New panel to re­boot SA’s African Re­nais­sance sta­tus

Mail & Guardian - - News - Di­neo Bendile

South Africa’s for­eign pol­icy agenda is due for a mas­sive over­haul, with a pos­si­ble return to the era of panAfrican pol­i­tics ex­em­pli­fied by for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The de­part­ment of international re­la­tions is at­tempt­ing to re­claim South Africa’s po­si­tion as a ma­jor influence on the con­ti­nent by ap­point­ing a re­view panel to steer a new direc­tion for the coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy.

Two se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials con­firmed to the Mail & Guardian this week that the international re­la­tions min­is­ter, Lindiwe Sisulu, has ap­pointed the panel, com­pris­ing ex­perts in for­eign pol­icy and eco­nom­ics. It has been set up to move South Africa’s for­eign af­fairs approach from a fo­cus on con­ti­nen­tal peace and se­cu­rity towards eco­nomic diplomacy.

The panel mem­bers in­clude ANC head of eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion Enoch Godong­wana, for­mer deputy for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Aziz Pa­had, for­mer South African am­bas­sador to Ger­many Lindiwe Mabuza, for­mer international re­la­tions di­rec­tor gen­eral Ayanda Nt­saluba and econ­o­mist Xhanti Payi.

The two gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, who asked to re­main anony­mous, also con­firmed that for­mer deputy chief jus­tice Dik­gang Moseneke has been ap­pointed as spe­cial en­voy to South Su­dan and Le­sotho.

The panel is ex­pected to put to­gether a di­ag­nos­tic re­port on South Africa’s for­eign af­fairs approach since 1994 and ad­vise on a way for­ward.

Gov­ern­ment in­sid­ers say the re­view was spurred by Sisulu’s be­lief that the coun­try’s global and con­ti­nen­tal stand­ing had “re­gressed”.

“Es­sen­tially, with­out ver­bal­is­ing it, she reck­ons un­der [for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob] Zuma we’ve re­gressed,” one se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial told the M&G.

“So, in essence, we’ve just been get­ting by — but in terms of influence and leadership roles, we no longer oc­cupy that space. So this is a way to re­cover lost ground and re­cover that po­si­tion.”

Although South Africa is not in­tend­ing to aban­don its peace and se­cu­rity mis­sion on the con­ti­nent, Sisulu has made it clear she wants the econ­omy to be the main fo­cus.

“It’s true that they [panel mem­bers] are go­ing to be fo­cus­ing on the econ­omy because the min­is­ter’s un­der­stand­ing is that the pres­i­dent is fo­cus­ing on that as a for­mer busi­ness­man. So she wants to fall in line with what she be­lieves are his pri­or­i­ties.”

South Africa also plans to have in­creased peace and se­cu­rity in­volve­ment in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) and play an ac­tive role in ensuring that free, fair and peace­ful elec­tions are held in the coun­try fol­low­ing post­pone­ments dat­ing back to 2016.

“Her [Sisulu’s] view is that South Africa has to be seen to be tak­ing a leadership role, even as far as con­demn­ing the de­lay of hand­ing over power by hav­ing an elec­tion for [DRC Pres­i­dent Joseph] Ka­bila. Or put him un­der pres­sure to en­sure that elec­tions take place … even if it means we have to fund those elec­tions,” said the of­fi­cial.

The pol­icy re­view is seen as an at­tempt to mir­ror as­pects of South Africa’s for­eign af­fairs approach un­der Mbeki’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and his African Re­nais­sance approach to de­vel­op­ment.

The return to this model is ev­i­dent in plans to re­build ties with Nige­ria as well as the Caribbean countries — ties that were weak­ened un­der the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The gov­ern­ment be­lieves good re­la­tions be­tween Nige­ria and South Africa, the con­ti­nent’s two largest economies, are es­sen­tial for driv­ing eco­nomic pro­grammes in Africa.

“Un­der Mbeki, he and [for­mer Nige­rian pres­i­dent Oluse­gun] Obasanjo were lead­ing the con­ti­nent. Once the two of them agree on a par­tic­u­lar pro­gramme, it starts mov­ing because they then influence their re­gions to fall in line,” said the sec­ond se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

Lead­ers in Caribbean countries are un­der­stood to have ap­proached Sisulu, rais­ing con­cerns about what have be­come strained re­la­tions with South Africa. His­tor­i­cally, Caribbean countries have ben­e­fited from South Africa’s African Re­nais­sance and International Co-op­er­a­tion Fund, which chan­nels as­sis­tance to African countries, in­clud­ing Africans in the global di­as­pora.

A pos­i­tive as­pect of Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion that will be re­tained is South Africa’s in­creased influence and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity, which im­proved un­der his leadership and for­mer for­eign min­is­ter Maite Nkoana-Masha­bane’s ten­ure.

But fears have been raised by min­is­ters sym­pa­thetic to Zuma that Sisulu’s new approach might in­volve a shift away from the Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa (Brics) for­ma­tion. Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was char­ac­terised by strong ties with Brics mem­ber states, giv­ing rise to a nu­clear deal with Rus­sia and even plans for a Brics rat­ings agency.

Ramaphosa’s approach, how­ever, has been dif­fer­ent. He has al­ready started reach­ing out to the West, se­cur­ing more than R800-mil­lion in fund­ing from the United King­dom last month.

“The un­der­stand­ing is that he [Ramaphosa] is warm­ing up to the West, al­most re­cal­i­brat­ing our re­la­tions to fo­cus on the West because those are his friends, at the ex­pense of Brics,” the se­nior of­fi­cial said.

“But there is no de­fo­cus on the at­ten­tion Zuma put on Brics. It’s al­most like Zuma had put all his eggs in that [Brics] bas­ket. Ramaphosa is not go­ing to take that route, where ev­ery­thing is Brics, at the ex­pense of big countries with big economies. There will be a bal­ance.”

Se­cur­ing South Africa a non­per­ma­nent seat on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil will also be among Sisulu’s pri­or­i­ties. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials believe it is a fore­gone con­clu­sion that South Africa will take its seat on the coun­cil, a step they say will fur­ther en­trench the coun­try’s po­si­tion as a global player. —

Re­newal: International Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu wants to re­vive South Africa’s influence in Africa. Photo: Ja­co­l­ine Schoonees

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