President Ramaphosa’s electoral mandate has empowered him to pursue all the reforms and renewal that he promised during the election campaign, and now his focus will be to spur economic growth and create jobs. This requires concerted economic diplomacy which places a huge responsibility on the Department of International Relations.
Given the track record of the Department over the past 15 months, there is no question that they are up to the task, as they have scored a number of impressive achievements, which has laid a strong foundation for achieving the President’s domestic priorities. The successful Heads of Missions conference in October last year gave the President an opportunity to pronounce on the major focus of our foreign policy, which is economic diplomacy, foreign investment, skills and technology transfer, and restoring South Africa’s moral stature on the global stage.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has ushered in an important recalibration of our foreign policy, ensuring that there is greater coherence and consistency in the articulation of our foreign policy, and greater clarity on contentious issues such as our positions on Myanmar and Venezuela. We have once again returned to a human rights based foreign policy as elucidated under former President Nelson Mandela, which had given us tremendous respect and prestige internationally.
South Africa’s efforts to reclaim its position as a leading and influential country in global affairs has reaped dividends, culminating in the strong mandate we received last year for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, with 183 votes out of 192. South Africa had engaged in effective lobbying for the seat at the Non-aligned Movement, Commonwealth and AU, dispatching envoys to strategic countries in order to secure support.
South Africa also successfully placed Madiba’s legacy front and centre at the opening of the UN General Assembly in September, having effectively lobbied for the erection of a statue of Mandela at UN Headquarters in honor of his centenary. The General Assembly also adopted the Mandela Declaration and the Decade of Peace for 2018-2028.This was no small feat given there is no other statue of a world statesman at UN Headquarters.
That success was supplemented by our election as the Chair of the AU for 2020 during the AU Summit in February this year, which is indicative of the continent’s desire for South Africa to play a greater leadership role. This presents us with a huge opportunity to spearhead the revitalisation of conflict resolution efforts on the continent in keeping with the objective of silencing the guns in Africa by the end of 2020.
South Africa has reaffirmed our commitment to social justice with causes such as the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination in order to realise the liberation of Africa’s last colony. South Africa expended significant effort and resources in the hosting of the SADC Solidarity Conference on Western Sahara, which it was mandated to host by the SADC Summit in 2017. The success of the conference despite Morocco’s best efforts to undermine it and divide the continent was a major achievement.
Perhaps most laudable has been our government’s practical expression of Ubuntu, by calling for international and local relief assistance for the people of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the wake of the two devastating cyclones which decimated parts of the region. Sisulu’s repeated visits to the affected areas and liaising with South African rescue and relief teams on the ground was laudable. This type of humanitarian spirit led to her being honored with the Humanity and Social Cohesion award by the Hellenic communities. This is ultimately what South Africa is all about – solidarity with those in need, and being the voice of the voiceless.
* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor