Address by LN Sisulu, MP, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, at the occasion of the Debate on the President's State of the Nation Address

13 February 2019, Cape Town

Madam Speaker,
President of the Republic, His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa,
Honourable Members:

Honourable Members have had very robust debates, which were very valuable in parts. From where I stand it is important for us to distinguish between criticism that is constructive and can make us better people and that which is just destructive, no matter how attractive. Africa does not see us as separate bits of a warring people but as one country bound by a historic honour to lead the way in that which identifies us as we approach the elections, which is our own intolerance of abuse of human rights and bound by a common purpose to improve the lives of our people. Of course that doesn't mean that we will always agree, but it does mean we are tied by a common destiny. Africa sees hope in us, it associates us with all that they would want to associate with.

Our voice is an important one in the world and our significance grows exponentially. In short, if we were constructive in our criticism we will grow, but if we criticise to distort we do ourselves a disservice. We, all of us have a national responsibility to act in the national interest.

Wherever you go there is no doubt that in the developing world we are increasingly regaining our stature. Our reputation and influence are humbling. The African continent sees in us a symbol of how struggle against injustice can create a different world, how the most negative situation can inspire hope and change the world's discourse. Today we look back on our interventions on the continent and are very proud of the role we have played and are still required to play.

We return from the African Union Summit and are overawed by the continued belief in us. Almost overnight we are the 1st Vice-Chairperson of the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union for 2019 and elected Chairperson of the African Union for 2010 and the APRM for the same year. We were humbled by this confidence in us.

In his state of the Nation address, the President outlined the actions that this government will take to deal with South Africa's social and economic challenges. In the debate yesterday Honourable Ministers indicated the progress that this government has made over the last 25 years to improve the social and economic conditions that the majority of South Africans live under. My colleagues discussed the challenges and proposed strategies to deal with these.

This year is 25 years since South Africa emerged from the dark shadows of international isolation. Today, South Africa is a proud member of the community of nations; our country is respected across the globe for the work that we have and continue to do in the United Nations, the UNSC, African Union, BRICS, G20, SADC and other multilateral fora. All these are possible because of the ANC government that has rescued this country from the debilitating albatrosses of sanctions, sports and cultural isolations and the undesirable position of being a pariah state. Because the apartheid state was correctly described by the United Nations as implementing a 'crime against humanity', it was not possible for the representatives of that rogue state to operate openly and freely in the world. The titanic struggles of our people, assisted by the principled citizens of the world, ensured that we triumphed and set on the path to rehabilitate the country among the global community of nations.

The sentiments of the Freedom Charter were solemnly expressed by the leadership of all political parties through our Constitution when it declared, among other things that we must: "Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations…" We managed to change and remodel our foreign relations to be in line with the Freedom Charter, indeed adhere to our Constitution and fulfil the wishes of Nelson Mandela and many heroes and heroines who sacrificed so that South Africa could be free and join the international community. Through our experience of ending disputes by negotiations and not war we have set a gold standard and therefore much is expected of us.

We have now established our footing and we are proud that through the leadership of the ANC, South Africa has managed to make serious positive impact on the international arena. Among others, we achieved the following:

