Address by HE Dr Naledi Pandor, MP, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation to the South African Heads of Mission Conference, 7 April 2022

Programme Director, Deputy Minister Botes,
Your Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa,
Deputy Minister Mashego-Dlamini,
Director-General,
Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Colleagues,

I would like to warmly welcome you to the 2022 Heads of Mission Conference, the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and since my appointment. The theme for our conference is: “Positioning South Africa’s Diplomacy to Advance our Domestic Priorities.

We are joined by our new Director-General Zane Dangor, and welcome him, we hope that under his leadership we will make DIRCO a centre of excellence.

The two years of COVID restrictions has been a very difficult period, but South Africa has once again shown its resilience in the face of adversity, and we are pulling together as a nation to grow our economy and strengthen social cohesion.

We continue to be a country in transition toward the ideal espoused in our constitution, and implement our international mandate fully, alert to our opportunities and challenges.

Russian Federation used force without sanction by the United Nations Security Council in Ukraine on February 24th. We have witnessed a realignment of global power relations in response to the war, and volatility in the global economy, both of which have affected South Africa and our national interests.

Non-aligned countries like South Africa have sought to assert their independence from the power games of the wealthy nations, seeking not to become embroiled in the politics of confrontation and aggression, but rather to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict through dialogue and negotiation.

Our President Cyril Ramaphosa conveyed to all key stakeholders that South Africa stands ready to support the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine, with a view to bringing the violence to an end as speedily as possible. We are fully cognisant of the deliberate opposition to our call for peace and negotiations and continue to hold the view that in the end negotiations will end the conflict.

This is in keeping with the approach of members of the Non-Alignment Movement since its formation in 1961, when developing countries in Africa and Asia committed themselves to maintaining independent foreign policies and extending the hand of friendship to all countries which reciprocated that friendship.

This was a way to balance their national interests when their priority was to maintain robust trade relations with a plethora of countries across the political divide of the Cold War. This approach is as valid today as it was then. Our non-aligned position does not mean that we condone Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which has been in violation of international law.

South Africa has always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, in keeping with the UN Charter. We have also decried the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from the ongoing military operations, and called for the urgent opening of humanitarian corridors and the provision of aid to the civilian population which, as usual, bears the brunt of the suffering when violent confrontation breaks out.

We have held these views with respect to Palestine and many other countries where sovereignty is threatened. The need for a rules-based multilateral system is more urgent now than ever in our history.

The very essence of the UN Charter is respect for international law, and major powers should not be allowed to violate international law with impunity.

What the war in Ukraine has also exposed is the glaring double standards of the international community. The world has condemned Russia for its actions, made every attempt to isolate it within the international community and in multilateral fora, and attempted to cause maximum damage to its economy.

The imposition of crippling unilateral sanctions, and the immense pressure on multinational companies to withdraw from Russia has been unprecedented in post-World War Two international relations.

We have not seen concomitant actions with regards to other conflicts, including those where the laws of war and the UN Charter have also been breached.
 
There needs to be consistency in the approach of the international community to countries that violate international law. When Israel launched sustained offensive military operations against the Gaza strip, killing hundreds, flattening homes, burying civilians under the rubble, and devastating the already dilapidated infrastructure in such a small and densely populated area, the world failed to respond in the same way as it has on Ukraine.

That military aggression is not met with sanctions, isolation, and a divestment campaign.

When the vast majority of Yemeni civilians have been on the verge of starvation as a result of the bombing campaign which has devastated one of the poorest countries in the world, there has been a deafening silence.

The list of unjust wars in which big powers have violated international law is long, but the mainstream media narrative has tended to support the actions of the big powers, as they have seemingly become part of orchestrated propaganda campaigns, even if at times unconsciously.

We lament the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Cuba and Venezuela, who have endured economic strangulation of their economies. In the case of Cuba, it has been for over six decades. It has been part of our principled foreign policy to support these countries when their economies have been brought to their knees and to show our solidarity in light of the close bonds of friendship between our nations.

The draconian efforts over many years to exact regime change has failed despite the west’s best efforts, but the repercussions for the people of Cuba and Venezuela have been devastating.

Due to the US economic blockade against Cuba, which has been even further tightened by the current US administration, medicines are almost impossible to obtain in the country or to import given trade restrictions.

Food and basic necessities are scarce in the extreme. In the fight for our own liberation, Cuba gave its sons and daughters selflessly to fight alongside our liberation movements and played a pivotal role in turning the tide against the colonial forces in the region.

We cannot forget our friends in their time of need, which is why South Africa intends to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicine from finances budgeted for this purpose in the African Renaissance Fund.

It is important to highlight these issues given the recent barrage of criticism in the media being levied against DIRCO for our policy positions.

We need to redouble our efforts to explain to the South African public and our friends what drives our foreign policy. We also need our senior diplomats to speak with one voice and defend the government’s position on these issues, to avoid confusion and mixed messages.

I have been astounded at the manner in which diplomats resident in South Africa have attacked our policy positions in a manner implying they are here to instruct us.

The long-term solution to these global injustices is the complete overhaul of the UN system, as our President recently argued.

The UN Security Council needs to be democratised as its configuration is representative of the global balance of forces in the immediate post-World War Two era, when much of the world was still struggling under the scourge of colonialism.

At the time of the UN’s formation, four of the five permanent members were colonial powers, and the decision-making structure of the UN Security Council was set up to protect their interests.

Our Heads of Mission must support our call for the democratisation of the UN system and to promote multilateralism.  We will also have to work hard to ensure that the global preoccupation with the war in Ukraine and shifting global power dynamics does not detract from the importance of the African Agenda and the development imperatives of the global south.

We need to keep these issues front and centre on the global agenda in multilateral fora. The critical focus on reversing climate change, which is having devastating consequences for Africa and the global South, should not be eclipsed by current geo-political tensions.

If we are to achieve our national priorities of addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality in South Africa, it is the job of our Heads of Mission to champion the message that South Africa is open for business.

Economic diplomacy must drive the work of our Missions, and it cannot be mere rhetoric, as the outcomes of our efforts on the ground must result in increased foreign investment and trade.

We also need to emphasise in our public statements the role that South African businesses are playing abroad, particularly on the African continent.  We are all cognisant of shrinking budgets and the myriad of challenges that we face as a country, but our Heads of Mission need to play a leadership role in finding innovative ways to sell our country to the world.

And it starts with portraying a positive image of South Africa both in public and in private. We need to believe that South Africa has what it takes to compete on the world stage.

Your role as our top diplomats is to work towards rebuilding investor confidence, and marketing South Africa as one of the most sophisticated and promising emerging markets, offering a unique combination of highly developed first world economic infrastructure, with a vibrant market.

We expect you to engage with prospective investors and take the initiative to personally forge linkages between companies abroad and producers and manufacturers in South Africa.

Take advantage of the trend from the pandemic era of digital conferencing to facilitate linkages between South African agricultural producers and importers in your host nations.

There are over 28 black owned wine farms that would greatly benefit from trade promotion efforts by our Heads of Mission.

I encourage you to regularly meet with the Chambers of Commerce in the countries you are deployed to, and truly become economic ambassadors.

Each one of you need to have a detailed understanding of our individual Special Economic Zones, in order to identify and target potential partners abroad and share with them the opportunities which exist in the different sectors.

If we fail in this mission, our SEZ’s will be empty nests waiting for the birds to come. I also hope you will support South Africa’s and Africa’s efforts to establish vaccine production on the continent.
 
An important role of our Heads of Mission is to identify initiatives that will support the President’s investment drive, and his commitment to raise over R1.2 trillion worth of investments over five years.

The government has already met 95 percent of its stated target.

The fourth Investment Conference which took place two weeks ago was a great success and highlighted the country’s resilience and showcased the many investment opportunities that exist. While we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic with renewed vigour to jumpstart our economy, we must not forget the weaknesses in our health system which the pandemic exposed.

It has been a wake-up call for the entire African continent. Continued collaboration with partners abroad is still necessary to ensure the successful vaccination of millions of Africans, and we need to invest far more resources in strengthening our health infrastructure so that we are better prepared to deal with future health crises.

We must forge ahead with plans to enhance Africa’s ability to produce vaccines, as well as other pharmaceutical products. There is a long road ahead to ensure greater vaccine equity for the developing world, and this is a struggle we are fully committed to. Our actions must include a robust higher education sector with excellent ability in research and innovation. Our post COVID agenda must also include economic recovery and support for Africa’s efforts.

South Africa’s fortunes are inextricably linked to those of the continent, and so we must continue to champion Africa’s development agenda, which will ultimately lead to our own prosperity. Following the resolutions of the African Union Summit, trading can now begin under the African Continental Free Trade Area. South African companies are poised to play a key role in taking up the opportunities this presents for preferential access to other African markets.

We have invested substantial national resources in having broad diplomatic representation on the African continent, and now it is for our diplomats to do the work that the government expects of them to grow intra-African trade and investment. It is untenable to have a situation where African countries source certain basic food stuffs from Europe when they are grown locally on the African continent.

This is where our Heads of Mission can identify opportunities for South African producers to fill the gap and export the “proudly South African” brand.

While Africa is a key priority for our country, we must not neglect other co-operation partners. Our trade with Europe, China and the United States must not be neglected. The strategic opportunities of shaping a refreshed progressive global architecture through BRICS should not be undermined, and similarity the immense opportunities in East Asia, Asia and the Middle East must be a firm part of an increasingly complex basket of diplomatic tasks.

These tasks require astute, strategic, focussed, well informed diplomats, fully cognisant of their value to South Africa. I believe all of you are fit for these tasks.

I wish you well in your deliberations over the next few days and encourage you to strategize on fresh approaches on how to turn our vision for a better Africa and a better world into tangible outcomes.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road
Rietondale
Pretoria
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