Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
The Acting Rector of the University of the Western Cape Dr Ingrid Miller
Dean of the Faculty of Humanities Prof Christopher Tapscott
The Respected Members of the University Council
The University of the Western Cape Staff and Students, and in particular
The staff and students of the Faculty of Humanities
Ladies and gentlemen
This poem “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer” composed by John Keats in 1846 is often quoted to describe the great and powerful feeling that is evoked by a great work of art, and the ability of great art to create an epiphany in its beholder.
If South Africa of the 1980’s and early 1990’s can be described as a canvass for our liberation then I would like today to acknowledge the University of the Western Cape, its leadership, academics, students and staff as the catalyst for the many epiphanic moments that inspired many such as myself to make sense of the world that we were living in, our role and contribution in shaping new possibilities and ultimately taking our place in the larger family of nations. Thanks for being a Chapman for our Homer.
I am therefore proud to be back home once again and perhaps be inspired anew by this space and the insights and prospects that this esteemed institution offers young and not so young people to imagine new possibilities.
Perhaps it is fortuitous that I come here in my capacity as Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation but also on 13 February 2011, being elected Provincial Chairperson of the ANC Western Cape and facing the prospect of a local government elections that has raised many questions about where we are as a nation and where we are in the development trajectory of a cause that was once fuelled and inspired by the relevance that institutions such as UWC occupied and actively engaged.
I raise this because this institution once inspired me to believe that liberation is not an academic question. This institution and the way it engaged the transformation of our country in perhaps the most critical phase of our history made us believe that “freedom in our lifetime” is not an academic question.
Today, our struggle for economic freedom and efforts to grapple with developing new paradigms for service delivery is placed in sharp relief because poverty, deprivation and the lack of dignity are not academic questions. Unfortunately, it is still a sad reality for millions of South Africans and cause for much concern barely a week before we go to our fourth local government elections since the inception of democracy.
As I reflect on today’s topic, “South Africa’s role in the international arena” I can’t help but reflect on another phenomenon that has emerged in this local government election campaign. Aside from the judicial defence of our national liberation songs, this campaign has brought a very interesting phenomenon to the fore that I can at best describe as the “the politics of deflection” and perhaps others would describe it more accurately as the “politics of deception.” I will return to this in relation to the topic at hand but allow me for one moment to share an observation.
In marketing strategy parlance this phenomenon would perhaps best be described as hijacking the category. In this upside down world what started out with the Provincial and City Government in the Western Cape branding itself as the opposition despite being in government in this province and the metro and blaming service delivery failures on the ANC national government.
Then came the branding strategy straight out of Freedom Charter 101 –”Delivery for All”, followed by toyi-toying in true comrade style, followed by claiming the sacred space of Hector Petersen Freedom Square in Soweto and Solomon Mahlangu in Mamelodi and then the ultimate faux pas claiming the Nelson Mandela legacy. My question is ‘what is happening here?’ and I assure you it is not an academic question! Perhaps it is time to revisit Michael Foucault’s Truth and Power in which he argues that, “Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true”.
Perhaps it is also time to look more critically at the discourse of poverty and the poverty of discourse as we are confronted in this second decade of freedom by the following phenomenon:
Widespread and endemic poverty of both urban and rural working class.
The net result of our land reform and alienation has left the vast control of land still in the hands of the mainly white elite.
Beyond the public sector, the lack of transformation of middle, senior and top management in the private sector.
Deep-rooted unemployment and unemployability of mainly young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years.
Consolidation of mainly white privilege reflected in the growth of Afrikaner capital on the JSE from 14% in 1994 to 44% in 2009.
Continued lack of capacity at local government level manifesting in frustration and service delivery failures
Programme director, ladies and gentlemen, I promised I would return to the politics of deflection and the politics of deception in the context of today’s topic. Who would have imagined the wave of change, tumult and uprising that is now sweeping North Africa and much of the middle-east? Much of the underlying causes are rooted in the politics of poverty, deprivation and alienation. For decades the will of the people has been suppressed and its expression deflected by the heavy hand of authority and demogoguery.
