Mbeki’s African dream comes full cir­cle

Mail & Guardian - - News - Go­van Whit­tles & Di­neo Bendile

For­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki could soon be back to fin­ish what he started if the in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions depart­ment has its way and brings him on board to spear­head the re­vival of his African Re­nais­sance project.

“His knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence is un­equalled in African pol­i­tics,” the in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and co-op­er­a­tion min­is­ter, Lindiwe Sisulu, said this week. “And we would like him to be a kind of el­der states­man that we can go to when we want to deal with a tricky is­sue and want to get views that are dif­fer­ent from ours or want to get con­fir­ma­tion of our own views. I don’t think we are go­ing to al­low him to not agree.”

Last week the Mail & Guardian re­ported that the depart­ment had ap­pointed a review panel to eval­u­ate the coun­try’s foreign pol­icy and ad­vise on ways to strengthen South Africa’s eco­nomic diplo­macy with other African states. The panel will also sug­gest ways of re-es­tab­lish­ing ties with coun­tries such as Nige­ria and the Caribbean states, ties that were strong dur­ing Mbeki’s era.

Sisulu said his role would be above that of the review panel, although the specifics of his in­volve­ment had not yet been fi­nalised by her and Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. She said the gov­ern­ment was also plan­ning to bring for­mer pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe on board.

“In­stinc­tively, we would like the pres­i­dent [Mbeki] to come back to the fold, [and] we would like pres­i­dent Kgalema [Mot­lanthe] to come back. Pres­i­dent [Ja­cob] Zuma is con­tin­u­ing to play a prominent role within the ANC and has made him­self avail­able when­ever,” Sisulu said.

Mbeki’s African Re­nais­sance was a call for African solutions to African prob­lems and aimed to en­sure the po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic re­gen­er­a­tion of the con­ti­nent, with a spe­cific fo­cus on free­ing it from its in­ter­na­tional debt bur­den. It was also a quest for a new world or­der by chal­leng­ing the un­fair bal­ance caused by glob­al­i­sa­tion and fi­nan­cial mar­kets.

Sisulu sur­prised the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity this week af­ter a meet­ing with Ramaphosa, at which they de­cided to re­call the South Africa’s am­bas­sador to Is­rael, Sisa Ngom­bane, in re­sponse to the mas­sacre of about 60 peo­ple dur­ing protests on Mon­day in Gaza.

The min­is­ter also said she would implement the ANC’s elec­tive con­fer­ence’s de­ci­sion to down­grade the em­bassy in Is­rael to a li­ai­son of­fice.

The move, which was ap­plauded in the ANC, was deemed out­ra­geous by lo­cal Jewish rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Sisulu met Ngom­bane and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies on Wed­nes­day in a bid to al­lay their con­cerns.

“We have been given an in­struc­tion by the ANC’s na­tional con­fer­ence to down­grade [our diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion] but we’re not there yet. We have not even in­ter­ro­gated the res­o­lu­tion [from the con­fer­ence] yet. What we have done is to re­call the am­bas­sador in re­sponse to the vi­o­lence in Gaza,” Sisulu told the M&G.

Re­fer­ring to the con­ti­nent, she said South Africa would not with­draw its sup­port for the pres­i­dent of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Ka­bila but her depart­ment would closely mon­i­tor the runup to the elec­tions sched­uled for De­cem­ber.

Ka­bila is one of Zuma’s key al­lies in cen­tral Africa and has been un­der pres­sure to agree to give up power af­ter the elec­tions be­cause of fears that he will change the coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tion to ex­tend the pres­i­den­tial term limit.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties in the DRC have called on the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity to en­sure this does not hap­pen.

“He [Ka­bila] was asked to come and an­swer some of the ques­tions [at the African Union dou­ble troika in An­gola]. He was in the hot seat and we went through his plans to go to elec­tions in De­cem­ber,” Sisulu said.

“He pre­sented his road map and we ac­cepted that. We called in the elec­toral com­mis­sion to ex­plain to us what they are do­ing in re­la­tion to en­sur­ing that there is a se­cure and free and fair elec­tion.”

In Bu­rundi, a ref­er­en­dum on whether pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza’s term could be ex­tended until 2034 was wor­ri­some, Sisulu said.

“We are want­ing to go back to Bu­rundi to see how we can get them back to that sys­tem that we left there. We have in­vested a lot of en­ergy, time and re­sources in putting Bu­rundi on a demo­cratic foot­ing and it does con­cern us when we find out the coun­try might have veered from where we left off,” she said.

Elders: Lindiwe Sisulu wants for­mer pres­i­dents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Mot­lanthe to ad­vise on foreign pol­icy. Photo: David Har­ri­son

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