Speech by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor on the occasion of the Budget Vote
12 May 2022
‘Consolidating South Africa’s Foreign Policy Contribution to a better Africa and Better World’
Chairman of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Honorable Supra Mahumapelo
Members of the executive
Guests joining us today
South Africa has continued to conduct its foreign relations in accordance with the values and principles set out in our Constitution. We strive to be a positive contributor to the global family of nations and to promote our aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and united Africa in a just and equitable world. These are difficult goals to pursue, challenged by complex shifts in global relations and unprecedented global instability.
Some believe we are at an inflection point in history and that we have an opportunity to reshape and rethink global institutions and mechanisms. As honorable members would know COVID-19 has been a challenge like no other since the end of the Second World War, revealing our shared vulnerability and our connectedness. The shadow of COVID-19 is still with us as we debate this budget vote. The pandemic exposed poverty and inequality in our own society and worldwide. We must ensure that we continue to respond effectively and to prepare for future crises and new pandemics. Our country has been hit hard by the effects of COVID-19, but, we responded speedily as a nation and as government and this led to the saving of many lives.
The challenging crises that have affected South Africa since 2019, impacted negatively on our economy and lead to continuing low growth and inadequate productivity. The government had to adjust budgets and redirect funds toward the COVID-19 response and to respond to the effects of the riots of 2021. These changes have affected the resources available to us as DIRCO and government departments in this new financial year. We are allocated over 6.6 billion for this financial year, which is an extremely modest increase of around 1.3% from the 2020/21 allocation. As we have said previously, our department requires greater allocation of resources in order to carry out the assigned work in the 116 diplomatic missions in the 102 countries in which South Africa has representation.
However, we are aware that South Africa is constrained in terms of the availability of public finances and we have committed that we will ensure utilisation of this allocation in an efficient and robust manner.
I am pleased to report to the honourable members that we have made progress in advancing our foreign policy agenda and have worked hard at consolidating the progress achieved in the past two decades. South Africa is committed to using its foreign policy to contribute to a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world as stated in goal seven of our Medium Term Strategic Framework. Our country showed this commitment through implementing a comprehensive strategic framework in combating the pandemic and its effects and sharing our programs and our experiences with the entire continent.
We also used our participation in the G20, the G7 and BRICS to secure practical actions to address the fallout from the pandemic. We were able to achieve important outcomes. One of these was an agreement that multilateral financial institutions would implement a yearlong debt standstill to provide liquidity for the economies of low and middle income countries and funding for businesses that experienced losses under COVID-19 restrictions. We also actively argued in these fora for Africa to be a vaccine producer to reverse inadequate vaccine access for Africa.
Today, six African countries are developing vaccine production processes and establishing facilities for this. This is a major advance for Africa and we are pleased that President Ramaphosa gave leadership on these issues and advanced Africa in its research and innovation initiatives.
In 2021, the UN Secretary General gave the global community new hope when he presented a global vision of inclusive and transformed multilateralism. He proposed adoption of a common agenda for humanity that will see us address climate change, conflict, poverty and insecurity in a manner that promotes inclusion, shared development and equality. He proposed that the United Nations and its institutions would serve as the strategic multilateral body supporting the globe in acting on this common agenda.
The 2021 General Assembly enthusiastically welcomed the Secretary General’s initiative and committed to his common agenda. We thus began 2022 with renewed hope for the global community.
The Russia and Ukraine war has severely eroded that hope and has divided the world once again and diverted us from the Secretary General's common agenda.
Despite our calls for a ceasefire, and for UN led negotiations, the war rages on, with millions displaced and thousands maimed and dead. We remain steadfast in our belief that war benefits no one and that all efforts should focus on peaceful settlement of disputes.
The United Nations Security Council has failed the world, proving that it cannot be relied upon to preserve peace and security. The ongoing conflict has starkly exposed the inadequacy of the UN system and highlighted the need for serious attention to our repeated calls for substantive reform of the Security Council and indeed, the United Nations. We look forward to working closely with new non-permanent members of the Security Council to urge them to initiate a genuine robust process of reform.
South Africa firmly believes that the Ukraine Russia war will only be ended through negotiations, and we urge the Secretary General to lead as the key negotiator to secure a cessation of hospitalities.
Drawing on our experiences in the past year, South Africa will give greater attention to member states of the Non -Aligned Movement (NAM) and work with them to ensure that we all actively contribute to shaping the reform deliberations within the United Nations system, as well as giving new content to the United Nations Security Council. The non-aligned movement member states have always worked hard to support multilateralism and have contributed extensively to the battles for an end to colonial oppression and abuse of multilateral institutions.
