Opinion pieces - 2023
Opinion pieces - 2022
Like some in the Western world, Greg Mills and Ray Hartley have prioritised the conflict in Ukraine above every other conflict and gross violation of human rights occurring elsewhere on the globe. One wonders whether the lives that are being lost in conflicts such as in Palestine or Yemen don’t matter?
When the South African Government released the National Interest Framework document recently, the reaction of the Brenthurst Foundation could only be described as an emotional venting exercise that did not even begin to address the issues in the document. I was very tempted to respond but I held back.
It can only be deeply etched in the consciousness of one born into privilege not to grasp the urgency and imperative of addressing inequality for a country ranked the most unequal globally, at number one out of 164 countries (according to a report released by the World Bank earlier this year).
The World Bank further lifts “race” as “a key driver of high inequality in South Africa”. How poverty eradication, job creation and addressing inequality in democratic South Africa can be dismissed as minor in the framing of our national interest to guide our endeavours abroad as South African diplomats is mind-boggling.
It is the foundation’s latest attack on our country’s foreign policy and diplomats that provoked me, while at the same time resurrecting my irritation with their national interest response. I’ll deal with both issues.
Greg Mills and Ray Hartley took exception to the country statement at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly asserting that the global community should “treat all conflicts across the globe with equal indignation, no matter what the colour or creed of the people affected”.
Like some in the Western world, Mills and Hartley have prioritised the conflict in Ukraine above every other conflict and gross violation of human rights occurring elsewhere on the globe. One wonders whether the lives that are being lost in conflicts such as in Palestine or Yemen don’t matter.
John Steenhuisen (Member of Parliament and DA leader) confirmed that the Brenthurst Foundation funded his trip to Ukraine in May this year. One looks forward to seeing another fact-finding mission in Palestine, Yemen, Libya, or Western Sahara funded by the same foundation.
In South Africa we live in a democracy and pride ourselves on our diversity of political views which are aired freely, encouraging vociferous debate. But attacks like those of Mills and Hartley on our foreign policy cannot go unanswered.
Our non-aligned position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict mirrors that of the global South and developing countries (most states that comprise the Non-Aligned Movement, (NAM)). South Africa pursues an independent foreign policy, as do the members of the NAM, and as a collective, we refuse to be bullied into taking sides in battles of geopolitical contestation, as it is not in our national interests to do so.
The problem with the perspective elucidated by Mills and Hartley is that their approach is itself steeped in double standards. When it comes to a Western state, they accept Ukraine’s right of self-defence, but this same right is not recognised when it comes to the Palestinians vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation in line with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. UN General Assembly Resolution 3236/1974 also gives the Palestinians the right to restore their rights by all legitimate means.
It is for this reason that South Africa relentlessly advocates for a rules-based system predicated on international law and adherence to the charter of the United Nations. There cannot be one standard for people of Northern nations, whereby their right to resist attack or occupation is defended, but when it comes to the oppressed in Palestine or elsewhere, their rights are ignored.
The UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet recently expressed alarm at the high number of Palestinians, including children, killed, and injured in the occupied Palestinian territories this year. Bachelet said the widespread use of live ammunition by Israeli forces in law enforcement operations across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has led to an alarming increase in Palestinian fatalities. Bachelet said in many incidents Israeli forces used lethal force in a manner that appeared to be in violation of international human rights law. Rights group Euro-Med Monitor has made similar observations.
Mills and Hartley expose their ignorance of documented history when they ridicule South Africa’s support for Palestine and Western Sahara, saying that “South Africa has no role in Western Sahara, and no voice on Palestine”.
Also, have they forgotten that countries who supported the anti-apartheid struggle did not do so because they had a role to play, but because it was the right thing to do? We remain committed to being on the right side of history, and to defend the rights of those fighting for liberation against colonialism and oppression.
When Mills and Hartley criticise our solidarity with the people of Cuba, they turn a blind eye to the egregious injustice of the US economic embargo imposed against that island nation, which has now gone on for over six decades. They show their limited understanding of the situation when arguing that it is the Cuban state that impedes the right to development of its people, when in fact it is the US embargo that has impeded the right to development of the Cuban people since 1961. It is the embargo which has prevented Cuba from having normal trading relations with the world and has prevented it from acquiring necessities, denying Cubans the right to essential medicines and consumer goods.
As for South Africa and SADC’s call for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, here’s a point to ponder on. Have the sanctions been effective in terms of improving good governance in Zimbabwe? What the sanctions have done is to worsen the economic situation in that country, deterring foreign investment, and hastening economic collapse.
It is the southern African region that has to bear the consequences of this (most particularly South Africa). When Zimbabweans have no jobs and cannot feed their families, it is mainly to South Africa that they come to find means to survive. Ultimately, economic sanctions on Zimbabwe are indirectly a threat to our national interest.
Perhaps the height of hypocrisy by the Western world and even the Brenthurst Foundation is its failure to expose the suffering of the people of Yemen, and the collusion of the West in the bombing campaign. In Yemen, 19,200 civilians were killed or maimed by air strikes, including 2,300 children since March 2015. For seven years civilians in Yemen have suffered from recurrent war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conflict has displaced at least four million and created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with 23.4 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance.
Where is the outrage of the Brenthurst Foundation at such crimes against humanity? The situation in Yemen has been described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with at least 15.6 million people living in extreme poverty. A UNDP report projects that the number of those killed as a result of Yemen’s war could reach 2.3 million by 2030, and that 70% of those killed would be children under the age of five. The report also projects that extreme poverty could disappear in Yemen within a generation if the conflict were to end immediately.
Yes, the people of Ukraine are suffering immensely and that’s why we continue to call for a cessation of hostilities and negotiations. South Africa has always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, in keeping with the UN Charter.
It should be equally the case, for the people of Yemen and Palestine. It is time to recognise that the lives of brown people are no less valuable than others, and it is time to call out the big powers for their violations of international law and human rights, as well as their double standards.
Let me return to the national interest debate.
In their critique of the national interest framework document, Hartley and Mills waxed lyrical about democracy. How many Western countries fail on key aspects of it? The fight against racism must be central to a democracy test.
We forget that our late icon and first President of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was incarcerated for 27 years for challenging the racism that was at the heart of the apartheid regime. Hector Pieterson was killed for fighting for the right to an education free of racism. Data on Covid-19 deaths from a rich Western country shows that race was critical to the chances of surviving it, with people of African descent comprising a huge proportion of those who lost their lives.
One minute the extrajudicial killing of a journalist is condemned with all the sanctimonious piousness in the world, the next minute the national interests of these very same countries trump human rights. Most recently, a former senior diplomat of a country shared how he had been involved in the planning of coups in other countries.
Overall, it’s not clear whether the two authors are venting on behalf of the Brenthurst Foundation, with Greg Mills as its director and Ray Hartley its research director. One hopes that the views of Mills are not influenced by his past association with NATO regarding what is unfolding in Ukraine.
Greg Mills provided services to NATO in Afghanistan for four months in 2006. On the request of General David Richards (Commander of NATO forces), Mills helped establish and run a civilian think-tank, the Prism Group. This however shouldn’t oblige or bind South Africa to adopt the interests of NATO as its national interest.
Democratic South Africa must, among other factors, consider the constitutional imperatives on socioeconomic rights in the Bill of Rights. The indivisibility and interdependence of socioeconomic rights, civil and political rights as anchors of our democracy, is what informs and inspires our diplomats in their work. DM
Clayson Monyela is the Head of Public Diplomacy at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa.
Had NATO given Russia the security assurances they required and been promised since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the region would not likely find itself in the situation it is currently in. That said, South Africa is firmly aligned to peace, security and justice, and not to the key protagonists. We are willing to work with all interested parties towards a ceasefire and lasting peace.
The world sits at possibly the most dangerous juncture since the end of World War II. As conflict rages in Ukraine, the ramifications are being felt worldwide, and given that nuclear powers are involved, the conflict could escalate into one that poses a danger to the entire globe.
Considering the current loss of life, it is time to suspend debates and work towards lasting peace in the region. South Africa has repeatedly called for the international community to de-escalate tensions and bring the sides closer to dialogue and not further apart. The door of diplomacy should never be closed even after a conflict has broken out.
We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact, the loss of life, injury, and the displacement of people as a result of this conflict. The conflict is also having a devastating impact on the global economy, and higher fuel and food prices are something that none of us can afford.
In keeping with our independent foreign policy, we have adopted a non-aligned position and sought to discourage a war in which the chief protagonists are essentially the big powers, with the people of Ukraine being on the receiving end of post-cold war disagreements on what would constitute a safer Europe and Russia. We called for dialogue based on honouring long-standing agreements. We are firmly aligned to peace, security and justice, and not to the key protagonists.
We call on all sides to uphold international law, humanitarian law, human rights, and the principles of the UN Charter, and to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We urge all to increase their diplomatic efforts to seek a solution and avert further armed escalation. An immediate ceasefire would give the parties space to resolve issues through negotiation.
South Africa attained democracy through a negotiated settlement, and we remain steadfast in our conviction that achieving peace through negotiation, and not force of arms, is attainable.
Actions taken by members of the international community that are likely to harden the stance of the protagonists should be avoided. The continued imposition of sanctions could shut the door to resolution of the conflict.
Despite extensive commentary on this situation, very little is said about the causes of the conflict. Any diplomatic process must address the security concerns of all parties. Had NATO given Russia the security assurances they required and were promised since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the region would not likely find itself in the situation it is currently in. Russia has been asking NATO for legally binding guarantees that NATO membership would be denied to Ukraine and Georgia, and that NATO’s eastern expansion would end.
Russia also wants assurances that no missiles will be deployed near its borders that could be used to strike its territory, and that NATO military drills not take place in the vicinity. Just as Russia will not tolerate NATO positioning missiles near its territory, the US would never tolerate Russia deploying missiles in its neighbourhood. This was the very issue that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 — when Russia constructed sites for nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the US threatened a nuclear response if the sites were not dismantled.
As stated recently by US Senator Bernie Sanders, the US continues to adhere to the tenets of the Monroe doctrine, whereby the US believes that as the dominant power, it has the right to intervene in any country in the region that threatens US interests. Russia has stated that its concern has been for its own national security interests as NATO has expanded eastwards towards its borders over the past two decades, despite promises that this would never happen.