  • South Africa has a global footprint, in all the regions of the world, demonstrating the acceptance of the country in the community of nations.
  • South Africa has played an important role in the promotion of peace, stability and security, especially on the African continent. We strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiations.
  • We contributed to the transformation of the OAU into the AU and were at the forefront of the formulation and implementation of the African development programme, NEPAD, as part of the ongoing efforts to bring about the African Renaissance.
  • We have played a central role in the sensitive matter of nuclear disarmament, internationally, drawing on our own lessons here at home. In fact the fan fare that the USA is making in its role in the case of North and South Korea pales in significance to the role that South Africa has played in this area.
  • We have played an important role in the United Nations, especially in the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals and its successor, the Sustainable Development Goals. And they are central to our own Agenda.
  • South Africa has played a critical role in the fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerances, including the hosting and giving leadership in the UN Conference on these matters. We have not held back when we were confronted with what we regarded as gross abuse of human rights. At this point we would like to apologise to the country for the glitch that happened on the matter of Myanmar. I will not happen again.
  • Our country is one of the leading nations on matters of climate change, through our role in the UN and other forums. Recently the President has accepted the nomination to co-chair the Global Commission on Adaptation.
  • We continue to be a leading voice against the oppression of women and the need for gender equality. Our voice in a recent conference of Women Foreign Ministers was a passionate call to ensure that women's equality is mandatory in all our work. A recent report of the United Nations states that "Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional female entrepreneurial activity rate in the world, with nearly a third of businesses having some female ownership". We are making great strides Honourable Zulu.
  • Through Honourable Dlamini-Zuma South Africa was central in the formulation of the African Agenda 2063.
  • As part of the Non-Aligned Movement, G-77 plus China, IBSA and BRICS-Group of Nations, South Africa is helping to recast the global governance system, away from the dominance of the powerful countries of the North, towards an inclusive international order whose focus is on the empowerment of poor, underdeveloped and developing countries. During the recent AU Summit the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that: "In the search for durable solutions to forced displacement, the world - and, indeed, I personally - have drawn constant inspiration from African leadership, African vision and African compassion. Over many years, it has become clear to me: Africa's generosity ... is unmatched".
  • Recently, we were privileged to co-host with the United Nations the Mandela Peace Summit that focused on global peace and security, where more than 100 Heads of State pledged to follow the principled leadership of Mandela. We as a country basked in the glory of what we mean to the world.

All these and many others are the milestones that this government of the ANC is proud to have achieved and upon which we must build and ensure that South Africa continues to be at the pinnacle of addressing and helping to resolve conflicts and wars, especially on the African continent. We will infuse our own ideological interpretation of the world as opposed to being consumers of other's views.

We live in an era of profound global political changes and transitions that have serious implications for South Africa and Africa. These transitions have as their root the retreat into neo-isolationism; the reasserting of crude, bare-knuckled power politics; and the rise of right-wing populist movements and parties. This phenomenon is acutely expressed in different parts of the world. We are also seeing the rise of right-leaning governments influenced by a rejection of immigrants and poor global economic performance.

We have a huge responsibility, all of us to stamp the authority of respect for multilateralism and human rights. We may be geographically and economically a medium sized country, but our combined morality gives the world hope.

Undoubtedly, this highly dynamic and challenging global environment is most times, unpredictable. However, a clear trend has emerged with the shift in the global 'balance of forces' defined by the global power struggle between forces of multi-polarity and those of uni-polarity. We have to be ready at all times to ensure that the global forces fighting for a multi-polar world become dominant and are not weakened by those that pursue the narrow uni-polar politics.

These global dynamics offer us an opportunity to strengthen multilateral systems of governance, capacitating the regional, continental and global multilateral bodies and ensuring that these international fora have the necessary wherewithal to function optimally and become, in reality, the true catalysts for a transformed, better Africa and the world.

South Africa has assumed its seat in the United Nations Security Council. This happens in an age of frenetic global contests on a number of fronts, which have profound impact on the African continent and on our country. The manner in which we conduct our work, in the UNSC and other multilateral fora is critical for South Africa to fulfil the injunctions of the Freedom Charter and to live up to our reputation.

Our work at the United Nations Security Council is very important if South Africa, Africa and other developing countries are to reverse the dangerous trends towards unilateralism and protectionism that are being spearheaded by some countries. This we are doing, because we are firmly committed to a strong multilateral system. South Africa believes and would always promote and protect a rules-based international order.

Because most of the issues at the UNSC are those from the African continent, we will not shirk our responsibilities and allow others to dictate terms and conditions on how to resolve the many African challenges of peace and security. This includes doing whatever we can to help defeat terrorism in Africa, the Middle East and every part of the world. However, our most immediate responsibility at the UNSC is the reform of the UNSC itself. Africa believes that by the sheer nature of the work of the UNSC Africa deserves two permanent seats and South Africa is available to represent the continent.

South Africa will use its seat on the UNSC as well as its chairship of the AU next year, BRICS and other multilateral forums to continue working for strong, timeous interventions to decisively deal with the problems of the world.

Africa remains at the centre of South Africa's Foreign Policy. Our bilateral relations with the Continent are historical and fraternal, with some countries, which date back to the Continent's support for our national liberation struggle in South Africa against apartheid and colonialism. It would be important to underscore that South Africa's foreign policy objectives on the Continent are implemented within a highly dynamic geopolitical environment, which at times is unpredictable.

