Speech by Deputy Minister Mashego-Dlamini at the Symposium on SA's chairing of the African Union, University of Venda, 13 March 2020

Programme Director;
The Vice Chancellor;
The Chairperson of Council;
The University Administration;
Student and Staff;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all let me thank the organisers of this all-important event which is aimed at reflecting on South Africa’s current Chairship of the African Union (AU).

Let me also thank all of you for showing up in such considerable numbers. This augurs well for the ongoing efforts to build an inclusive culture of quality engagement that forms the basis of state-society relations.

In much the same way, this event today is a measure of our keen interest to expand our knowledge base about our continent’s political governance systems as well as the strategic direction it has chosen to take. After all the destiny of the African continent is less about its political leadership and more about its people --- Africa’s greatest asset. Ultimately, what matters is the vision we have defined for the African continent, together with the modalities to take us to that destiny.

Consequently, through this valuable engagement we hope to contextualise South Africa’s Chairship of the African Union and spark robust interest and hopefully, even debates on international relations of the country, while not losing sight of the national domestic priorities.

Programme Director;

The Republic of South Africa assumed the Chairship of the African Union at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) that convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the 8th and 9th of February 2020. Additionally, South Africa is concurrently Chairing the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the AU Committee of Heads of State on Climate Change (CAHOSOCC). 

The Chairship also coincides with the final year of South Africa’s non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The Chairship of the AU spans over a one-year term and the President, in his capacity as Chairperson will, during this period, provide political and strategic stewardship to the Continental body. Furthermore, the President is expected to represent the AU at strategic partnership summits and at various multilateral fora.

Holding these positions means that as a country, South Africa will be compelled to redouble efforts to build strong, sustainable and resilient regional and continental mechanisms able to support our national efforts to deliver durable, and inclusive economic opportunities for our people, in particular women and youth. It also means that we need to serve as a buffer against unrest, instability, terrorism and violent extremism on our continent.

Our key strategic objective in ascending to the Chairship of the African Union in 2020 is to advance the economic integration of the continent through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and lead continental efforts aimed at resolving conflicts in South Sudan, Libya, Somalia and the Sahel region.

South Africa’s goals for the African continent are the resolution of conflict and building a framework in which socio-economic development can take place. As you well know, socio-economic development cannot take place without peace and stability, as these factors constitute the necessary conditions for the implementation of effective developmental programmes.

Conversely, socio-economic development is necessary in the context of addressing the root causes of conflict and instability. While the above-mentioned countries are among the current flashpoints, our focus will extend to all conflict-ridden spaces on our continent. 

Recently, Africa has registered notable progress with a wave of democracy growing as indexed by more African countries holding peaceful elections. We are also pleased with the resolution of the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2019.

 However, the conflicts and political instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Libya, and South Sudan continues unabated. Trends in conflict and violent events during 2019 have indicated an increase in the number of conflict actors and the transnational nature of threats and vulnerabilities.  We are concerned about the proliferation of rebel and extremist groups, bolder linkages between transnational organised crime and violent extremists in Africa and the Middle East, and a rise in the frequency and scale of riots and protests. Attacks by militants affiliated with the Islamic State in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado have raised concerns about an IS presence in new territories where it has drawn allegiance from local militant groups.

Ladies and gentlemen;

South Africa’s current Chairship of the AU means increased focus on this monumental task in this year. In keeping with the above challenge to create sustainable peaceful conditions for socioeconomic development and to see through the key developmental goals of the AU, our Cabinet and the AU have approved, “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development” as the theme for South Africa’s Chairship.

This is our priority as we believe that the nexus between peace, human security and development has never been more apparent. Sadly contemporary Africa exists in a global context where arms sales are twenty three percent higher than before. The associated risks of the ascendant unilateralist agenda for our Continent and the proliferation of weapons is very worrying. We have already noted above that developments in the Sahel, Libya, tensions in Central Africa and political instability in the Great Lakes Region are cause for grave concern.

Unilateralism and a sustained assault on the multilateral framework to global governance continues to spawn negative global climate characterised by right wing politics, toxic nationalism, elitism and enhanced racialised identities which threaten to reverse the hard fought for gains won through multilateral framework.

