Foreign policy priorities in South Africa key to shaping economic growth

​The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of the multilateral system’s ability to overcome global challenges through collective action. South Africa should play a leading role in keeping the balance between the two extremes or titanic battle between the two superpowers. In fact, the leaders of the United States and China should be given “a gentle whisper”, counselling them against the harmful effects of (their) tensions on Africa and other parts of the globe.

This was the view of Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Dr Naledi Pandor, during a virtual summit that was hosted by the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) on Saturday, 30 May 2020. Other speakers were Dr Sithembile Mbete, Senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria, and Ms Sophie Mokoena, Foreign Editor for the SABC.

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UJ, opened the proceedings by highlighting the importance of foreign policy and international relations for any nation and the various changes it may be undergoing because of COVID-19.

Dr Pandor outlined the international promises that South Africa made at the establishment of the democratic order in 1994 and said the country continues to play an active role in the promotion of democracy and human rights in the world. Currently, South Africa is the 17th biggest contributor of peacekeeping forces in the world. Minister Pandor noted that South Africa’s 2020 incumbency as the Chair of the African Union (AU) comes with attendant responsibilities. She said because of this role, the South Sudanese government was reconfigured to include leaders of the opposition and thus lessen the salience of the divisions that have destabilised the country since 2013. She added that the issue of gender parity featured strongly in South Africa’s foreign policy activity and peacekeeping missions.

She said the enduring problem of economic and political instability undermines the efforts to quell human smuggling and perilous immigration that take place in Libya. “The coronavirus has underscored the importance of global synergy in tackling common challenges,” she added.

Dr Mbete highlighted three important responsibilities that South Africa has. The first, which is in tandem with one of the minister’s views, is the inclusion of women in the search for peace and security under the framework of silencing the guns. She noted that COVID-19 has underlined the indispensability of women in Africa because most of the essential work that had to continue amid COVID-19-imposed lockdowns is being done by women. The second responsibility that South Africa has emanates from its membership as a non-permanent participant in the UN Security Council.

“It cannot be said that the two foremost economies in the world, the United States and the People’s Republic of China, are engaged in polarising hostility and interminable trade disagreements that have global implications,” she said, adding that their conduct in the Security Council demonstrates the conflict between the West and the East.

The third responsibility, Dr Mbete said, is youth empowerment. She said 60 percent of Africans today are below the age of 25 years and Africa’s median age is 19.7 years. “Africa is thus a repository of the future, but the prosperity of that future depends on harnessing the talent of the continent’s youth. Alienating the youth from Africa’s development is counterproductive because the alienated youth are susceptible to conscription into extremist movements.”

Echoing Dr Pandor’s views, she said South Africa’s contribution to peacekeeping in Africa is imperative because infrastructure development and economic progress can only take place and be sustained in conditions of peace and stability.

Ms Sophie Mokoena emphasised the need to reform the Security Council in accordance with the challenges of peace and security that currently confront the world. She called for the “silencing of poverty” and said that once this has been done then stability and silencing of guns could come “automatically.”

Dr David Monyae, the Director of CACS, concluded by thanking the presenters, SABC and the library staff at UJ. He added that CACS and IFA should establish channels of collaboration with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. He also emphasised on Africa taking the leading role in telling its own narratives.

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