever before in seeking lasting solutions to global problems. That is why we will continue to ensure that the voice of the South is heard in fora such as the G20. 

We will also enhance our constructive engagement with partners on issues relating to an equitable global trade regime, as well as on issues of global climate change.

Our participation in formations such as G20, BRICS, IBSA, G77 + China, and others is guided by our desire for a World that is fair and equitable, despite the evident differences in stages of development among countries.

With our BRICS partners, we are forging ahead creating credible alternatives to the Bretton Woods institutions. This includes the New Development Bank (NDB), which aims at achieve credible results through the use of instruments that are more sensitive  and acceptable to the needs and conditions of developing countries.

The world has an immense capacity to collaborate in resolving global challenges. This was displayed in 2000 when we launched the Millennium Development Goals at the United Nations.

It is therefore our objective that the ongoing discussions on the development agenda beyond 2015 should also address the three dimensions of sustainable development in an inclusive, balanced and integrated manner.

South Africa’s membership of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) also provides an opportunity for us to advance the above position.

It is our view that non-governmental organizations have an important strategic role to play in international relations as they contribute the type of skills and practical experience that are valuable to resolving global challenges.

The late Former President Nelson Mandela said after the successful conclusion of our negotiations, “The task always seems impossible until it’s done”. While this was in reference to our struggle against the apartheid regime, this statement also provides an instructive lesson for our persistent and sheer optimism of our will to transform the current global governance structures such as the UN.

Strengthening South Africa’s participation in Economic Diplomacy

Economic Diplomacy has become the central pillar of relations among nations. As a country we are forging ahead utilizing the resources we already have while also developing new skills in this area. 

We aspire for a South Africa that continues to attract international trade and investment while also able to participate in the ongoing initiatives aimed at positioning Africa as a major economic continent that should upscale trade and investments within itself.

One of the key objectives is to expand Africa’s industrial base.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All the above-mentioned foreign policy objectives that we seek to pursue are intrinsically linked and aligned to addressing our domestic challenges. This includes addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment.

I thank you


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