South African foreign policy: objectives of the 21st Century
Chicago: Thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak today as part of the Allan Lerner Lecture Series at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I represent the Republic of South Africa in the Midwest and this area of representation encompasses fourteen states in total. Our mandate includes improving the existing socio-economic relations between the Midwest and South Africa through business and socio-political issues. Equally, it covers dealing efficiently with people to people issues. It is through these interactions that I am privileged to articulate the foreign policy direction of the Republic of South Africa at this prestigious institution.
This year, 2012, is a very symbolic year for the Republic of South Africa as it marks one hundred years since the birth of the African National Congress, the party which succeeded in turning the tide of oppression in my country. South Africa is now a multifaceted, multicultural and multiracial country, and rightly referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”, with one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, which, with South Africa’s well-established democratic institutions, protects the rights of the people of South Africa. However, it is important to understand how South Africa has changed in the last eighteen years in order tograsp the intricacies of its foreign policy objectives today.
From 1948 until 1994, my country was known internationally as a pariah state. It was characterized by stark inequalities of income and of opportunity along lines of race. Hence, apartheid was declared by the United Nations as a crime against humanity. Apartheid corroded the very essence of life, and there are numerous examples to demonstrate this. For four decades South Africa’s international relations were dogged by the apartheid issue, and by the end of the 1980’s, South Africa was one of the most isolated states on earth. Recovery from the oppression and isolation caused by apartheid has been very difficult to rectify. However, since the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994, the international community has looked to South Africa to play a leading role in championing the values of human rights, democracy, reconciliation and the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment. South Africa has risen to this challenge and plays a meaningful role in the region, on the continent and around the world.
With this in mind, South Africa’s unique approach to global issues has found expression in the concept of Ubuntu, which is the philosophy that informs our particular approach to diplomacy and foreign affairs. Ubuntu translates into respect for all nations, peoples, and cultures. It recognizes that it is in our national interest to promote and support the positive development of others. In the modern world of globalization, a constant element is, and has to be our common humanity. We therefore champion collaboration, cooperation and partnership building over conflict, and this has been demonstrated by our numerous interventions in areas of our continent that are plagued by violence, need and conflict. When the Administration of the president of our country, President Jacob Zuma, changed the name of our department from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, it did so in order to affirm a better understanding of the relations with the other nations based on the core values ofUbuntu.
The destiny of the people of South Africa is inextricably linked to that of the Southern African region and the African continent. Remaining loyal to our principles that have inspired our country since 1994, our foreign policy isstrategically focused, first and foremost, on the upliftment of the entirety of the continent of Africa.
South Africa’s continued emphasis on Africa in all of its foreign policy-making roles contributes to the reversal of long-standing biases that have traditionally functioned to the detriment of the continent. It is no secret that Africa has been subjected to a continued over-emphasis and ‘afro-pesimism’ by the developed world, especially by those in the mass-media, on issues of peace and security in Africa. This portrayal of Africa weakens the world’s response to the developmental agenda of Africa and the South, and strips Africa of opportunities to enhance overall economic participation.
The African continent has come a long way in reversing this image. A decade ago, the Economist magazinewrote off Africa entirely in an article entitled, “The Hopeless Continent”. Fast forward to today, and the same magazine has admitted its error in its front page article, “Africa Rising”, which details the continent’s remarkable democratic and economic progress. Today, most African countries hold peaceful multi-party elections, and the gross domestic product in the region has averaged 5.5% over the last decade. The vast potential of the African continent is finally being realized.
Challenges, however, remain. The African continent lacks a proper voice in major international political and economic policy-making bodies and institutions. To address this imbalance, South Africa promotes the increased alignment between the developmental agenda of Africa and the South, and that of global organizations.
Our struggle for a better life in South Africa is intertwined with our pursuit of a better Africa in a better world. Regional and continental integration must, of necessity, form the foundation for Africa’s socio-economic development. Continued support for regional and continental processes to respond to and resolve crises, to significantly increase intra-Africa trade, and to champion sustainable development and opportunities in Africa is needed.
South Africa has intensified its engagements in the African Union and its structures in order to fulfill thisrole in building African unity and the social and economic development on the continent. South Africa champions the role of the African Union as the primary organization for coordinating continental positions with development partners. At the same time, South Africa also advances common African positions through its structured bilateral activities and through other international fora.
The acceleration of Africa’s regional integration is imperative for its future economic competitiveness. Essential in this regard are the development of skills, infrastructure and interconnectivity, intra-regional trade, common markets, and the removal of trade barriers. Challenges include harmonizing policies, addressing overlapping memberships, developing cooperative sovereignty, and the asymmetrical nature of the South African economy in comparison with that of the region. Africa must respond urgently to these challenges in order to avoid again being locked into structural dependencies.
Regional economic cooperation and integration offers an opportunity for industries to overcome the limits of small national markets, achieve economies of scale, and enhance competitiveness as a platform to participate in the global economy. South Africa therefore advances a developmental integrated agenda in southern Africa that combines trade integration, infrastructure development and sectoral policy coordination that will correct imbalances in current relations. The region must be allowed to determine its own regional integration agenda and pace, without external interference. South Africa continues to place a particular focus on cross-border infrastructure development, in collaboration with other development partners. The strengthening of governance and institutional capacity within the Southern African Development Community, which comprises 15 member states, is an urgent and essential requirement to ensure the economic viability of the region.
Further integration is also being facilitated throughout the continent. Negotiations were launched this pastyear for the establishment of an integrated market consisting of a tripartite of integrated markets of 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 600 million and a total Gross Domestic Product of approximately US $1 trillion. South Africa must place great stress on this further integration of the Southern African region as well as the entire continent. It is only through integration and increased intra-African trade that South Africa, and other African nations will be able to take full advantage of the opportunities which are being made available by the emergence of new economic powers.
There is general agreement among practitioners of international relations that a dramatic global realignment appears to be in progress and quickening. The three emerging powers of Brazil, India and China are forming new alliances with nations extending from Asia and Africa and Latin America. The Big Four, as the BRICs have come to be known is a powerful economic alliance of the four fast-growing nations, two of which have the largest populations of any country on earth.
These geopolitical shifts are opening up opportunities to position Africa as an essential component to the functioning of the global economy. A commodity price boom, which is being caused by the rapid emergence of these powers, has allowed the African continent to prosper from a higher price for natural resources. The challenge for Africa is now a question of leveraging these advantages so as not to remain primarily a supplier of raw materials, but a manufacturer and supplier of goods and services. Africa has a unique opportunity to alter existing trading paradigms through further investment in education and infrastructure; and through increased intra-African trade, industry and integration.
Both traditional and emerging powers are taking note of the African potential and are therefore increasing economic and diplomatic activities on the continent. South Africa is continuing to develop partnerships with key countries on the continent as a mechanism for mutual advancement.
The seeds of South-South cooperation were laid in the mid 20th century, notably with the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961 and the G77 in 1964. This is an important history to draw upon, and wemust work to elevate these partnerships to a new level, building on the wells of goodwill and solidarity.
South Africa shares similar perspectives about the reform of global governance, in particular the imperative for enhanced representation and voice of developing countries in decision-making processes with the members of these organizations. In particular, we share a common view that multilateralism and a rules-based global governance model is the best guarantor of stability, and provides a better framework for asserting our values and interests.
South Africa’s commitment to South-South solidarity, therefore, must be complimented by working with countries of the North to strengthen the multilateral system. A stronger global governance template requires cooperation between the developed and developing countries.
In the complex and dynamic global system that exists today, nurturing conditions for cooperation are crucial if we are to construct a different global order where power is more diffused and responsibilities are appropriately shared. New challenges related to climate change, energy security, and those to do with coordination of trade and finance have become more critical than ever. More will need to be done to turn the dream of a safe and better world into a reality where developing countries have a greater say in decision-making.
South Africa’s foreign policy recognizes the importance of multilateralism and a rules-based international system that is governed by international law. It remains an active participant in the efforts to comprehensively reform the architecture of global governance, including the United Nations (UN) system and the Bretton Woods Institutions, to make them more effective, legitimate, and responsive to the needs of the developing world. South Africa supports a development outcome to the World Trade Organization Doha Round and, to achieve this, continues to play an active role in the Africa Group and G77.
South Africa strongly supports the reform of the United Nations (UN) system in pursuit of greater equity in decision making, balanced against increased efficiency and effectiveness. Whilst pursuing equitable representation of Africa on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), South Africa seeks to become a permanent member itself. Meanwhile, South Africa uses the non-permanent membership as a strategic opportunity to advance the interests of Africa and the South. It also champions the relationship between the United Nations (UN) and regional organizations, in particular the African Union (AU).
An emerging trend is for like-minded countries to form groupings outside the formal multilateral structures in order to address specific issues affecting the international community. Groups such as the G20, the Major Economies Forum, IBSA – a partnership between India, Brazil and South Africa – and the BRICS have grown in prominence and are focused on global issues related to political, environmental and economic matters. South Africa supports the use of such groupings as an important mechanism for consensus building, whilst recognizing the centrality of the UN and ensuring that these groupings strengthen itsprimacy.
The marginalization of many countries in the global economy, particularly those in Africa, and the question of coherence in global economic policy-making are some of the key challenges confronting the international community in the context of an integrating global economy. In this regard, the G20 has become the premier global forum to coordinate an integrated global response to the financial system.
As part of its commitment to ensuring peace and stability in zones of conflict, South Africa encourages multilateral options in seeking global solutions. South Africa also remains committed to the major international instruments for the promotion and protection of human rights and advocates a holistic approach that places equal emphasis on civil and political rights as well as social economic and cultural rights.
United States - South Africa Relations
South Africa’s bilateral relations with North America, and particularly the United States, serves as a firm foundation for advancing cooperation as well as to promote South Africa’s domestic priorities. South Africa’s total trade with the USA is of great importance for its development trajectory with further potential for substantial growth in trade and investment. The core objective would be to leverage economic growth, social development, and capacity building. Bilateral relations would therefore be used to enhance economic, scientific, technical, and business opportunities through structured bilateral mechanisms.
The USA remains a dominant political, economic and military power, with significant potential for South African and African trade, tourism and investment. The economies of North America remain vital sources of investment and technology, and will remain prominent trading partners for South Africa and Africa. South Africa will therefore continue to build its trade and investment relations with these economies on the basis of institutional frameworks for engagement. South Africa is the largest non-oil beneficiary under the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), that was signed to improve economic relations between the U.S. and the Southern African region, but ample scope still remains for improving South Africa and Africa’s market share in the US market. The extension of AGOA is therefore of strategic importance for the economic development of the continent. South Africa should also continue to engage the USA and Canada to meet development commitments.
The USA and Canada are important supporters of peacekeeping as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts in Africa, through the UN and bilaterally. In this regard, South Africa urges them to align their support with the AU Peace and Security objectives.
Taking Diplomacy Forward
In a world of competing interests, public diplomacy is essential to actively project South Africa’s image, values and culture both domestically and abroad. Public diplomacy activities include outreach programs to bring foreign policy to the people of our country. South Africa’s greatest asset lies in the power of its example. In an uncertain world, characterized by a competition of values, South Africa’s diplomacy of Ubuntu, focusing on our common humanity, provides an inclusive and constructive worldview to shape the evolving global order.
It is through our shared values of Ubuntu that South Africa has placed its foreign policy priorities on the continent of Africa, but also on working with countries of the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment, promoting global equity and social justice. We work with the countries of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world, and on strengthening the multilateral system to reflect the diversity of our nations and ensure its centrality in global governance.
Once again, I thank the University of Illinois at Chicago, its principals, students and faculty who are here today, for allowing me to speak to you on this topic. We commend the example of Professor Allan Lerner of bringing people together through his voice, linking politics and trade.
- Speech by the SA Consul General in Chicago, 3 April 2012.