Guest Column

A South Africa at home with the world

2018-05-27 06:02
Khulu MbathaPHOTO:

Khulu MbathaPHOTO:

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Having attended both the budget vote of the department of international relations and cooperation and the post-budget vote breakfast in the past week, mainly dealing with our foreign policy, I can now vouch that South Africa’s once directionless policy is back on track.

The pronouncements made by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu (pictured) since she took charge of South Africa’s foreign and international relations portfolio signal a deliberate effort to revitalise our foreign policy.

For those who don’t know what I mean, and without dwelling on many issues, rumour in diplomatic circles has it that some heads of state were not even prepared to meet South African representatives. From our glorious past, we suddenly became a laughing stock and an object of ridicule. Some countries, especially here in Africa, even treated us with suspicion as we had become untrustworthy and unpredictable.

To say our foreign relations with many countries were in a shambles would not be enough to capture the real situation or be a fair account. It is safe to say that Minister Sisulu has now planted seeds to revolutionise and transform the department. She has to be congratulated for having been bold enough to speak the truth, and to reflect accurately about the status quo, but also for wanting to clean up and put an end to the malfunctioning structures and operations in the department.

She has given a new lease of life to a department that is only second in importance and ranking to the presidency. As the number one advisor to the president on the country’s international relations and foreign policy, and as the chief negotiator with other countries on behalf of the state and the president, Sisulu has taken the right steps to fulfil her duties.

What else is foreign policy other than being a reflection of domestic conditions and actions? Foreign policy mirrors exactly what is happening in any country and maybe less of what that country plans to do, which is a task for bureaucrats. In other words, one can’t have a country that is not run well and at the same have a desirable foreign policy – that would be a contradiction.

The damage inflicted on South Africa’s image in the past 10 years must never be underestimated. There is a lot of work to be undertaken in this regard. From the minister’s speech, one can read the readiness to roll up her sleeves and help align our international relations with the ideals of the founding mothers and fathers of our democracy.

Minister Sisulu stated: “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 the 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.”

In the past it has been difficult to understand what our approach is to current regional and global political and economic realities – from the Southern African Development Community region to the AU, the UN, the EU, the US, the G20, and Brics.

For example, our role within Brics countries had never been properly defined and was the most puzzling one. As many observers noted, we seemed to be saying Brics was South Africa’s new home at the expense of old established political and economic alliances. This should not be the case. Some even suggested that South Africa had no foreign policy.

Before South Africa’s membership, Bric had been formed to break the West’s hegemony in the global economy. Representing emerging economic powers, the four-nation association had demanded that developing economies have a “greater voice and representation in international financial institutions, and their heads and senior leadership should be appointed through an open, transparent and merit-based selection process”. In this regard, many ambitious plans were declared and implementation has been very slow.

The current atmosphere in the country and the fact that we are chairing Brics gives us an opportunity to properly define our role in this organisation.

South Africa will be hosting the 10th Brics summit in July.

This role must not only be influenced by politics, we must bring in the business community, our scientists and other stakeholders. Above all, we must try to make it clear that our involvement is solely influenced by what our people and the country gain from this association.

South Africa’s role in other bilateral and multilateral forums is still of great importance. As the minister put it: “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.”

In particular, we want to build and develop the economy and attract the necessary investments needed to boost it. In a world and global atmosphere that has become unpredictable and maybe also precarious because of what seems to be a retreat to the Cold War tactics of the past, we must also look for opportunities to bring rationality wherever it is necessary and needless to say, an appreciation of what the people of this world have accomplished in terms of progress. With this approach, I can hold my head high in the presence of both foreign and South African diplomats.

I can go to sleep and not worry about what our friends, comrades and supporters in the former anti-apartheid movement the world over are saying regarding some negative and irresponsible pronouncements that were being unleashed from my beloved country in the past.

Mbatha is an author, former consul-general to Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in Germany, and adviser to former president Kgalema Motlanthe


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