On Tuesday 18 March 2014, South Africa’s Foreign Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane delivered her statement during the National Assembly Debate on the President’s State of the Nation Address.
South Africa’s foreign policy is founded on five pillars. Central is the role accorded to the African agenda, South-South co-operation, the promotion of a fair and just global order, dialogue with the North and supporting strong multilateral institutions.
In respect of Africa, South Africa’s efforts have been harnessed to building strong continental institutions with a focus on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU). At a substantive level, the goals of these organisations are essentially to promote peace and sustainable economic development. Furthermore, these bodies provide African countries with a forum in which to dialogue on finding solutions to African problems. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is focused on economic development and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is designed as a self-monitoring mechanism.The APRM sets standards that all African countries are to strive to institute in respect of political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and principles and the objectives of socio-economic development within the NEPAD. South Africa has also played a key role in creating a more robust security architecture that is geared to responding “rapidly, and timeously, to crises, including unconstitutional changes of government”.
On the security front, South Africa has received praise for the role its troops have plated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a UN-led mission, where South Africa troops were regarded as central to the defeat of the M23 rebel movement.
South Africa is also seized with developments in South Sudan and in this regard, President Zuma appointed Mr Cyril Ramaphosa as his Special Envoy to support the mediation effort led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development IGAD and to “encourage an environment of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan”.
Mr Ramaphosa has also been appointed as Special Envoy to Sri Lanka to share South Africa’s experience of transformative justice that is designed to address grave human rights abuses in way that transcends the traditional criminal justice system through a process of amnesties in exchange for full and frank disclosures.
Simon Allison, in an article he penned on the speech praised South Africa for the constructive role it played in Madagascar, which he describes as a “textbook example of our famed quiet diplomacy in Africa” and led to the installation of a new president subsequent to the holding of peaceful elections resulting in the lifting of economic sanctions.
South Africa’s President chairs the NEPAD’s Presidential infrastructure initiative (PICI), which is designed to provide an enabling environment for strong investment in infrastructure projects on the continent. It is argued, plausibly, that this will unlock economic development and ensure greater integration. One of the flagship projects that highlight this initiative is the Durban to Cairo trade corridor.
Perhaps no other better expression of South-South co-operation can be demonstrated than the entry by South Africa as a full member of the BRICS cementing this through the hosting of its first Summit in March 2013. As the Minister states there were several tangible outcomes.These include in her words:
. The launch of concrete measures towards the establishment of the BRICS-led Development Bank;
The establishment of the BRICS Business Council and the BRICS Think Tanks Council;and
A Retreat between African leaders and their BRICS counterparts, hosted by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma under the theme, “Unlocking Africa’s potential: BRICS and Africa Cooperation on Infrastructure”.
Conceivably one of the central tenets of the BRICS and which binds, rather than divides, the grouping is the call for greater democratisation of international organisations, primarily the United Nations and International Financial Institutions. In underlining this, the Minister asserted that “we cannot remain beholden indefinitely to the will of an unrepresentative minority on most important issues of international peace and security”.
South Africa is the only African member of the G-20 where its priority is to raise issues of concern not only to South Africa but also Africa and the South. Key to developments going forward in this regard are concerns over the fragile global economic situation and the effect this has had on not only South Africa’s economy but those of developing countries.
This Minister was correct in her assessment of South Africa’s role in climate change negotiations. In 2011, South Africa hosted the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol infusing new life into global environmental initiatives. In this regard, she stated that: “We successfully placed the world on an unassailable course, through the adoption of the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”, which will culminate in 2015 with the adoption of a protocol or legal agreement that will be applicable from 2020. We are happy to report that the Durban legacy endures, and continues to be the basis of the future climate change response”.
South Africa is faced with a number of thorny issues surrounding developments that occurred last year in the Central African Republic and most recently suggestions that Rwanda’s diplomats have been engaging in covert activities against opponents of the regime residing in South Africa. Zimbabwe remains as a serious concern with which South Africa remain engaged, although, despite dialogue initiatives, is yet to demonstrate sufficient progress on a number of fronts.
There are also critics of our foreign policy who hold the view that South Africa’s foreign policy establishment tries to be all things for all people and that the country is engaged in too many groupings that are often contradictory and that detract from a coherence that in the end is lacking. Ultimately, no one can dispute the fact that South Africa is now a serious player on the international stage and has sound bilateral relationships with all countries and regions based, in many instances, on strategic bilateral instruments ensuring regular engagements, initiatives and meetings.
Exciting developments lie ahead for the country as Africa is certainly on the march and all its citizens have a brighter future today than any time in the continent’s history. South Africa is uniquely placed to benefit markedly from these positive developments. Going forward South Africa and the Continent will be beset by good news stories turning the corner towards a future of unbridled opportunity.
Finally, South Africa’s foreign policy continues to take its queue from its history and the resultant desire to have a policy firmly entrenched in principles and values that seek greater equity and justice, development, peace and prosperity. No one embodied this spirit more than Madiba who stated that: “For 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”.