We continue to derive great value from the BRICS partnership. Our joint call with India, a fellow BRICS member at the World Trade Organisation for the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights, so that COVID-19 vaccines and other new technologies treatments and diagnostics are accessible for developing countries was an important intervention in the fight against COVID-19. We are pleased that South Africa and India will also be collaborating on genomic sequencing to further research COVID-19 and its mutations.
We're thrilled that the virtual BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre was launched in March this year, and that it is one of South Africa's BRICS Chairship legacy projects. We look forward to leading further progress on BRICS initiatives once more, as we assume Chairship of BRICS in 2023. We are very heartened at the advances recorded by the New Development Bank. Last year its membership expanded to include Bangladesh, Egypt, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates. We hope to expand the membership further next year.
We also remain committed to championing the interests of Africa within BRICS as the African agenda remains a cornerstone of our foreign policy.
Honourable Members, in terms of our priorities on the continent, we are ever mindful that there can be no development without peace and no peace without development. We had long hoped to silence the guns on our continent, but there is still much work to be done to achieve that.
One of the important priorities in the AU agenda, as well as in the Secretary General's common agenda is the maintenance of peace and the prevention of conflict. Member states have been encouraged to reshape their responses to all forms of violence and to engage in genuine peace building and conflict prevention. It is clear that much must be done to promote democracy and good governance on our continent. We welcome the efforts led by President Ramaphosa to strengthen unity and cooperation throughout África and plan to build on the foundation laid through successful visits to Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Senegal last year.
In August last year South Africa assumed the rotational chairmanship of the SADC organ on politics, defence, and security cooperation.
Our Chairship is focussed on the challenging political and security matters in the Kingdom of Lesotho, in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
President Ramaphosa’s facilitation on behalf of SADC in the Kingdom of Lesotho continues, and the national reform process is at a very critical stage. The constitutional amendments have now been tabled before the Parliament of Lesotho and are under consideration. We also continue to support the SADC deployment in Mozambique as part of our region's response to the fight against extremism and terror. We thank our men and women for their courageous efforts in the fight against terrorism.
South Africa welcomed the establishment of the Tanzania based regional Counterterrorism Centre in February this year. This is an important step towards strengthening our regional security architecture.
We are also promoting strong humanitarian efforts on the ground in Mozambique. This involves working with other SADC countries to alleviate the plight of internally displaced persons in the Cabo Delgado region.
The Mozambican government has specifically requested assistance for internally displaced families to be resettled. South Africa plans to make a contribution, through support for sustainable food production projects. Our efforts at promoting democracy and good governance in Eswatini are also underway. The SADC Secretariat has through the organ Troika prepared a Terms of Reference for an inclusive national dialogue in Eswatini.
These TORs have been submitted to the government of Eswatini and to His Majesty King Mswati III. We are hopeful that the kingdom will draw on our goodwill and convene a genuine dialogue.
We are deeply concerned that there appears to be a rise in unconstitutional changes of governments in other regions of our continent, as well as a rise in violent extremism. We believe this undermines our continents efforts to realise a peaceful and secure Africa.
We will work with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Union to combat these incidents of insecurity. Working with our partners on the continent we will redouble our efforts within the African Union, to hold governments accountable, to build a united front against terrorism and to prevent military interventions, as well as to stop negative foreign interference on our continent.
We must combat persistent instability caused by poverty, high unemployment, and violent conflict in Africa.
There are massive opportunities awaiting South Africa in promotion of African trade, African regional integration, and African industrialisation. In order to draw benefit from these opportunities, we must be seen as a country that is inclusive, that practices social cohesion and that is a home for all who live in it. Our Pan African dream of Africa's prosperity and development really relies on mutual African support and African interdependence. South Africa must boost intra African trade and reduce import of goods from beyond Africa and ensure that that which can be grown in Africa, is grown in Africa, that that which can be manufactured in Africa, is manufactured in Africa. We have developed a framework through which we can realize the benefits of intra African trade and we look forward to the full operationalisation of the African continental free trade area.
This will show our commitment to the joint prosperity and development of Africa. And it is our hope that the Free Trade Area implementation will result in a continental customs union robustly overseeing intra African trade. We are thrilled about the progress that has been made in the ratification of the tripartite free trade area, which consists of SADC, the East African Community, and COMESA. Only three more states need to ratify in order for the agreement to enter into force. The tripartite Free Trade Area has the possibility of creating a market of 29 countries with a combined population of more than 700 million. The challenge we face as South Africa is to trade within the continent beyond the SADC region, and to make sure we take up the enormous economic opportunities that exist in other regional economic communities.
