Guest Column

SA's foreign relations rest on common interests and goals – not political regimes

2019-04-29 19:00
South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation minister, Lindiwe Sisulu (second left) with ministers from Brazil and India. (Photo: Dirco)

South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation minister, Lindiwe Sisulu (second left) with ministers from Brazil and India. (Photo: Dirco)

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When South Africa reintegrated into international affairs, our foreign policy was conceptualised under Nelson Mandela's leadership. We live by the maxim that we "are at peace with the world and ourselves", writes Ndivhuwo Mabaya.

South Africa's foreign policy has recently been the subject of robust discussions in the media, on various civil-society forums and within government circles. This is a welcome development as it is indicative of an engaged society that wishes to contribute to South Africa's success in global affairs.

On 14 April 2019, Mr Phumlani Majozi penned an article entitled, "Time to rethink our foreign relations". At first glance, it seems the author has a serious problem with countries that subscribe to socialism. The article is an analysis that may have been relevant during the Cold War and in the 20th century context. However, the issues raised in the article do not connect the 20th century to the 21st century as the global landscape has changed significantly to a world that is more interdependent.

Failure to recognise this new world may have unintended consequences of sending out a message that is neither appropriate nor correct.

Cognisant of being relevant and responsive to the evolving global landscape, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) has been undergoing an intensive foreign policy review process over the past year, driven by seasoned thought leaders with extensive experience and vast advisory networks in the domain of foreign policy. That said, these are not the reasons that prompted a response to the article, but rather the necessity to get the correct message out, in order to build a value-adding, responsive, contemporary and relevant foreign policy agenda.  

As we navigate the realm of our changing world, we are guided by the pillars of our foreign policy and national interest. This includes our "immediate neighbourhood and the African continent; working with the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment; promoting global equity and social justice; working with the North to develop true and effective partnerships for a better world; and transforming and strengthening the multilateral system to better reflect global diversity and its centrality in global governance". In seeking to achieve these foreign policy objectives, South Africa has partnered with countries from both the Global North and Global South.

South Africa shares warm and cordial relations with Cuba, Russia and Libya as well as the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and many other sovereign states in the world. South Africa does not base the choice of which country to partner with on the current political regime of the country but rather on shared interests and common goals to achieve a just and more equitable world.

All three countries are part of the broader Global South and cooperation is based on mutual respect and in line with South Africa's foreign policy objectives and national interests.

Majozi's article decries South Africa's continued relations with the aforementioned countries based on human rights abuse but at the same time acknowledges that concerns about human rights in sovereign countries should be raised at the United Nations (UN). We agree, and South Africa, as a matter of conscience, remains fully committed to the promotion of human rights, the rights of vulnerable groups and the promotion of a just and rules-based world order with the UN at its centre. I can therefore assure you that South Africa will continue to uphold the principles enshrined in the UN Human Rights Charter.  

Singling out specific countries while ignoring human rights abuses, military conquests, terrorism, and aggressive and unilateral actions by other, more powerful countries amount to unfair criticism. The contextualisation of Cuba and Russia purely in terms of a historical Cold War narrative fails to explain their existence within the 21st century global affairs discourse.

Linking the current Russian system to its Soviet era is not only regressive but flawed. The selective reference to injustices paints a bleak picture that unfortunately omits to highlight many of the positive contributions Russia has made in contemporary international relations, through mediation and peacekeeping efforts across the world, including the Middle East, cooperation in various technical fields and development assistance rendered to developing countries.

South Africa engages Russia through the Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation and views it as a strategic partner in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the G20 and other critical formations. Areas of mutual benefit, exchanges on best practice and tackling issues affecting our nations drive South Africa's bilateral relations with Russia, as with any other country. Russia is also a Permanent Five (P5) member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). Therefore, it is an important, responsible and deeply committed leader in the international community and, as such, South Africa values its friendship with Russia.

Likewise, Cuba has been and continues to be a dear friend of South Africa and its people, not only because of its support during apartheid, but selfless support since 1994 in assisting to build our democracy through skills development and capacity-building programmes in education, engineering, medicine and other disciplines. The current Libyan establishment has changed and we look forward to rebuilding our bilateral relations as soon as stability returns.

Russia, Libya and Cuba have each contributed to South Africa's liberation and the role that their leaders have played in the history of our country cannot be denied. However, South Africa's relations with its bilateral partners are not solely built on struggle politics but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests.

When South Africa became a democracy and reintegrated into international affairs, our foreign policy was conceptualised and implemented under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. You will recall former president Nelson Mandela unapologetically stating that: "One of the mistakes which some political analysts make is to think that their enemy should be our enemy. Our attitude towards any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our country."

Further to this, South Africa has consistently lived by the maxim that we "are at peace with the world and ourselves".

Our foreign relations reflect diplomatic engagement with the entire world. South Africa has 126 embassies and high commissions in the world. Tshwane has one of the largest concentration of foreign embassies and regional and international organisations globally. South Africa is highly regarded by the global community, evident in our participation in global formations.

The global community has expressed trust and confidence in South Africa's ability to lead, evident in our recent chairship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), BRICS, our current chairship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and upcoming chairship of the African Union in 2020. We are also active participants in the G20 and are currently serving our third term as a non-permanent elected member on the UNSC. In seeking to be a responsible global leader, we have carefully sought to balance our national interests by engaging with all countries for shared prosperity.

Times have indeed changed and so has the complexity of global problems such as increased instability and strife brought about by terrorist activities, climate change and the rapid evolution of technology, which necessitate global cooperation. It is here that South Africa finds itself in a privileged position to call upon all its friends to share in this collective responsibility.

- Ndivhuwo Mabaya is Dirco's head of communications and spokesperson

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. ener is a specialist reporter for News24.

Read more on:    dirco  |  cuba  |  russia  |  foreign policy
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