In the end, the spectre of extremist violence, both ideological and religious, creates a risk profile that does not support trade, investment and infrastructure development. As a result the task of working for durable peace becomes that much more exacting.

Ladies and gentlemen;

In pursuance of our national and continental developmental goals, South Africa will continue to play its role in line with our vision of advancing a better Africa and a better world. With regard to trade matters, the nations of Africa took a decisive step to deepen integration in Africa through the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which came into effect on 30 May 2019.

The AfCFTA, as one of the flagship projects of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, aims to build an integrated market of over 1 billion people with a combined GDP of approximately US$3.3 trillion. It also aims to boost intra-Africa trade that currently stands at approximately 16 per cent with Africa’s share of world trade estimated to be at only 3 per cent. The implementation of the AfCFTA is on track with trading expected to come into effect on 1 July 2020.

Africa is on a sustained growth path that is unprecedented. In recent years Africa has enjoyed an above average rate of economic growth. This is phenomenal given our struggling infrastructure, reliance on raw materials and political insecurity in certain hotspots. For infrastructure alone, the Continent needs an estimated additional 100 billion USD a year in investment. There is no reason Africa should not start to unleash its maximum potential in this century despite such challenges. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will play a key role in unlocking investments, both domestic and foreign. This should be done within the context of silencing of the guns to ensure that the environment is secure and conducive to development.

South Africa in 2020 will focus on Agenda 2063 and ensure that the 7 Aspirations are energised with flagship programmes such as, the launch of a Single African Air Transport Market aimed at liberalising the air transport market, and the adoption of the Free Movement of Persons in Africa. I believe that this will be significant and of interest to our friends and partners globally to invest and participate in opportunities that such initiatives create.

Ladies and Gentleman;

South Africa assumes the Chairship of the Union under the conditions in which Africa’s economic growth continues on the upward trajectory, with gross domestic product (GDP) projected to rise to 4% in 2020, up from 3.5% in 2019. However this excludes the large economies of Angola, Nigeria and South Africa, which have an average growth of 2.5%.

But the positive growth outlook is dampened by downside risks, specifically rising levels of government debt and concerns about debt sustainability. Fourteen countries have been marked as being in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress. Rising debt levels have stemmed from declining commodity process, a glaring infrastructure financing gap and budgetary increases for security in countries affected by terror threats.

Debt accumulation raises questions about debt sustainability, particularly with regard to commercial debt sources such as Eurobond and Chinese loans, with policy implications for tax revenue collection and risk mitigation mechanisms such as blended finance and public-private partnerships.

The agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that is scheduled  to come into effect by 1st July 2020  has raised high expectations as an “economic game changer” with the potential to raise intra-African trade by 25% — or between $50-billion and $70-billion — by 2040.

We are confident that indeed this watershed development will turn the fortunes of Africa around.

So, ladies and gentlemen, just to sum up the key thrust of our mission on this high-level portfolio, South Africa has come up with have five key objectives for our AU Chairship.

  • Promote and support integration, economic development, trade and investment in the continent.
  • Drive the implementation of the presidential infrastructure champion initiative in support of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
  • Advance women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship.
  • Support the good governance and democracy agenda.
  • Advance African Union-United Nations co-operation.
  • Promote peace and security and advance the effort to Silence the Gun.

We are confident that our stewardship of this continental project will yield tangible results for the future growth and development of our continent, becoming, in the process, the legacy which will define our contribution to the Africa continent.

Programme Director;

In conclusion, let me re-emphasise that we are alive to the fact that advancing to our defined vision both as a country and the continent is well-neigh impossible if our people are left behind.

As well, we take it as our duty to deepen public understanding of the mandate of DIRCO as a government department, not only to inform South Africans about the business and mandate of their government but to also communicate the South African Government’s political commitment to participate in the development of the continent as a platform to realise our domestic priorities.

This platform today testifies to that. It affords us a shared discursive space for collective visioning of the trajectory of the African continent and the role our country continues to play in that regard.

I am therefore confident that we will emerge the richer for it, as the description of the audience here covers a wide range of stakeholders, mostly and in this regard correctly so, from civil society.

Against the background of our ascendancy to the Chairship of the AU in this current period, let us engage in some illuminating engagement, and as the classical discourse would have it, ‘let hundred flowers bloom’.

I thank you for your kind attention.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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