Introductory Remarks by Minister Pandor on the occasion of the Briefing to the Portfolio Committee on the Annual Reports for 2020/2021 of the Department and the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund, 10 November 2021

Honourable Chairperson, Honorable Members,

Thank you for the invitation to present the Annual Reports for 2020/2021 of the Department and the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund (ARF).

During the reporting period South Africa entered its first hard lockdown, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, DIRCO and its Missions abroad, like the rest of the country and the world, had to learn how to grapple with the devastating impact that the pandemic had on traditional diplomatic operations.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide travel restrictions, which also severely impacted the tourism sector, South Africa, through its Missions, maintained a long-term perspective, focussing on increasing investment into South Africa through focused investment promotion. We also pursued export promotion, identified new markets and promoted South Africa as a preferred tourism destination. These initiatives were aimed at contributing to combatting the triple challenges faced by the country, namely poverty, inequality and unemployment. Bilateral political and economic engagements provided an important basis for the strengthening of political, economic and social partnerships in the various regions of the world. However, it was not possible to arrange high-level visits or in-person structured bilateral meetings during the lockdown. Instead, countries resorted to virtual platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom to conduct essential business.

The disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in the contemporary era. This has probably been the most difficult challenge that the Department, and all of our officials, at all levels, have had to deal with in recent times. The Department has followed DPSA prescripts at all times, to ensure that the necessary health and safety protocols are in place to maintain a safe workplace environment, while ensuring that productivity is maintained, in order to ensure that the Department is able to deliver on its mandate. Remote working arrangements have been made more difficult by the shortage of tools of trade. Officials have been provided with data and many are using their own personal laptops and devices for their work. During the reporting period, the Employee Health and Wellness Unit has been doing excellent work in enhancing employees’ physical and mental health, including interventions such as psychotherapy, counselling and support to employees, as well as their families.

The pandemic has caused rising global unemployment, poverty and hunger, affecting the international economy and exacerbating inequality. Some of the latest international research projects that developing countries, collectively, have been set back twenty years in their efforts to achieve sustainable development. This, in effect, means that developing countries are back at ground zero with respect to the UN´s 2030 Agenda and find themselves at the same level of development as they were when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The African continent, especially, has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Many countries on the continent are not sufficiently equipped to be able to adapt to conducting business online. Access to Wi-Fi is not always readily available, with the result that the voices of some of these countries have not been adequately heard in various international fora during the year under review.

Multilateralism remains a focal point of our foreign policy, including engagements in organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and G20. South Africa’s engagements are premised on the need to advance the priorities reflected in the National Development Plan (NDP) and to advance our national interests and those of Africa and the global South. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of key conferences and negotiation processes at the UN, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s COP26 and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15. Other meetings, such as UNGA75, and the BRICS and G20 Summits, were held virtually. This ensured the continuation of business, but online negotiations often made the drafting of relevant outcomes documents much more difficult and time-consuming.

During the year under review, DIRCO concluded the second year of its third two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), from 2019 - 2020. Its term was defined by the theme “Continuing the Legacy: Working for a Just and Peaceful World,” drawing on the legacy of President Nelson Mandela following the Anniversary of the Centenary of his birth.

During this term, South Africa continued to build on the advances made in its two previous terms in the Council and focused on the implementation thereof, including United Nations (UN)-African Union (AU) cooperation, the Women Peace and Security and Youth, Peace and Security Agendas and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

The South African Development Community (SADC) remains a primary vehicle for South Africa’s foreign policy and the achievement of regional development and integration within Southern Africa. A stable and prosperous Southern Africa is vital if the region is to fully integrate and prosper.

South Africa became the Incoming Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation during the 40th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government held on 17 August 2020. The Summit also approved the SADC Vision 2050 and the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RSIDP) 2020 – 2030.

In 2020, South Africa also had the opportunity to Chair the African Union (AU). This presented South Africa with an especially unique opportunity to advance the African Agenda in both institutions and harmonise its priorities of promoting Security Council decisions in support of the AU initiative of Silencing the Guns across Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, meant that South Africa’s strategy of hosting two Summits during the year, namely one on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the other on the Silencing of the Guns, had to be postponed and these Summits were, instead, held virtually.

During its term as Chair of the AU, South Africa’s priorities were peace and security, economic development and continental integration through the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), infrastructure development to facilitate continental free trade, advancing the economic inclusion of women and support of good governance and democracy. The commencement of trading under the AfCFTA on 1 January 2021 signalled a concrete achievement under South Africa’s leadership, one that will significantly boost African economic development for many decades to come.

Furthermore, under the able stewardship of HE President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa was able to coordinate the timely AU response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included the establishment of the AU COVID-19 Response Fund, the appointment of Special Envoys, the establishment of the Medical Supply Platform and the appointment of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

A highlight of our term as Chair of the AU was the appointment of President Cyril Ramaphosa by the Director-General of the WHO, alongside the Prime Minister of Norway, HE Ms Erna Solberg, as co-Chairs of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) High-Level Facilitation Council. During its Chairship, South Africa actively sought to promote equal access for all African countries to COVID-19 vaccines. Noteworthy is the fact that, at the February 2021 AU Summit, where President Ramaphosa handed over the Chairship of the AU to the DRC, he was appointed AU COVID-19 Champion, in order to continue the work started during his tenure.

In line with the strategic objectives of the approved Digital Strategy, the Department has finalised the procurement of laptops and desktops for Head Office and expects to shortly embark on the distribution thereof to all officials.

Unfortunately, despite concerted efforts by our Finance team, their hard work during the year under review, the Department again received a qualified audit opinion. I am pleased to inform the Committee that an Audit Action Plan is in place to ensure we address all matters that contributed to the qualified audit opinion.

On a positive note, the Department has, once again, maintained an unqualified audit opinion on performance information.

During the year, by making use of social media, the Public Diplomacy Branch made a concerted effort to regularly update the Department and our Missions on relevant COVID issues and prepared targeted messages on a variety of issues, for use by our Missions during their interactions in their respective countries of accreditation.

I would specifically like to commend the Consular Services colleagues for their sterling work during the initial lockdown period, especially with the repatriation of distressed and stranded citizens abroad. This was an unprecedented and hugely successful undertaking.

The ARF continued to be an invaluable instrument in the pursuit of the National Development Plan (NDP) and Vision 2030, and the priorities of the Medium Term Strategic Framework. During the reporting period, the projects that were implemented by the ARF provided significant impetus to enhance the stature and public awareness of South Africa’s profile as a responsible and trustworthy development partner.

Of particular importance is the seventh priority, which focusses on international relations, which the ARF contributes to namely MTSF: “A Better Africa and World”.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been global in both scale and reach and this necessitates coordinated international action to capacitate all countries to respond effectively.

To this end, President Ramaphosa pledged to support international efforts aimed at the development of new vaccines to combat COVID-19, as well as the development of new tests to rapidly diagnose the disease.

South Africa, through the Department of Science and Innovation, is co-investing with the European Union in the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership’s rapid response programme to fund research cooperation between Africa and Europe on a broad range of COVID-19-related research. ARF is providing funding for the initiative. The project is being implemented by Biovac, a public-private-partnership (PPP) formed with Government in 2003, which is mandated to establish local vaccine manufacturing capability for the provision of vaccines for national health management and security.

During the 2020/21 financial year, the ARF processed R177 million in disbursements.

I am very pleased to note that the ARF maintained a clean audit opinion for the financial year in question.

Honourable Chair and Honourable Members,

Thank you for allowing me to make these introductory remarks. If you are in agreement, the Department and the ARF will now present their detailed reports.

Thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa