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South Africa's foreign policy re-energised

16 May 2018

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu delivered the Budget Vote Speech of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa on 15 May 2018.

Speech by Minister Sisulu

This year marks the centenary of Nelson Mandela, a world icon that we have produced. This is one year in which we should once again use the space created by Nelson Mandela to leapfrog into a future that we all dreamt of. It is an especially important year for us as we invite the world to focus on the example we have set for the rest of mankind.  We need to drive this celebration of the man who not only led us into this democracy, but one who captured the world’s imagination on what is possible. We had the most fertile ground on which to build further on the immense work done by Oliver Tambo in our international relations. Mandela picked up the baton and charted our foreign policy in the new dispensation and we remember him for what he bequeathed to us: freedom, peace, forgiveness. And the world opened its arms to us.

We once were a giant in the world and our reputation was well known, because of what we represented. The world was richer for having given us support and for us having given them to miracle of 1994. In Mandela’s memory, in his honour we have a responsibility to regain that stature that he left for us. That stature that allowed us to punch above our weight and succeed. We’ll regain that stature and put all out efforts in making sure that we make the world a better place for all. We should not be in a world where our children will inherit the ruins of Syria. Our children should not live in fear of extremist militants. Our children should not die at the hands of heavy handed soldiers. Our children should not die of poverty.

We are faced with major external challenges: poverty, where an Oxfam Report indicates that 8 billionaires own the same wealth as half of the poorest countries in the world; extremism, resulting in an increase in defence spending, abuse or disregard of international law and the unraveling of the global governance system; the weakening of diplomacy, the increasing tendency of some countries to reduce the complex and inter-related problems of the world to narrow national interests; a global crisis of leadership and governance, resulting in corruption, abuse of state power and resources.

We are now in a new dispensation of the fifth administration, ushered in by a painful, but typically South African, peaceful transition. This new era is colloquially known as the New Dawn. It is a period of renewal, of change, of adherence to good governance and responsiveness to our people. It is a time for re-energising our foreign policy, which is anchored in our Constitution and driven by our domestic policy, the two as you know having a symbiotic relationship.

Our domestic policies are changing very rapidly and we have to respond by reconfiguring our foreign policy. We want to usher in a new era where South Africa can lift itself out of poverty and inequality and regain its stature in the world as a model of what can be achieved when you stretch human endeavour and make possible that which seems unattainable.

We want South Africa to be once again a moral compass and a voice of reason in a world increasingly overcome with selfish, narrow interests. We want to be the hope for all in times of despair.

Our foreign policy has evolved over many years, crafted by Oliver Tambo as he sensitised the world about the struggle of South Africa; crystallised and given expression by Nelson Mandela as he put South Africa firmly on the international stage. All of this is summarised very aptly in the ANC’s 54th National Conference Declaration: “We remain committed to the founding values of the struggle for a humane, just, equitable, democratic and free world”. We have over time been consolidating it and it boils down to this: a better life for all, a better life for all of us equally as South Africans, a better life for our continent, a better life for the world, embedded in a desire to create and preserve peace.

Our Constitution determines that our foreign policy must be driven by seven major principles:
1.         Fundamentally transform and achieve sustainable growth of the economy to empower the people and create a better life for all;
2.         Deal with the legacies of apartheid colonialism;
3.         Maintain the stability and security of South Africa, including its constitutional order and institutions;
4.         Develop a peaceful and prosperous integrated Southern Africa;
5.         Develop a stable and prosperous African continent, which is not marginalised in world affairs;
6.         Resolve conflicts by negotiations; and
7.         Develop a multipolar just and equitable world order.

South Africa’s approach to and implementation of our foreign policy must be based on an understanding of the current regional and global political and economic realities.

This defines our response to the United States of America when it took a unilateral decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) between Iran and the P5+1. The JCPoA is of great significance in that it upholds the integrity of the international non-proliferation regime, and eliminates the prospects of a nuclear attack across the Middle East.

Essentially, this Plan limits Iran’s nuclear capability by restricting uranium enrichment, the stockpiling of enriched uranium and the technology that may be used in its facilities, and imposes strict international monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for lifting multilateral and unilateral economic sanctions. We have been an active part of creating this environment and have expressed our deep displeasure at the possible erosion of the work done.

We believe in a global system that has been developed and structured to ensure that never again will we experience a war. This system is established to ensure that we never again slide to the levels of destruction we have had over so many years.

The fundamentals of our foreign policy are based on human rights, peace, equality, freedom from oppression and racism, freedom from poverty. This is our focus; first and foremost on the African Continent. We remain an important player on the African Continent and our role has been aptly described as pivotal, and we intend to keep it that way.

The renaissance that we dreamed of is still possible in our lifetime. In fact, the African Renaissance remains a key objective of the ANC, confirmed at its 54th National Conference. However, our importance as a role player depends on getting ourselves out of the problems that surround us right now. A country mired in its own problems can hardly expect to make any impact on the world stage.

Our potential to influence for good is enormous, based on our history. We can continue to be the moral compass of the world and we need to. We continue to fight against injustice, because we have to. We who have suffered so much, can ill afford suffering in any part of the world.

Our global reality presents an unpredictable, dangerous environment. An eminent US opinion-shaper, the Atlantic Council predicted in 2016 that between 2020-2030 the world will be characterised by spiraling inequality and perpetual war and insecurity.  This world will be “marked by breakdown of order, widespread violent extremism and aggressive larger states. The world situation will be driven by unpredicted and unpredictable events including the possibility of a nuclear exchange.” This lays the foundation of what we should avoid.

Today we are witnessing manifestations of such predictions. The growing tensions between the US and China, the growing tensions between NATO and Russia, the escalating war in Syria, the growing tensions with Iran, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; all could lead to a nuclear confrontation between major powers which threatens the very essence and existence of humanity as we know it.

It is within this unpredictable, highly volatile environment that we have to constantly recalibrate our foreign policy, but never lose the central thrust of peace, human rights and equality. Driven by this desire to moderate extremes, we have opted to stand for the non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council, through which we hope to collaborate with all countries committed to the objective of peace and security. We do not do this out of vanity, but pure rugged, brutal necessity and the willingness to lend a hand to keep peace. Our track record when we held this position previously speaks for itself.

Honourable Members have already been informed that I have established a Review Panel, consisting of very experienced former members of our Department and other experts. I was told that an uninformed journalist recently asked how many times there should be a review of our policies. The basic premise of our foreign policies remains as is articulated above, endorsed in the National Development Plan, and confirmed by the African National Congress. But it needs intermittent review because the world is not static. It is ever-changing, characterised by periods of potential crisis and power dynamics. In this turbulent world we need to sharpen our tools to ensure that we respond to this from the basis of our own conviction to ensure a better world to live in. In short, we will review our policies as and when the world changes.

The Review Panel has already started working on the review of our policies and will be assisting me in various forms. They have the requisite experience and it will be our loss not to use what we have invested in them.

The President has chosen as a focal point for both our domestic and foreign policy the issue of economic revival. South Africa has one of the highest unemployment figures in the world. The number of unemployed is estimated at just less than 6 million, even though over the past decade, the public sector has invested R2.2 trillion in economic and social infrastructure.   Government’s consolidated spending in 2018/19 for social development alone is R259 billion up from R234 billion in the previous year.  

Yet our unemployment figures remain stubbornly high and have the potential to derail socio-economic stability, making it non-negotiable that South Africa needs to create jobs to fight high unemployment.  To stimulate skills development and entrepreneurship requires us to simultaneously ensure that people outside the economy are brought back into productive activity, and empower people to help themselves.

Out of this realisation the President has decided to host an Investment Summit, to which he will invite major trade partners, key investors and heads of state.  We intend to make this the defining feature of this administration.

The trust that South Africa has enjoyed as an investment destination has been eroded over time. This has been seen in the decline in ratings by two prominent ratings agencies to sub-investment grade, or “junk” status. However, over the past few months, we have made great strides to create an environment in which our investment partners feel we are a dependable partner. Ratings agency Moody’s in March 2018 revised upwards South Africa’s credit outlook to stable from negative, and affirmed the country’s credit rating as investment grade. This is a sign that we are once more returning to the right path. We have to work harder to support our economic recovery.

The President’s target is to raise R1 trillion in investments over five years, which we will not only use for South Africa, but also on the African Continent. We believe that if we can create a stable Africa, we can unleash its potential. The resources of this continent are enormous and properly tapped will change the fortunes of the whole continent for generations to come.

We continue to be committed to keeping peace. We stand for peaceful solutions whenever there is conflict. Our track record of keeping peace on the African Continent is unchallenged by any one country. Our efforts in creating dialogue are a hallmark of our foreign policy. We have had great successes in the past on the Continent and we will continue to put this at the apex of our interventions.

South Africa adheres to the general principles of international law, including amongst other things, respect for territorial integrity of other States, especially in resolving interstate challenges. We take a cautious approach on country-specific issues, in respect of matters of human rights, preferring rather to promote dialogue in resolving disputes including in situations of human rights violations.

The President will be co-chairing a meeting of the High-level Global Commission on the Future of Work of the International Labour Organisation with the Prime Minister of Sweden this week. They want to send a specific message to the world that we should endeavour at all costs to keep peace in our lifetime. Destruction of life and property that has been the hallmark of human interaction at odds with each other does not define us. For, against all provocation at the height of our struggle, we chose peace and we’ll use every resource and space available to us to preach peace.

Chairperson, I now turn to matters of the Department. Honourable members of the Portfolio Committee have raised issues that they have been concerned about and that have a bearing on the health status of our department.

My department operates within an ever-changing environment that compels us to be responsive in order to deliver on our strategic objectives and plans. Because of the cost containment measures, the organisational structure is one of the key mechanisms that we have to concentrate on. It is thus imperative that the departmental organisational structure be designed to put the department in a better position to achieve its foreign policy objectives within the economic climate we operate in. Therefore the department will be reviewing its organisational structure to align to current developments, challenges and changes in order to deliver on South Africa’s foreign policy and government priorities.

I have recently interacted with the Auditor-General and his report unfortunately has revealed serious concerns he has with the Department. He has indicated that we are headed for a qualified audit because he intends to find against us in a number of areas.

Members of the Portfolio Committee constantly request progress about our investigation into the allegations of financial misconduct. I wish to assure Honourable Members that we are dealing with these allegations as a matter of priority. It is clear to me that our administration needs a total overhaul. The centre does not hold and I therefore intend to take strong action to ensure that we comply with the Auditor-General’s findings and avoid a qualified audit outcome. Our international work is based on a strong administration and I believe that if we can get this part of our structure right we can move the Department to a different level.

I request the Honourable Members of the Portfolio Committee to give me three months to turn this Department around. From reports on my table and interaction with various stakeholders, including Nehawu, the morale in the Department is very low. I have called a Heads of Mission Conference from 2 to 5 June 2018 and will inform them how we are restructuring the Department to be responsive to their needs, understand the peculiarities of every situation they face, and make them feel that their problems are being dealt with immediately and within set time-frames so that no Head of Mission should complain about non-responsiveness to their problems.

Our diplomats need to feel that this transformation that they are yearning for happens in their lifetime. They complained that they are not being served properly and I believe that the resources and intellectual capacity in the Department is sufficient to do just that. Every diplomat wants to know that their position is important for the Department.

I have also had complaints from the career diplomats in the Department who feel that they are stifled and that they are not getting appointed to serve abroad. I have therefore decided that it will be my goodwill that the June 2018 appointments will only consist of career diplomats.

We have to meet the Auditor-General’s timeframe and there will therefore be drastic changes to the administration of the Department. It is necessary and it is our responsibility to make sure that we respond to that which is highlighted as a weakness. We adhere to the prescripts of the laws that bind us and we follow through on any irregularities. There has to be consequences for wrongdoing.

I shall report back to the Portfolio Committee in three months’ time on how we are dealing with all matters brought to us as being of concern and that could be cause for a qualified audit report. This would require forensic investigations.

The centre must hold and a strong administration must be in place. Non-compliance must not be tolerated and we envisage an anti-corruption unit to track investigations. We’ll also track satisfaction levels in the Department and under our diplomats and ensure that good work is rewarded as opposed to favouritism, which is another regular complaint.

In conclusion, we meet in the month of May that has been designated as Africa month. It was in this month in 1963 when the Organisation of African Unity was born on 25 May. On that occasion African countries came together to craft a strategy for the liberation of Africa. This month resonates with the deep-seated quest to bring to the fore issues that still plague Africa. I wish to remind you of the advice that Haile Selassie gave in his address to the inaugural conference of the OAU in 1963, I quote:

“If we permit ourselves to be tempted by narrow self-interest and vain ambition, if we barter our beliefs for short-term advantage, who will listen when we claim to speak for conscience.”

That is what we stand for.

DIRCO

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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June 2018

 
 
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