As we speak democracy is germinating in Africa. Honourable Members it is important to note that in 2019, along with South Africa, sixteen countries on the Continent are set to be holding general elections. On behalf of the Government and People of the Republic of South Africa, we would like to take this opportunity to wish these countries well ahead of the elections, and we are optimistic that these elections will be conducted peacefully, in accordance with these countries' respective Constitutional frameworks.

In the short time that we have been in government, we came in as chairperson of SADC and are very proud of our achievements during our Chairship.

We are proud of the support we gave to the DRC to enable them to declare elections in 2018. The former President and government of the DRC complied with the requirements of SADC. We sent a strong observer mission to the DRC to monitor the elections. Their report was very clear that it was a fairly peaceful election. Despite all the challenges there is a newly elected government in place in the DRC. We wish to reiterate our message of support and congratulations to the people of the DRC, for peacefully conducting the landmark and historical Presidential and Legislative elections on 30 December 2018. South Africa stands ready to offer her support to the newly elected President of the DRC, H.E. Mr Felix Tshisekedi, who was inaugurated on 24 January 2019, and welcomes President Tshisekedi's overtures of forming an inclusive government in the DRC.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, at the request of the DRC Government, has appointed former President Thabo Mbeki as his Special Envoy to the DRC, to assist the country during this transition period.

It will be recalled, that President Ramaphosa, in his capacity as the SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, appointed a SADC Facilitation Team led by the now retired and former Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, Judge Dikgang Moseneke, to assist the Facilitator and work with all stakeholders in Lesotho to ensure the implementation of the SADC recommended reform process in the Mountain Kingdom. The Facilitation Team continues to assist all stakeholders in Lesotho in the reform process.

South Africa remains committed to its principled position, in support of the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to their self-determination and independence, a position based on the resolutions and decisions expressed by SADC, the AU and the United Nations. In demonstrating our ongoing commitment to the struggle of the Saharawi people, South Africa and Namibia will co-host the SADC Solidarity Conference on Western Sahara in South Africa from 25-26 March 2019.

We want to emphasise that the solution to the question of Western Sahara should be based on the principle of self-determination and decolonisation, through the holding of a referendum that will lead to its independence. We want to emphasise our commitment to the people of Palestine who continue to suffer under severe repression and denial of basic human rights and we re-iterate our support for a two-state solution.

Zimbabwe has been going through a challenging socio-economic situation, which has inadvertently had an impact on South Africa. We have engaged the Government of Zimbabwe and have a clearer idea of the problem. As such, South Africa stands ready assist the country in addressing these challenges. We would like to express our strong support for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, in order to allow for economic development in the country.

One of the most remarkable things that happened in our time is in the area of economic diplomacy. The African Continent continues with its upward economic growth trajectory, with a projected growth rate of 4% in 2019, and 4.1% in 2020 respectively. The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in March 2018 will create the world's largest single market of over 1.2 billion consumers, stimulate intra-Africa trade and investment, and grow GDP to US$3.4 trillion. South Africa acceded to the Treaty at the recent AU Summit and look forward to the industrial and infrastructural investments that will follow.

Slowly Africa is coming into its own. Within the space of less than a year we have seen the end of hostilities between :

  • Eritrea and Ethiopia
  • South Sudan and Eritrea

These are the underpinnings and give us hope that Thabo Mbeki's dream of an African Renaissance will find the root in our time.

We are solving our problems, we are crafting our future and we are determined that in our lifetime Africa will be a continent to reckon with. Now I understand what former President Mbeki's idea of an African Renaissance was about. It is possible, it is within our grasp.

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves. We are not doing too badly. We welcome your suggestions, when they are not destructive and these help us sharpen our tools. There is not a single country that is not facing its own problems. We are solving our problems and many countries look at us with envy out there. We are doing well.

The President indicated further improvements we have notched up. It does not help if we ignore that because these are our successes as a country. Here are a few successes that despite everything else we have heard you say, you have chosen to forget. I am proud that we are looked on as a success.

Mr President, your strong stewardship will be an asset to the African Union.

I thank you.