Documents at the National Security Archive at George Washington University indicate that in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990, then US Secretary of State James Baker assured the Soviets that NATO would not expand “not one inch eastward”. On 31 January 1990, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said that NATO should rule out “an expansion of its territory towards the east”. He advocated for NATO and the Warsaw Pact to be eventually dissolved into a model for a common approach to European security.
Instead of honouring these commitments, NATO has admitted 14 eastern European countries to join as members since 1999, despite Russia’s statements that NATO expansion is a serious provocation. In direct breach of these commitments, NATO actively sought to admit Ukraine and Georgia as active members. These moves have been accompanied by declarations that name Russia and China as adversaries in need of containment. This has proved to be needlessly provocative, especially as many politicians in leading NATO countries have warned against this given that they are known redlines for Russia.
In 2007, William Burns, the current Director of the CIA, wrote to Condoleezza Rice warning of the dangers associated with NATO’s Membership Action Plans (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia. Burn’s warnings have been echoed by analysts such as Henry Kissinger. This issue remains one of the root causes of the current conflict and needs to be urgently addressed as part of the de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the current conflict.
South Africa is willing to work with all interested parties towards a ceasefire and lasting peace. As a middle-power, we depend on responsive institutions of global governance to assist in working towards security. We call on the big powers who use their militaries disproportionately more than they do diplomacy, to work with us within the United Nations to settle this and other conflicts that have been raging for many years. We also call on them to consistently respect international law. We repeat our call for a peaceful resolution of this crisis. DM/MC
Clayson Monyela is the Head of Public Diplomacy at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa.
The massacre of 29 worshippers in a Hebron mosque in 1994 had ramifications that have endured for decades. On the 28th anniversary of the atrocity, the South African government remains committed to its solidarity with the people of Palestine who still face oppression and extreme limitations of their rights.
Twenty-eight years ago today (on 25 February 1994), less than six months after the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat signed the landmark Oslo Accords in Washington DC, during the overlapping religious holidays of both the Jewish Purim and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein carried out a massacre targeting Muslim worshippers who were performing the dawn prayer (Fajr) at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.
This gruesome attack left 29 worshippers martyred and more than 150 others injured, before Goldstein was overpowered and beaten to death.
Word of the attack unleashed mass Palestinian protests across Hebron, the West Bank and Gaza, leading to an estimated 20 to 50 more fatalities, including nine Israelis, with more than 150 injuries recorded. The fallout from the massacre had far-reaching political and economic consequences that remain in place today.
The heart of Hebron’s history centres around the Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron’s Old City, which tradition holds is built on the burial site of biblical patriarchs such as Abraham. It is revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
The aftermath of the Goldstein massacre provoked international outrage and condemnation. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 904 without a vote, calling for “measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians throughout the occupied territory”. Resolution 904 resulted in the creation of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), which was supposed to protect the Palestinian population.
However, Israel only allowed TIPH to act as observers, leaving Palestinians in Hebron at the mercy of settlers and the soldiers assigned to protect them.
In response to the international outcry, the Israeli government created a commission of inquiry that found Goldstein, a follower of the manifestly racist Rabbi Meir Kahana — an Orthodox Jewish American known for his ultra-nationalist ideology and for founding the Kach party in 1971 — had acted alone. The decision effectively absolved Israel of any responsibility.
From the time that Israel was established in 1948, its policies and legislation have been shaped by an overarching objective: to maintain a Jewish demographic majority and maximise Jewish Israeli control over land to the detriment of Palestinians. To achieve this, successive Israeli governments have deliberately imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians. The key components of this system are territorial fragmentation, segregation and control, dispossession of land and property and denial of economic and social rights.
Hebron is a city built around its most ancient relic, the Ibrahimi Mosque, a sacred structure listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017, which should bring worshippers together, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Instead, the reality of Zionism and settler colonialism in Palestine has instead rendered the Mosque an apartheid construct, not a unifier.
The political, social and economic consequences of Israeli colonial expansion, the closures and movement restrictions, and the excessive use of force continue to affect the lives of all Palestinians, not only in Hebron.
In recent years (since around 2020), a succession of human rights groups in Israel and globally have conducted monitoring and have produced highly critical reports of Israel’s practices, mechanisms and measures and wider policies aimed at creating a coercive environment that triggers the forcible transfer of Palestinians from their land.
Israel’s policies in Hebron’s Old City reveal a system that infiltrates every aspect of daily life for Palestinian residents. Violating international humanitarian and human rights law, the Israeli regime creates a coercive environment that triggers forcible transfer of Palestinians living in the Old City.
Israel continues to restrict Palestinian rights, including free movement and access to property, while strengthening military protection of the colonisers. This in turn emboldens them to harass, abuse and attack the Palestinian population.
To this day, Palestinians under Israeli rule continue to experience widespread abuses, including killings through the excessive use of force, torture, arbitrary arrests and long-lasting curfews over wide areas. Strict and arbitrary controls on movement impede their ability to earn a living, study at universities, obtain goods and services and otherwise conduct their everyday lives.
The West Bank city, long a flashpoint of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, has been the scene of widespread human rights abuses since the renewal of violent clashes on 29 September 2000, an uprising that Palestinians commonly refer to as the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
Hebron is the only major Palestinian city in the West Bank that remains in substantial measure under the direct control of the Israeli Defence Force. The crisis in Hebron, as in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has at its core a disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law.
In November 2000, Human Rights Watch, in consultation with individuals and other organisations, undertook a two-week fact-finding mission to the West Bank and a three-week fact-finding mission to the West Bank and Gaza in February 2001 and released a study of human rights abuses in Hebron district.
As published in its report, Center of the Storm, the research found serious and extensive human rights abuses in the district, including excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, unlawful killings, unacknowledged assassinations of suspected Palestinian militants, attacks by Palestinian gunmen directed against Israeli civilians living in settlements and in circumstances that have placed Palestinian civilians at grave risk from Israeli response fire, disproportionate Israeli gunfire in response to Palestinian attacks and extensive abuses by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians.
In another report published in April 2021, Human Rights Watch said Israel was using “apartheid”. The report further noted that Israel was guilty of “persecution” under international law, because it deprives Palestinians of “key fundamental rights” based on “their identity as Palestinians”. The report concluded that the actions from Israel across a broad spectrum undermine the Palestinian people and deprive them of their universal and inalienable right to self-determination and equality. It goes against internationally adopted human rights instruments, violates international law, further provoking political tension, and endangers international peace and security.
The debate about whether the Israel-Palestine situation can be termed as apartheid has been gaining traction. After a four-year investigation, Amnesty International (AI), one of the most prominent human rights groups in the world, published on 1 February 2022 a comprehensive report entitled, Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians; Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity.
Amnesty’s report documents comprehensively the systematic discrimination and how Israel enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people. Amnesty International became the fourth major human rights group to indict Israel for creating and maintaining an “apartheid” system to control Palestinians.
Amnesty’s report meticulously details the realities on the ground and what many Palestinians, activists and allies have said for years. The report has been widely received as an in-depth and concise compilation of incidents, policies and aggressions against Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid.
Some of the incidents and realities covered in the report include home demolitions, unjust imprisonment, detention of children, lack of water access, endless checkpoints, curfews and many more human rights abuses.
Over the last two years, South Africa has been instrumental in stepping up pressure on the government of Israel. In partnership with the government of Namibia, Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations, and international legal scholars, it has been working to catalyse discussions on whether the actions of the Israeli government contravene international legal prohibitions on the Crime of Apartheid.
In keeping with South Africa’s long-term and principled support for the Palestinian people, the government of South Africa remains committed to supporting initiatives aimed at refocusing the international agenda on Palestine and the Middle East peace process.
The South African government believes that the only way to bring about lasting peace in the Middle East is to have a comprehensive and unconditional negotiated settlement to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza.
The ongoing delay in achieving such a settlement leads to an unending cycle of violence.
South Africa’s foreign policy reflects its longstanding commitment to the development of a viable, sovereign Palestinian State, living in peace alongside the State of Israel. South Africa therefore supports international efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, existing side-by-side in peace with Israel within internationally recognised borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967, prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In commemorating and marking the anniversary of the Goldstein massacre that took place on 25 February 1994, the story of what happened at the Ibrahimi Mosque and in Hebron 28 years ago should be told around the world.
What happened in Hebron was not only the responsibility of Baruch Goldstein. The Ibrahimi Mosque massacre was not just a passing event, but rather an act planned to impose a new reality through which the occupation could achieve its goals, seeking to expel the Palestinians from the Old City and control the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Since the massacre, the city of Hebron has been subjected to a series of measures that changed its historical features and strengthened Israeli settlement. The level of Israeli occupation and domination throughout one of the world’s oldest cities continues to rise.
The Israeli government, and those who push an anti-Palestinian narrative, must take responsibility for what happened and what continues to happen today.
Until constructive action to recognise accountability occurs alongside acute measures to end illegal occupation, the threat and reality of violence will remain.
As South Africa, we remain steadfast in our support for and solidarity with the people of Palestine on this day of remembrance. DM
Alvin Botes is South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
Opinion pieces - 2021
The international community must consider the impact of Israel’s systematic violation of human rights and enforcement of discrimination against the Palestinian people. It is time for the UN and its member states to take appropriate action, just as it did with apartheid South Africa.
Monday, 29 November 2021 will mark the 44th observance of the United Nations (UN) International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Sadly, this day will once again highlight the shortcomings of the UN and its member states — 74 years since the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) to partition Palestine into two separate states, this has yet to occur.
Instead, we witness an occupation that grows more entrenched with each passing year. Recent developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) are disconcerting, undermining decades of efforts aimed at achieving sustainable political settlements and self-determination.
Israel as a state has continuously shown disdain for international human rights law with respect to the rights of the people in the OPTs, trampling on their right to self-determination which is enshrined in the two key international human rights instruments, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on Socioeconomic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both of which have as their first Article, the Right to Self-Determination.
In May this year, we witnessed harrowing events emanating from actions by the occupying force which imposed restrictions that ignited rising tensions, protests and violence. The pending, forcible evictions and demolition orders of Palestinian property in the neighbourhoods of Sheik Jarrah and Silwan further inflamed tensions, spurring violence. The result was the loss of lives of innocent women, children and the elderly.
The May events and subsequent developments, especially around Sheik Jarrah and Silwan — and the government of Israel’s annexation agenda it pursues — shed light on how Israeli laws and practices are seemingly engineered to violate Palestinian rights.
Palestinians living in the OPTs are denied fundamental freedoms through the systemic discrimination and subjugation of an Israeli-designed system under which Palestinian rights fail to exist.
This does not only illustrate the occupying power’s continuous disrespect of internationally adopted provisions and principles; it would also suggest that it may be exercising an apartheid-like system against Palestinians. These unacceptable practices cannot continue and we, as UN member states, have a responsibility to bring an end to these injustices.
As was the case with South Africa before democracy in 1994, the international community must consider the impact of Israel’s systematic violation of human rights and enforcement of discrimination against the Palestinian people. Civil society organisations, including Human Rights Watch and the Israeli NGO, B’tselem, have been clear on Israel’s apartheid-like policies.
It is therefore time to abandon the mere solidarity rhetoric and for the UN and its member states to take appropriate action just as it did with apartheid South Africa.
Our collective conscience cannot allow us to continue to be spectators as Palestinian lives move through cycles of violence and oppression as they have for the past seven decades and yet, on an annual basis, we pledge our solidarity to the people of Palestine without any further concrete change in their plight.
We need to stop reacting momentarily as events unfold and instead be proactive in our approach as we restore hope and work towards achieving a Two-State solution.
Part of this action is holding the international community, and in particular the UN Security Council, accountable for its evident lack of action in recent years to act against the State of Israel, despite the fact that Israel continues to flout international law and practices.
To maintain the credibility of the UN, we must insist that all member states abide by the resolutions we adopt. Our words must transcend rhetoric and translate into actions aimed at safeguarding the rights of the Palestinian people, protection of their land and property, and to provide the necessary impartial support towards achieving a just and lasting solution to the conflict.
We need to intensify the call for international action, with the UN playing a leading role, to eradicate the scourge of racism and discrimination and allow those whose basic rights have been violated to enjoy inherent human rights that others get to enjoy on a daily basis.
The denial of the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced, erodes any prospect of Palestinian statehood and subverts hope of a just and lasting settlement towards peace.
Similarly, the onus also falls on the shoulders of the respective Palestinian actors to work towards creating a favourable atmosphere that provides for a willingness to initiate dialogue and reconciliation amongst themselves. As a united front, a viable and sustainable peace plan can be put forward so that Palestine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic viability is guaranteed, with sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel.
South Africa reaffirms its commitment to the Palestinian people in their quest to achieve their inalienable rights and build a future of peace, dignity, justice and security.
South Africa firmly believes that lasting peace can only be attained through restoring all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the Two-State solution and the relevant UN resolutions and international terms of reference. DM
*Alvin Botes is South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.
Were Nelson Mandela alive today, having been born into a life of struggle that was given momentum by global solidarity, he would most certainly urge us as humanity to rise together in solidarity to save the lives of all, everywhere, because none of us is safe until all are safe.
On 18 July the world marked 103 years since the birth of our late beloved global icon and first president of our democratic republic, Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The United Nations family used this occasion to reflect on the first and second goals of the Sustainable Development Goals: ending poverty and achieving zero hunger. And, of course, key to these is saving lives first, in accordance with the third goal on health.
In his famous autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela reminds us that he was born in a year in which humanity faced challenges similar to the current challenges confronting the world, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic: “The year of my birth marked the end of the Great War; the outbreak of an influenza pandemic that killed millions throughout the world.”
Were he alive today, having been born amid such challenges and into a life of struggle that was given momentum by global solidarity, he would most certainly urge us as humanity to rise together in solidarity to save the lives of all, everywhere, because none of us is safe until all are safe.
A firm believer in strong and effective multilateralism, with the UN at the forefront, undergirded by the equality of nations, Mandela would have stressed the importance of all nations rising and working together, sharing ideas and the means and all tools needed to end this vicious pandemic, which knows no boundaries. Central to this is equitable, secure, predictable and affordable access in real time to vaccines and all the tools nations require to respond to the pandemic.
It would have been a matter of grave concern to Mandela that Africa, the second-most populous continent with more than 1.3 billion people, is last in line for access to vaccines, while the richest countries are well advanced in vaccinating their people while hoarding vast reserves of doses even as they deny developing countries the capacity to produce vaccines. This is the type of injustice that would have been intolerable to Mandela. We owe it to his legacy to vigorously demand and achieve universal access to vaccines now.
As a practical expression of the values that Mandela stood and fought for, we hope member states of the UN will join and support President Cyril Ramaphosa, the COVID-19 champion of the African Union and co-chairperson of the ACT-A Facilitation Council, in his urgent call to end vaccine nationalism and, indeed, vaccine apartheid.
Mandela would have been at the frontline of the campaign of the African Union and the developing world for an urgent waiver of the World Trade Organisation TRIPS Agreement to ensure rapid upscaling of the production of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines and sharing of technologies needed to end the pandemic and save lives.
While the natural instinct to protect the interests and megaprofit margins of a few may tell us that it is impossible to act in the interests of all humanity, I remind you, as Mandela said, that “it always seems impossible until it is done”. That is how apartheid was defeated in South Africa, in the face of seemingly indomitable might.
We are now one year into the Decade of Action, following the promise made by our leaders when they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, which embodies our shared vision to end poverty, address unemployment and income inequalities within and between countries. Data on the impact of the pandemic tell us that developing countries have lost at least two decades of development. Literally, many developing countries are at ground zero, if not back to where they were towards the end of the last century and millennium with respect to the Millennium Development Goals.
Towards the end of his life, poverty eradication was chief among Mandela’s concerns and he urged us to address this because “as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”. In Madiba’s honour, we must spare no effort in ensuring that the progress lost in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals because of the pandemic is recovered speedily so that as we build back better, truly, no one is left behind, particularly with regard to food security.
Key to this are all the means of implementation necessary for an integrated approach to these goals in their interdependence and indivisibility as a package of human rights. Our interdependence as economies means that we either come out of the pandemic by building back better together, or we scramble individually in survival-of-the-fittest mode to the detriment of sustained and inclusive global growth, which is absolutely necessary for the eradication of poverty and hunger – our ambition. The collective effort needed for this may seem daunting, but always remember: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
While the influenza pandemic of 1918 and COVID-19 have life-threatening challenges in common, they both fell upon an old pandemic that is equally deadly and which has yet to be fully and effectively addressed: systemic racism.
As we work together to respond to COVID-19 we must also redouble our efforts to combat systemic racism globally. It has severely complicated our response to the pandemic. The victims of systemic racism have been hit hard by COVID-19, bearing a heavy burden imposed by loss of lives that could have been saved.
We urgently need collective action based on agreed outcomes. The UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban in September 2001, took place just after Mandela retired from public office, but he retained a keen interest in its outcomes as he had spent 27 years in prison for challenging white supremacism and the apartheid regime.
Hence, as part of the outcomes of the conference, Mandela, and the former UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, co-signed the visionary declaration, Tolerance and Diversity: A Vision for the 21st Century, along with more than 70 heads of state and government. Its opening words are apt today:
“As a new century begins, we believe each society needs to ask itself certain questions. Is it sufficiently inclusive? Is it non-discriminatory? Are its norms of behaviour based on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
“Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all kinds of related intolerance have not gone away. We recognise that they persist in the new century and that their persistence is rooted in fear: fear of what is different, fear of the other, fear of the loss of personal security. And while we recognise that human fear is ineradicable, we maintain that its consequences are not ineradicable.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. We welcome the decision of the UN General Assembly to hold a one-day, high-level meeting to commemorate the anniversary in September in New York on the theme, “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”. The declaration is the most comprehensive programme yet for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Mandela made huge personal sacrifices in his lifelong commitment to fighting racism and discrimination. It therefore goes without saying that the biggest tribute we as this international community can accord him in this regard is to ensure continued international commitment to, and implementation of, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action so that we may rid our minds, our attitudes, our communities and our world of the scourge of racism and all its manifestations.
Systemic racism has had a pernicious effect on many communities and compounded the impact of the pandemic on its victims. In addressing the security and predictability of the supply of vaccines, at the core of which is the waiver we demand, addressing racism is also critical.
When former US president Barack Obama delivered the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, he said Mandela “understood the ties that bind the human spirit”. He went on to say that: “There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift; his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. As we say: ‘Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu’ or ‘I am, because you are.’ This is how we describe the meaning of Ubuntu. It speaks to the fact that we are all connected, and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others. Ubuntu has since been used as a reminder for society on how we should be treating others.”
For us, “Ubuntu” in the words of Mandela means: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
We could not agree more with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, when he says: “The pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere.”
None of us is safe until all are safe. DM
The notion to “promote a sense of community of shared destiny for mankind” was first introduced at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012. Since then, President Xi Jinping has expounded on the notion on a number of occasions.
The idea of a community with a shared future for mankind was put forward by Xi at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 2013, to highlight China’s hope in establishing a harmonious world where all could live peacefully in a spirit of brotherhood.
The concept, or what is now considered as a vision, calls for the fostering of international relations based on mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win co-operation, and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
Xi, at the general debate of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, used the occasion to promote the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, in a speech entitled “Working Together to Forge a New Partnership of Win-win Co-operation and Create a Community of Shared Future for Mankind”.
At the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session in 2018, the concept was incorporated into a UN committee resolution for the first time, and subsequently the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called for development co-operation to contribute to “building a community of shared future for mankind” and now being frequently used by UN agencies and in international forums.
In January 2017, Xi expounded on the all-win co-operation concept at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and called on all parties to uphold economic globalisation.
The concept was further elaborated upon during the Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation held in May 2017 in Beijing, and the BRICS Leaders Meeting in September 2017 in Xiamen, where China committed to building a community with a shared future for mankind by promoting international co-operation.
The concept had become a frequently used term in China’s diplomacy, while in 2017 “building a community with a shared future for mankind” was included as a core concept and basic policy guiding Chinese diplomacy.
Judging from current global trends and the socio-economic disparities existing among developed and developing countries, this concept which represents China’s vision of a more just, secure and prosperous world order, has the potential, and promise to contribute towards a more equal and economically equitable world.
The community of a shared future offers the world Chinese wisdom and a new solution toward the advancement of human society. The idea is politically, socially and culturally inclusive of all societies with the end goal of building a world which is not only open and inclusive, but which enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.
