Keynote Address by L N Sisulu, MP, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation at the Dr Phyllis Naidoo Memorial Lecture, Senate Chamber I, Westville Campus University Of Kwazulu-Natal, 12 April 2019

Keynote Address by L N Sisulu, MP, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation at the Dr Phyllis Naidoo Memorial Lecture, Senate Chamber I, Westville Campus University Of Kwazulu-Natal, 12 April 2019


“Key International Relations issues facing South Africa”


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is an immense pleasure for me to address the Dr Phyllis Naidoo Memorial lecture today. I have been asked to speak about “Key International Relations issues facing South Africa”. In approaching this topic, I wish to use this opportunity to elaborate on South Africa’s foreign policy priorities and how we intend to address these in the current global environment.


South Africa’s foreign policy during Apartheid was primarily focused on ensuring the maintenance of a minority rule by defending South Africa’s racist polices abroad; destabilising the region and propping up client states.


In June 1955, the Congress of the People adopted the Freedom Charter, which spelt out a vision of a free South Africa’s approach to relations with the outside world.  The Freedom Charter stated, “South Africa shall be a fully independent state, which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations” and “South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation – not war”.


In 1976, the then President of the African National Congress, Oliver Tambo stated, “we will have a South Africa which will live in peace with its neighbours and with the rest of the world. It will base its foreign relations on mutually advantageous assistance among the peoples of the world”. This prophetic quotation from OR Tambo greets visitors and staff at the entrance of the headquarters of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the OR Tambo Building and serves as a constant reminder of what we should aspire to.


The President of the ANC at the time, Nelson Mandela eloquently articulated South Africa’s post-Apartheid foreign policy in his seminal paper in 1993, when he stated, “South Africa’s future foreign relations will be based on our belief that human rights should be the core concern of international relations, and we are ready to play a role in fostering peace and prosperity in the world we share with the community of nations”.


These values and policies formed the framework of South Africa’s foreign policy when the new democratic government took office in 1994. The years following the attainment of democracy saw the country pursuing a foreign policy deeply enshrined in the values of democracy and human rights. These values were encapsulated in the White Paper on Foreign policy, which aimed to create a better South Africa and contribute to a better and safer Africa and World.

As I have stated on previous occasions, we were once a giant in the world. 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. We represented the values of Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and indeed heroines like Phyllis Naidoo whose lives were dedicated to the struggle for freedom and justice.


These are the value standards that we must reclaim. We must, by our actions and words pursue a foreign policy that shows the world what our stalwarts like Phyllis Naidoo lived their lives fighting for. We must reaffirm a foreign policy based on the values enshrined in our constitution that is grounded on human rights and the rule of law.


As we examine the key international issues facing South Africa, I wish to highlight some of our key foreign policy priorities. These priorities are naturally derived from the Government’s domestic objectives. Domestically, this Government aims to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality that we continue to face. Our domestic priorities necessitate that we as the Department responsible for representing South Africa’s interests abroad ensure that what we do and say in the international arena translates into action that serve the interests of all South Africans.


Our diplomacy has to therefore promote our values and interests, from both a political and an economic perspective. We attach great value to our strong economic and trade ties with countries and key to our foreign policy approach is to pursue economic diplomacy.


President Ramaphosa has prioritised the repositioning and deepening of economic relations with our partners in order to address South Africa’s domestic challenges. It is our responsibility to create and expand trade opportunities and encourage investment in South Africa.


On the political front, we are striving to reposition South Africa and enhance our stature on the Continent and in the world. We are a proudly active member of numerous sub-regional, regional and international bodies, which form part of the global governance system.


Last year we chaired the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as the BRICS group of States. In January we began our third two-year term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council, the primary international body entrusted with global peace and security. We are the current Chair of the Indian-Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and significantly, next year, we will Chair our Continental Body, the African Union.


We also continue to maintain excellent bilateral relations with countries across the globe, fostering friendship and cooperation. We seek to build and consolidate bilateral relations primarily with African countries, but also have strong relations with countries from the South and the North. We have an expansive network of Foreign Missions across the world and our representations in these countries are a concrete manifestation of our commitment to be a responsible and integral part of the global family.


These bilateral economic and political relations provide the framework for political, economic and financial cooperation. They are also important in the pursuit of our continental and multilateral objectives of Pan African unity and integration and the reform and transformation of the multilateral system of global governance.


The world today is facing uncertain times. One only has to turn on the news every day to see the devastation worldwide, from global conflict to poverty and underdevelopment and the devastating impact of climate change. Millions of people live in unthinkable conditions. Innocent women, men and children go to bed uncertain of their futures.


The current geopolitical environment is undergoing complex and unchartered changes, including concerted challenges to the future of multilateralism and a rules-based international order by key players with a stronger domestic focus, a preference for bilateral and mini-lateral arrangements, and with less of an appetite for development assistance, unless it is directly linked to issues of self-interest, such as curbing migration.


Unfortunately, what we see instead is a move by some to undermine multilateral collective action aimed at improving our world. We see a move to undermine peace agreements and treaties such as those to address climate change or the destruction of nuclear weapons. Against all of these, it remains important for those truly interested in a better world for all, and not just a better world for the privileged few, to work together to address our common challenges. Now more than ever, collective global action is needed if we are to overcome these challenges.


We put forward out candidature for the United Nations Security Council, as we are convinced that we can make a positive contribution to international peace and security. We have chosen for our tenure the theme, “Continuing the Legacy: Working for a Just and Peaceful World”. The legacy that we wish to continue is the legacy of President Nelson Mandela whose values and commitment to peace were commemorated all over the world in 2018 during the centenary of his birth. We will thus be guided by Madiba’s legacy to contribute to peace, justice and reconciliation.


We also wish to use our term on the Security Council to continue the legacy of our first two terms on the Council in 2007-2008 and 2011-2012 where we worked towards the resolution of conflicts and stabilisation of post-conflict situations on the African continent and globally.


We are grateful that the Southern African Group and the African Union endorsed our candidature for our third term. An overwhelming number of UN member states voted for us thus once again illustrating the confidence that they have in our ability to play a leading role in resolving conflict. We will endeavour to use our time on the Security Council to advocate for the peaceful settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue. This is in line with our own philosophy on the settlement of disputes and what our forbearers committed to in the Freedom Charter.


We will continue to encourage closer cooperation between the United Nations Security Council and other regional and sub-regional organisations, particularly the African Union.


Furthermore we will utilise our term to emphasise the role of women in the resolution of conflict. South Africa will ensure that a gender perspective is mainstreamed into all Security Council resolutions in line with Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security.  Next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of this resolution, which was spearheaded by our neighbour Namibia, during their term on the Security Council in the year 2000. Through Resolution 1325 and its follow-up resolutions, the UN created a political framework that officially mandates a gender responsive approach to all aspects of peace and security work.  Despite the commitments in this resolution, women remain excluded within peace processes, including in the drafting of peace agreements, and their involvement in United Nations peacekeeping is limited.


The contribution of women and girls to the peace-building process remains undervalued and under-resourced, leaving a vital tool regarding transformative change and sustainable peace underutilised. Women and girls who continue to be disproportionately affected by conflict situations, especially with regard to sexual abuse and violence would be a vital contribution in ensuring that peace holds. It is clear that the effective implementation of the women, peace and security agenda directly contributes to the objective of long-term global peace and security.  Thus, it is of particular priority for us to mainstream issues related to women into all the issues on the agenda of the Security Council.


South Africa’s international contributions have been bolstered by our efforts at home.  The International School of the DIRCO Diplomatic Academy has capacitated more than 500 women (South African and African) on conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation, addressing the mistaken notion that there are no women with knowledge and experience to lead and participate in peace processes.  We have also launched the Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum, as a policy vehicle on women, peace and security for women to share their ideas and experiences and to make inputs into local, regional and international policies related to peace and security.  This idea and the network of women have been emulated by others to form the Nordic, Femwise (Africa), Mediterranean, Commonwealth and other Women Mediation Networks.


South Africa will also use its tenure as a non-permanent member in the Security Council to direct attention to the occupation of Western Sahara and Palestine. We will in particular focus on the plight of women in these conflict areas in order to find a solution to their suffering. Peace in the Western Sahara and Palestine cannot be achieved without the participation of women in achieving their freedom from subjugation and attaining self-determination.


In commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day themed “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”, a Women’s Colloquium in solidarity with the women of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic was held by my Department primarily to raise awareness about the plight of the women of Western Sahara, as well as the struggles faced by women across the globe, including those in Palestine.


The plight of all Saharawi and Palestinian refugees, particularly women and girls, deserve global attention with the aim of urgent resolution. In fact, South Africa’s pledge to the Saharawi and Palestinian women resonates with the theme of the African Union for 2019, which is the “Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solution to Forced Displacement in Africa”.


In this regard, South Africa reiterates our position on the need for the determination of a date for the holding of the self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara and protection of the integrity of the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing Territory. We also reaffirm our support for a two-state solution on the question of Palestine.


In pursuing its national interests and values, South Africa’s foreign policy orientation is inter-alia grounded in the ideals of Pan-Africanism and a commitment to African multilateralism with the African Union at its core. In all of these multilateral processes a fundamental principle of South Africa’s foreign policy is therefore the consolidation of the African Agenda, which means that all the work done in the multilateral arena will have this as a primary objective, in particular the promotion and realisation of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and its First Ten Year Implementation Plan.


As you are aware, in 2020, South Africa will Chair the African Union. Serving on the Security Council at the same time will allow us an opportunity to emphasise closer cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union.


As part of the May 2013 Solemn Declaration marking the AU’s 50th anniversary, the AU Heads of State and Government adopted the programme for Silencing the Guns by 2020. Our Chairship of the AU while serving on the UN Security Council will be an opportunity for us to work towards the achievement of this aspiration. We must silence the guns, there must be peace, without this everything else is compromised.


Consistent with the vision of an Africa that is at peace with itself, South Africa will continue to make substantial contributions in support of peace, stability and development on the Continent in the area of conflict prevention, resolution and management.


Africa’s economic growth is stunted by inadequate levels of infrastructure, in particular transport and energy, low levels of beneficiation and intra-regional trade and an over-dependence on donor funding.


One of the major economic diplomacy developments on the Continent has been the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that was launched during an extra-ordinary summit of African Union heads of state in March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda. South Africa signed the agreement in July 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania and last week [on 2 April 2019] it achieved the sufficient number required to come into force [with the Gambian ratification].


The agreement will constitute the largest free trade area globally. As a flagship project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, it aims to build an integrated market in Africa that will see a market of over one billion [1.2bn] people with a combined GDP of approximately $3.3 trillion. These developments will surely contribute to the economic renaissance and transformation of the African Continent.   [Under the AfCFTA, the new African Economic Outlook 2019 estimates an initial increase in Africa-to-Africa trade of 15 percent and some $2.8 billion in gains in real income when Africa’s bilateral tariffs are removed. Eliminating other barriers will be worth $37 billion and push trade gains up by more than 100 percent. That becomes far greater with the implementation of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which went into force in February 2017.]


Globalisation has led to unprecedented economic growth and unlocked unprecedented development. Regrettably, this process has not been even. While the world has become increasingly interconnected, it has simultaneously become increasingly disconnected – alienating the majority of its population. The wealth and income disparities among nations, and within nations, have widened and increased. Accordingly, it is suggested that the top one percent of the world’s population have accumulated close to 50% of the world’s wealth. This widening inequality has pervasive social and political consequences, which if not addressed, will adversely impact global economic growth. It must however also be recognised that inequality and economic exclusion has become a major threat to peace, stability and our collective prosperity.


In September 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 SDG’s are a blueprint aimed at eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions. Later this year, South Africa will present its Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the United Nations on the national implementation of the SDG’s. This will be a critical moment for the country to share with the international community, inter-alia, its successes, gaps and challenges pertaining to the implementation of the Goals.


From the perspective of developing countries, including South Africa, it is imperative to address the historical and current injustices that have fuelled poverty, inequality and under-development, especially through external support in providing the necessary means of implementation. This includes finance, technology transfer and capacity building. For us, key to the success of the SDGs is the means of implementation of the goals. It is only through a Global Partnership that the goals can be implemented.


Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century, undermining sustainable development and a safe, secure and prosperous world. This is premised on the clear findings of the international scientific community, as well as by the new reality of increasingly frequent and extreme climate-related disasters. These know no borders and their impacts are becoming more severe.  In Southern Africa we are witnessing with the impact of tropical cyclone Idai, the dire consequences of climate change for people, nature and livelihoods, and the reality that the worst is yet to come.


For Africa and most developing countries, climate change has a direct impact on critical sectors that drive our growth. Climate change can only realistically be addressed if we do so collectively, and through a rules-based multilateral regime that is based on science, equity as well as differentiation of action and support between countries with very different national circumstances. Climate action needs to be dramatically scaled up, while protecting and furthering the development gains of developing countries and eradicating poverty.


South Africa will have an enhanced leadership role on environmental issues and climate change for Africa in 2019 when President Ramaphosa will chair the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) and the Minister of Environmental Affairs will chair the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) ahead of Chairing the AU in 2020.


In an attempt to ensure that our foreign policy is aligned with the key international relations issues facing South Africa, we have appointed a Review Panel on South Africa’s Foreign Policy, consisting of very experienced former members of our Department and other experts. The Panel is finalising its report, which we hope will sharpen our tools to ensure that we respond to global challenges from the basis of our own conviction to ensure a better world to live in.


I once again thank you for the opportunity for us to engage today and for your time. I once again want to pay tribute to Phyllis Naidoo and all our other stalwarts whose life lessons stand as a beacon for us to work towards a better world.


I thank you.




OR Tambo Building
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