We have worked hard as DIRCO to coordinate South Africa's economic diplomacy on the African continent and to have a coordinated approach to this. We recently launched the Coordination Mechanism for Economic Diplomacy (COMED) as a platform in South Africa to exchange information between government departments, the private sector, and civil society, on economic opportunities on the continent and to coordinate efforts for export promotion. We hope that COMED, as we call it, will assist us in ensuring a coherent South African response to economic opportunities. The common agenda of the Secretary General aspires that all of us will embrace global solidarity.
As DIRCO we are committed to providing humanitarian assistance as part of our global responsibility, particularly on the African continent, and in countries of the South. It makes no sense to us that we expect to receive grants and support from other nations of the world and yet as South Africa, we don't wish to give to others. The African Renaissance Fund (ARF) was set up for the purpose of humanitarian assistance. We receive requests from various partners on the continent for mitigating circumstances of extreme poverty and providing support in disaster relief. We will continue within our abilities to provide what we can to assist our fellow Africans on the path towards sustainable and inclusive development.
We believe this is an important obligation and South Africa as one of the nations of the world must honor it. We are also prepared and committed to act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Cuba, as we cannot turn a blind eye to their plight while their economy is strangled by illegal blockades and sanctions. The Cuban economy has been brought to its knees after 61 years of draconian US economic sanctions imposed on that impoverished island nation. This is a nation that stood shoulder to shoulder with our combatants in the struggle for freedom and we must help if we can. It was Cubans who sent their sons and daughters to fight for the liberation of southern Africa. Of course, those who were never in the trenches fighting for freedom cannot appreciate nor know this history. Cuba played a pivotal role in turning the tide against our colonial oppressors. It would unjustified and unethical for us to turn our backs on them in the hour of their greatest need.
We also have an important obligation to consolidate our support for international solidarity. We continue to support the revolutionary causes of those who suffer under the yoke of colonial oppression. The last colony in Africa, Western Sahara – is still not free. Its resources are being plundered and the international community remains silent in the face of this long standing injustice. We believe time has come to exert maximum diplomatic pressure to ensure that the promised referendum on Western Sahara’s self determination is finally held.
Similarly, the people of Palestine who continue to struggle for human rights, dignity and self determination in their own land, need our support. The situation on the ground for ordinary Palestinians has become unbearable in terms of the gross violations of their human rights and dignity. We hope that all members of the United Nations will combat the infringement of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Palestine and will ensure that as members of the global family of the United Nations, we are equally angry at the plight of the people of Palestine, just as we are angered at the conflict in Ukraine. The UN Secretary General has issued a call to action for human rights and his agenda calls for human rights for all to be placed at the centre of our global and national agenda.
We have also launched our campaign to return to the Human Rights Council in 2023 and the African Union has endorsed our candidature. We regard the Human Rights Council as an important multilateral body where South Africa can pursue its foreign policy objectives and promote the human rights enshrined in our Constitution. Given our dedicated commitment to multilateralism our presence in the council will provide an opportunity to argue for the transformation of the global system of governance from one based on power to one based on rules.
We also place women's empowerment and gender equality at the heart of our foreign policy. This year, we have assumed co-chairship of the Global Network of National Focal Points on Women, Peace and Security, and we are working to close the implementation gaps in our UN resolutions.
A major initiative that we recently launched as DRICO, is the Charlotte Maxeke African Women's Economic Justice and Rights program. Me Charlotte Maxeke was one of our earliest ambassadors, a true internationalist forging relations across the globe and was one of the first women in Southern Africa to attain a Bachelor of Science degree in 1901. Her commitment to social justice at home and abroad should inspire a new generation of women ambassadors in diplomacy.
We have begun the implementation of our multi-year flagship programs, such as our Minister’s Annual Breakfast with women Heads of Mission accredited to South Africa, as well as the African Women's Leadership Award, which will be held later this year. The Awards will recognize exceptional African Women leaders whose achievements have advanced Africa's development. We're also working on a projects such as the Charlotte Maxeke Africa Future Leadership Program, a Women's Trade Fair and African Women's Scholarships.
Our Diplomatic Academy in DIRCO is also running an international women's capacity building program on Conflict Resolution, Mediation and Negotiation, a program that invites women from all over Africa. All of this is indicative of our commitment to the full participation of women in advancing and maintaining peace and security.
We are pleased to welcome DG Dangor and look forward to working closely with him to advance our Foreign Policy agenda.
As our first president of a democratic South Africa, President Nelson Mandela said during the fifth Steve Biko Lecture in 2004: ‘One of the challenges of our time, without being moralistic, is to re-instill in the consciousness of our people, that sense of human solidarity, of being in the world for one another and because of and through others.”
That quotation illustrates our own platform of global solidarity.
I thank you honourable members.