Finweek English Edition - - Column -

WE NO LONGER have a depart­ment of for­eign af­fairs. Fol­low­ing some dis­cus­sion at the ANC’s Polok­wane con­fer­ence in 2007, the Govern­ment’s for­eign re­la­tions are now con­ducted by the Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co-op­er­a­tion, a mouth­ful that must present dif­fi­cul­ties for those over­seas pro­to­col peo­ple mak­ing name plates for meet­ings.

New gov­ern­ments – hav­ing failed to divorce them­selves from the old one, or to show the pub­lic they mean to be dif­fer­ent – of­ten change ti­tles of de­part­ments. We’ve had our fair share of this. The prob­lem that arises with long ti­tles is how to shorten them. Up to last year it was quite easy to say “for­eign af­fairs”. Even the Min­is­ter, in her bud­get speech, didn’t re­fer to “the depart­ment” – which would have suf­ficed – but re­named her depart­ment with the in­el­e­gant acro­nym DIRCO!

I thought some jour­nal­ist or other might have re­ferred to that, fol­low­ing the Min­is­ter’s bud­get vote last month. Not at all.

In­stead of cel­e­brat­ing what the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion had achieved in for­eign af­fairs, the Min­is­ter twice made what seemed at first to be a some­what ob­scure ref­er­ence to “… ex­pe­ri­ences whose lessons we can­not ig­nore”. How­ever, she sub­se­quently did re­fer to many achieve­ments in our coun­try on the for­eign pol­icy front. One newsworthy state­ment by the Min­is­ter concerned the sup­port we have ob­tained from the African Union for SA’s at­tempt later this year for a non­per­ma­nent seat on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil for the three-year pe­riod from 2011 on­wards.

I’d de­scribe the con­tent of the Min­is­ter’s speech as a work in progress, since a White Paper on for­eign pol­icy is promised in the fu­ture, af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with civil so­ci­ety.

But what are the fac­tors or poli­cies that cur­rently drive our for­eign pol­icy? Nel­son Man­dela, in one of his first speeches, re­ferred to that es­timable phi­los­o­phy that the pur­suit and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights in­ter­na­tion­ally would form a cen­tral fo­cus of SA’s for­eign pol­icy, re­flect­ing our at­tach­ment to the in­ter­nal val­ues of the Bill of Rights. But he was let down by the mur­der­ous poli­cies of the Nige­rian dic­ta­tor Abacha when the rest of the Com­mon­wealth put their need for oil be­fore the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Our fin­gers were badly burnt and the fu­ture di­rec­tion of our pol­icy paid more at­ten­tion to the need to work col­lec­tively with Africa and other coun­tries.

But no other coun­try en­joyed SA’s es­teem in the eyes of the world. Ma­jor in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences deal­ing with the en­vi­ron­ment, racial prej­u­dice, HIV/Aids, cou­pled with the meet­ings of the non-aligned move­ment and the Com­mon­wealth – not to men­tion in­ter­na­tional con­tests in cricket, soc­cer and rugby – kept the spot­light on SA. For a small coun­try, the vi­sion ar­tic­u­lated by Thabo Mbeki en­abled SA to play a lead­ing role in me­di­a­tion in var­i­ous parts of Africa.

Now, the Min­is­ter’s vi­sion (as re­flected in her bud­get speech) com­prised state­ments that we shall build on the foun­da­tion of our for­eign pol­icy and con­sti­tu­tional val­ues, as we should con­tinue to bring into full view our na­tional in­ter­est in our African com­mu­ni­ties and our role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the world. Nei­ther the Min­is­ter nor Deputy Min­is­ter Van der Merwe men­tioned the words “hu­man rights” in their speeches.

Lord Palmer­ston, that old but lit­er­ate re­ac­tionary, once said when he was for­eign sec­re­tary that the United King­dom didn’t have per­ma­nent al­lies but that it did have per­ma­nent in­ter­ests.

It would be both grace­ful and ed­u­ca­tional if our Min­is­ter were to un­pack Palmer­ston’s words and tell us (i) whether na­tional in­ter­est in its crud­est form is the sole de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in our for­eign pol­icy, or (ii), that Palmer­ston is cyn­i­cal as only pow­er­ful coun­tries can be­have like that, and (iii), that SA will be dif­fer­ent, as (iv) we will live up to the ti­tle of her depart­ment, which com­bines in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions with co-op­er­a­tion.

Is there a mid­dle way be­tween Palmer­ston and Madiba? I shall look for­ward to the White Paper.

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