SA’s engagements with the world are informed by our n…
Our framework is broad in character and content in that we believe there are a variety of factors that shape what we have defined as our national interest. The document sets out these elements in what we hope will provide a clear articulation of our aspirations.
In clear terms, we define our national interest as encompassing national sovereignty and constitutional order, the security of our citizens, the welfare of our citizens, economic prosperity, and a better Africa and a better world. The document presents our fuller description of these in detail.
It took several years to reach agreement on a framework document of national interest, perhaps due to the difficulties that Yolanda Spies (2019) points to when deliberating on the “not-so-pure concept of diplomacy”. In a more recent book, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos suggests that building on the 2015 Foreign Policy White Paper may be a more sensible path than drafting a framework document. Nevertheless, we agreed that the changing global context which poses increasingly complex challenges for our profession requires us to pay particular attention to the definition of our national interest. It also provides a useful model for our interlocutors to perhaps understand the decisions and choices we make.
Challenges for Africa
The energy that Dirco colleagues and others have brought to this task probably lies in our awareness that the world is changing rapidly in difficult and complex ways and that we need to confirm our tools as combat worthy or obtain new tools more sharp and more suited to the emerging international terrain. reports. I use the term emergent advisedly because I don’t believe any of us can be sure what’s next. The unprecedented action of the United States House of Representatives, which passed a bill intended to punish the countries of Africa which did not follow the line of conduct of the Russian-Ukrainian war, is an example surprising “and then”. More astonishing than this action is the loud silence of African political intellectuals who surely hold freedom of choice and sovereign status in high esteem. How do developing countries exercise their sovereign rights as UN member states when faced with such reactions?
The framework document gives our perspective on the challenges facing Africa today. While acknowledging the progress made by the continent over the past two decades, the ever-present problem of insecurity, political conflict and poor progress on key development priorities is recognised. We confirm South Africa’s belief that its national interest is closely linked to the goal of progress in Africa. Added to this is South Africa’s support for the implementation of Africa’s Agenda 2063. We also advocate for stronger development ties with a wider range of African countries and redoubled efforts to advance regional and economic integration in SADC. The framework document goes beyond defining our national interest by proposing actions that we should focus on in our international work to give effect to our interest.
History of wrestling
Our framework identifies the foundations of our national interest as being closely associated with our history of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle. We are part of a nation that has fought a mighty battle for freedom in the throes of oppression and our experience has resulted in forging strong bonds with all who fight for freedom. Our ideals of Pan-Africanism, progressive international solidarity and Ubuntu underpin our national interest.
The nature and forms of this struggle have also helped shape our national interest. The document affirms a strong commitment to solidarity with those still fighting for freedom. The significant contribution of a well-coordinated international anti-apartheid movement has influenced the inclusion of global bonds of progressive solidarity as a strong element of our goal to build a better world that promotes the full enjoyment of human dignity, justice and freedom for all.
Global Decline of Progressive Ideals
Our analysis of the global environment and the significant ideological shifts in different regions have made this a strategic time to reflect and define our framework. As we continue to espouse progressive ideals, we point to the decline of progressive ideals and the diminishing opportunities for shared solidarity, especially vis-à-vis the most powerful countries. We try to show that the global community often claims to share common ideals and goals. This was evident as we battled Covid-19, isolated from the benefits of innovation in our powerful partner nations. Furthermore, the framework suggests that we need to be shrewd in trade negotiations and not accept promises of fair trade rules made by the most powerful economies that sometimes break those rules directly or surreptitiously. We see it in the EU rules on our citrus products. We will pursue our interest by appealing to international organizations whose mission is to ensure fairness in all exchanges.
The recent excellent leadership of India and South Africa on the travel waiver proposal has been an important lesson for the South in gaining global support for developing the manufacturing capacity of vaccines in Africa and other developing regions. This experience completes our national interest commitment to solidarity and South-South cooperation.
The ongoing struggle to reform the United Nations negotiations is further evidence of the resistance to change that powerful countries are showing on the international scene.
Our paper emphasizes the possibilities of progressive international solidarity while acknowledging that strenuous efforts have been made to divide developing countries and that the magic of Bandung has been shredded by national interests that focus on gaining sovereign. So even as we promote South-South relations, we are mindful of the reality that interests may not always coalesce.
We affirm that South Africa’s liberation movements have artfully built a strong wall of global support against apartheid through direct persuasion, links with active civil society bodies in a wide range of sectors and articulation clear of the desired goals of a free South Africa. As staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause for freedom, we urged our friends in Palestine to do more to build similar bonds of global activism and assure them of our active support.
In very clear terms, our document on the national interest underlines that the values, principles and socio-political and socio-economic ambitions of our Constitution are the essential foundation of our national interest.
The Constitution draws on the history and experience of the struggle for freedom, in particular it recognizes the progressive policy proposals of the ANC such as the African Claims Document, the Freedom Charter and other descriptions of the post-apartheid nation. Its very preamble sets out the guiding principles of post-apartheid South Africa. While we are careful not to be naïve in our belief in our ability to influence others, we believe that these instruments are an important part of nation building that we could share with nations transitioning to democracy. South Africa’s democratic transformation, though imperfect, provides a very important platform for entrenching good governance, democracy and development.
Pan-African thinking and consciousness are also recognized and integrated, in particular South Africa’s commitment to Africa’s progress and development. This perspective has begun to inform our bilateral interaction with various countries on the continent who we see as strategic partners in the goal of creating a better Africa and we hope to be much more strategic and goal-oriented in our engagements.
South Africa recognizes that the pursuit of our national interest takes place in an increasingly complex global context in which challenges, alliances, interests and commitments exist on shifting sands.
Even the obvious strong imperative to respond to climate change finds expression in this complexity. The debates on this subject and the lack of action on conference agreements and attempts at arm-twisting point to the dilemma that developing countries must overcome. We focus on these increasingly important emerging global tasks in our paper.
In the final analysis, our national interests are the achievement of a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world. We will pursue them in our foreign policy and practice focusing primarily on our three major national challenges for South Africa: unemployment, poverty and inequality. We will strive to achieve success while simultaneously promoting the values and principles to which I have referred. We confirm that as the Government of South Africa, our primary responsibility is to South Africa. We state in the policy that we have democratic institutions, laws and practices in South Africa that create the basis for our country to be a force for good in Africa and other parts of the world. We also have a robust civil society that has the organizational capacity to play a progressive role in countries that are in the very early stages of transition. These institutions include academic institutions, research organizations and others who could help promote an active progressive agenda in various contexts. We hope that our framework will persuade a wide range of actors to work with us to advance change, progress and development in South Africa, Africa and the world.
The document of national interest is accessible on www.dirco.gov.za DM