Community of Shared Future for Mankind and China’s increasing global influence
Over the years, while acknowledging its increasing global influence and responsibilities, China has recognised the need to contribute towards maintaining peace and security, advancing sustainable development, and promoting international co-operation.
The vision for a community of shared future is the culmination of Xi’s ideas to improve the existing international order. While there is greater convergence among countries and regions, there is also a worrying trend towards increasing political divergence in the international community.
This does not augur well for the promotion of global peace, security, economic growth and development, and hence for China, working with the major players and other countries has become all the more important towards sustaining economic globalisation, maintaining the system of global governance and ultimately promoting a community of shared future, based on equal opportunity and access to economic wealth, development and growth.
Since the community of a shared future is inclusive of all countries and regions, the concept has direct applicability to the UN Sustainable Goals. In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new agenda emphasises a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.
However, the SDGs provide time-bound targets in key sectors – including health, education, employment, energy, infrastructure, and the environment, and while progress in some areas and countries has been encouraging, progress in Africa has been slow, albeit that the need for development is greater on the Continent.
In September 2019, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit at the UN headquarters in New York, where he linked the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with China’s commitment to development co-operation and hence its vision of a community of a shared future.
For China, co-operation is crucial towards achieving the goals of the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This reaffirms that China’s long-standing Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence: namely mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence, still apply to its foreign policy and external engagements today.
The contribution that China makes to the global community and towards multilateralism, stems from the remarkable progress that the Chinese government has made domestically, in terms of its internal reform process, its engagement with the outside world, and its integration into the global economy.
Obviously, because China is an upper-middle-income country and the world’s second largest economy, it is not only a significant contributor to global economic growth and development, but China also has an invaluable role to play in the international system, through its positions taken at multilateral platforms aimed at enhancing and promoting global peace and stability, as well as through its development projects, like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
China’s leadership at the global level has further been accentuated by the contribution the country has made in terms of supporting countries in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the world was affected by the pandemic, China immediately attached significant importance to promoting international co-operation, which included the sharing of information on the pandemic with the international community, providing bilateral and multilateral assistance to affected countries, particularly in Africa, as well as other forms of multilateral assistance.
Multilateral diplomacy – The pillars underpinning the community of a shared future
China is a strong proponent of multilateralism, and a committed advocate of reform of the international system and institutions of global governance. China has also made significant contributions to international development and upliftment especially of poorer less developed economies.
China’s “shared future for mankind” stems from its ancient doctrine of peaceful coexistence, friendship and co-operation. The political and security dimensions of a community of a shared future encapsulates China’s vision of a world order where sovereignty is respected and equality among states is maintained. China believes that disputes should be settled through dialogue, partnerships, and co-operation.
The economic, cultural and environmental pillars, demonstrate China’s vision for a globalised, socially integrated, interconnected world where countries collectively strive for common prosperity through win-win co-operation and partnerships.
Considering the technological and scientific advancements made over a few decades, this coincides with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or the New Industrial Revolution.
For China, economic growth and development is only sustainable if the international community embraces and takes advantage of the scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation. In this regard, industrial and productive capacity will lead to greater levels of economic growth and development only if scientific and technological advancements are harnessed.
Through President Xi Jinping’s doctrinal approach, the three pillars underpinning this community include: co-operative security, common development, and political inclusiveness.
In this regard, co-operative security first requires the management of security issues through consultation and co-operation. Given the increasingly complex global environment which is besieged with multiple non-traditional threats, co-operative security further envisages the utilisation of multilateral mechanisms to address security challenges and threats which transcend national boundaries.
Second, it requires the promotion of common development, since development reinforces security. Third, it requires political inclusiveness where China encourages global and regional co-operation to help developing countries and emerging economies to attain higher levels of development.
The Belt and Road Initiative, and the subsequent establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, demonstrate China’s implementation of its multifaceted free trade strategy with a focus of promoting economic growth and development, not only in the region, but with a clear vision for participating on the African continent.
For China, the BRI is linked to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Central and South-east Asia in September and October of 2013. He seized the attention of the world when he announced the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt (overland) and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road.
These concepts have gradually gained momentum, receiving the attention of experts from all over the world. In 2015 the Chinese government drafted and published the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-century Maritime Silk Road to reconnect Asian, European and African countries more closely and promote mutually beneficial co-operation.
Africa-China Relations and the community of a shared future
Beijing is considered to have elevated Africa’s position in its foreign policy planning and increasingly regards the continent as a proving ground for this core foreign policy vision of “building a community with a shared future for mankind”.
To step up engagement with Africa in a more comprehensive and targeted manner, the administration is seen to have focused on the principles of sincerity, pragmatism, affinity, and good faith, while supporting it with major economic and financial initiatives, for example, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
It is said that China’s development and governance model represents an alternative to the hitherto under-delivering Western approach that has been practised by many African nations over the past decades.
Beijing respects Africans’ political and economic choices, but also stands ready to help the continent try new development approaches and amplify its voices on the world stage. Fostering political convergence, building mutual trust, promoting local industrialisation, increasing financial support for small and medium businesses, and ensuring infrastructure sustainability are the priorities for future China-African co-operation.
In terms of promoting development and growth on the African continent, China’s vision for a shared future has become increasingly relevant as this implies striving towards a common and mutually beneficial future, wherein Africa can meaningfully benefit and participate. As for South Africa, Africa is a foundational pillar of our foreign policy. Promoting peace and security as well as growth and development on the African continent thus remain fundamental in achieving the vision of a prosperous and peaceful continent.
Since China has advocated for a policy of peaceful development and the promotion of stability through development and economic growth, China has proved to be an ideal partner for the African continent and is integral move towards promoting growth and development in Africa. China’s engagement with the continent is underpinned by the China-Africa Forum of Co-operation (FOCAC), including its bilateral relations with African countries at political, economic, social and cultural levels.
The historically strong relations that exist between China and the African continent are further exemplified by Africa’s show of solidarity with China at the start of the outbreak of COVID-19. Due to a history of shared experiences, China and Africa supported one another during times of peril and hardship.
This relationship is cemented by a warm friendship, following the solidarity and mutual co-operation in addressing the pandemic. It is anticipated that the China-Africa community will undoubtedly become even closer, especially as China continues to promote its vision of a shared future. China is indeed a valuable partner and its economic and developmental support to the African continent is immeasurable.
South Africa-China Strategic Partnership
South Africa’s relationship with China is a strategic partnership. Both China and South Africa share the same objectives of promoting economic growth, development and prosperity, not only for their people but for their respective regions, as well as the world.
Economic growth and development is dependent upon the sustained growth and development of neighbouring economies, especially in other regions. In the case of South Africa, our country can only prosper if there is peace and sustained development on the African continent.
China is a long-established partner and a new investor in Africa. China wants to promote growth, development and peace on the continent, which is why enhancing co-operation with China is so important.
Economically, South Africa and China are strong business and trading partners. China is South Africa’s largest trading partner, and in 2020, total bilateral trade between South Africa and China amounted to R437 billion, which includes the trade figures of Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
However, our co-operation does not end with trade and investment, or with our collaboration in critical sectors, but has also included our mutual commitment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. With that being said, China has made remarkable efforts to bring the outbreak of the virus under control.
It is equally important to highlight that South Africa continues to support China’s efforts in sharing its experiences in the fight against the virus with other scientific bodies and governments all over the world. In the context of the pandemic, South Africa made several donations to China in the form of medical equipment to assist China during the initial outbreak of COVID-19.
It is only through development, interconnectivity and integration that all regions and continents can prosper. In this regard, China’s vision of a shared future for mankind complements the objectives of development, interconnectivity and integration, and ultimately serves the ideal of promoting economic prosperity and development worldwide.
Ultimately, for all countries to be accorded an equal opportunity to develop and to prosper, countries need to have equal access toward economic prospects and diversified areas of engagement. In this context, the principles of non-interference and respect of national sovereignty is the keystone of South Africa’s foreign policy. Similarly, the principle of non-interference is reflected in China’s foreign policy.
In terms of South Africa-China multilateral co-operation, this is evidenced through our co-operation at the FOCAC as well as in BRICS. South Africa places special emphasis on its participation in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) grouping.
China is a critical player in this formation, as well as key toward the advancement of the Agenda of the South. South Africa-China co-operation in BRICS illustrates that the partnership and friendship between our two countries stretch beyond the bilateral partnership to the multilateral arena, where we share similar views on many global issues.
South Africa’s strategic partnership with China is guided by the values that underpin our foreign policy, namely the goals of promoting peace, development and economic prosperity for our people and the world at large. In this regard, both South Africa and China share the aspirations to promote economic growth and development, mutual co-operation as well as the goals of eradicating inequality, poverty and unemployment. In the context of BRICS, all the BRICS countries share the goals of promoting peace, development and economic prosperity for our people and the world at large, and the BRICS member states share the same socio-economic concerns.
In FOCAC, South Africa’s co-operation with China is geared towards promoting the African Agenda and ensuring that support provided by China, is tailored to meet Africa’s needs particularly as they relate to the continent’s development goals and the AU’s Agenda 2063. For South Africa, it is important that FOCAC projects sponsored by China be aligned to the AU’s Agenda 2063 and that such projects address critical skills.
Launched in 2000, FOCAC is the result of the dynamic and expanding nature of China-Africa relations and it has served as a platform for South-South co-operation vis-à-vis China and Africa, and as a vehicle for the implementation of projects towards uplifting the African continent socially and economically. FOCAC is a model form of South-South co-operation, which demonstrates an incremental and practical approach to tackling development issues of mutual concern.
FOCAC is also considered a partnership between China and Africa (and not a traditional donor-recipient relationship), which contributes to addressing mutual concerns as they relate to growth and development, integration, trade and investment and to the unfair trade and financing practices of global financial institutions. With that being said, China’s community of a shared future complements the objectives of FOCAC, and ultimately serves as an overriding vision for the future implementation of FOCAC projects and Africa- China discourse.
China’s economic success has illustrated that the country is both an important contributor to inclusive economic growth on a global level, and the broader objectives of sustainable socio-economic development. It is without doubt that China will increasingly contribute to global development and be called upon to play a more active role in international efforts to enhance global governance and leading by example to uphold the multilateral rules-based system.
* Sooklal is Deputy Director-General, International Relations and Co-operation, BRICS & IBSA Sherpa, IORA Focal Point as well as Adjunct Professor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.