The aspirations for economic freedom cherished by all in post colonial societies including South Africa and the larger African continent, is a fuel ready to be ignited. This makes our role and responsibility one that both focuses on the realisation of this aspiration but also being vigilant that this is reality not exploited by the very powers responsible for the problem. This is true at the local and international level.
In exercising “South Africa’s role in the international arena” we must therefore not lose sight of the complexities and often contending interests that come with such a role. In fact our point of departure must be the acknowledgement that such centres of power, influence and contention are real, exist and actively pursue the quest to influence and direct the course of history and global policy making.
We would be naïve to assume that we are exempt and beyond the influence of such concentric circles of influence and power. The challenge is how we remain real and present to the interests that we serve and through whom and behalf of whom we act.
Ladies and gentlemen; At the very outset, it therefore means that there are roles and functions thrust upon South Africa in respect of its existence within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), within our multiple memberships in various forums, and of course as member of the international community at large.
In the case of South Africa, whatever role we pursue as a country could be as a result of being increasingly encouraged by the neighboring countries or other regional powers, including larger powers. It may even be an almost ‘natural’ or obvious role due to our geographic, economic and political size and our position within SACU, SADC or the AU. Critical though, is the fact that we should be careful not interpreting that as automatic authority, capacity or mandate.
Despite this, it should be noted that whatever we consider to be our roles and functions, in most instances these are never defined, let alone, there are no mandates provided. As a rule of thumb, the assumption is always made, that some form of leadership is necessary, especially when none seems to be available during times of chaos, indecision and stagnation.
It is these types of assumptions that most often get us into serious trouble, as we are seen as self appointed. Then when in certain instances we chose not to lead, we are seen as reluctant leaders and chickening-out. Be that as it may, we acknowledge that there are sensitivities that underpin the role of leading, be it at a regional or continental level, in particular because democratic South Africa is seen as a new-comer into global affairs.
The sensitivities that inform our operating environment are always fluid. There are instances where when you chose to lead, you rub countries that have always considered themselves the rightful leaders on the wrong side. Basically you become a victim of the realpolitik of that body.
The international arena is also not devoid of its pitfalls, for a country like South Africa eager to see progress being registered in the areas of peace and security; economic and infrastructural development; training and skilling of Africans; putting an end to poverty and illiteracy; popularising democracy and good governance; and ending wars and internecine battles of no consequence.
As the nature of the intervention, support and resources that are necessary to effect such necessary developmental changes are in the hands of countries of the North, when you start engaging with the industrialized North, you get to be labeled a “lackey of the West”. This unfortunately results in ostracism by some of our fellow Africans.
Despite all these, South Africa is convinced that it has to play some role of, amongst others:
bridging the space between the powerful and the powerless in the international system
supporting the objective of international peace and security
shaping the 21st century to be a century of African political and economic renewal
·ensuring a rules-based system which limits the possibility of unilateral action by major powers.
Programme director, ladies and gentlemen,
Let’s briefly journey through our:
Our Foreign Policy
Our Foreign Policy’s ideological outlook and value system is informed by the spirit of internationalism; the rejection of colonialism and other forms of oppression; the quest for the unity and economic, political and social renewal of Africa; the promotion and defense of the plight of the suffering masses and poor of the world; and opposition to the structural inequality and abuse of power in the global system.
Our international agenda is anchored on the goal of creating a better South Africa, and contributing to a better and safer Africa in a better world. The advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy are pillars on which South Africa’s foreign policy rests.
With your permission programme director and without going into details, I wish to categorically state that the foreign policy of our country seeks to pursue five inter-related priorities.
the consolidation of the African Agenda
strengthening of North-South Cooperation
ensuring our participation in the Global System of Governance
strengthening of political and economic relations with all countries of the world
Principles underpinning our Foreign Policy remain our commitment to:
Africa in world affairs
economic development through regional and international Cooperation
the promotion of human rights
the promotion of democracy
justice and international law in the conduct of relations between nations;
international peace and to internationally-agreed upon mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts.
These principles, as outlined, are a set of commitments, which constitute our broad aspirational tenets, which we hope if consistently adhered to will render our foreign policy predictable and in line with our perception of the kind of country we seek to be, and the kind of world we wish to see evolve. They also serve as a yardstick by which the quality of our practical foreign policy decisions may be measured, and are consequently a very useful policy tool.
What do we consider to be our role within Africa?
We operate in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) sensitive to the elements of “threat and opportunity” as inherent in all bloc formations. When policies are formulated in South Africa, role players should consider the manner in which a particular issue presents an opportunity for South Africa to promote the economic and political interests of the SADC region or the African continent.
Within the SADC context, South Africa is expected to, amongst others; develop programmes to promote technical and scientific education in the Continent to ensure that its inhabitants cope with the demands of the next few decades.
Our view of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is that it provides the clearest description of our national interests on the Continent. Those interests are our commitment to improving economic and political governance as a basis for the enhanced and sustainable development for the rebirth of the African continent. We believe that NEPAD has the potential to eventually end the cycle of poverty and under-development; illiteracy and joblessness, war and insurrections to a Continent desperately in need of political, social and economic revival.
What are we doing on the multilateral front?
Within the multilateral forums like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc, our role entails working actively towards global political and socio-economic stability within the multilateral system. We furthermore see our role as that of promoting development, security, human rights and international law through our participation in the UN System and other forums.
In view of our multiple memberships of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), and the UN Security Council, we will have to utilise these back to back memberships to continental and global security establishments to work towards a peaceful and prosperous Africa in a just world. The opportunities presented by our Security Council memberships in the AU and the UN also come with challenges that require of South Africa to participate in the various decision making processes in relation to complex and urgent political matters. It remains our objective to execute these critical peace and security roles to the best of our abilities.
Our involvement in these various security issues, inform us that the concept of “security” is broader than the traditional military aspect. It therefore means we have to start broadening our view to include regional conflict resolution and peace-keeping, drug trafficking, illegal arms trading, non-proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, migration and refugees.
What are our roles within the south-south formation?
Our involvement in BRICS is an attempt at correcting the past, during which time economic growth points were only located in the industrialised countries of the North, bypassing Africa. Our entry into BRICS should represent and signal that Africa is going to be part of the changing world. Our presence in BRICS would necessitate us to push for Africa’s integration into world trade.
As we enter the BRICS space, our African sister-countries will also be expecting us to craft more vigorous trade and investment programmes that ensure that the voice of the continent is heard in the broader international platforms. We believe BRICS presents South Africa and Africa with an opportunity to work closely together on issues pertaining to peace and security, including future coordination on issues on the table of the UN Security Council.
Our roles within the north-south paradigm
South Africa engages with the industrialised countries of the North, in the context of working together to confront challenges of poverty, under-development, lack of peace and security, and post-conflict reconstruction. We also engage with them to solicit their support and give momentum to our historic call for the reform of United Nations, its Security Council, and other Institutions of Global Governance.
This engagement manifests itself within our interactions with G-8 member-states, the UN, the EU, the OECD, the WTO, the IMF and World Bank, the World Economic Forum (WEF), New Asian African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) and Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen; I want to say that despite the inherent pitfalls that come with embracing a leadership role, South Africa remains determined to do all it can, to help Africa regain its glory. This position is not one merely born of positional interest. Our approach is deep-rooted in the belief that individually we shall only achieve our full potential if we act as a collective be that at the level of region, continent or global.
We are reminded of what President Nelson Mandela said on the occasion of his 91st birthday when he said: “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” We can start by voting right on 18 May 2011.
I thank you!
Issued by: Department of International Relations and Cooperation
12 May 2011