14 October 2011
South Africa’s foreign policy is not dictated by other countries or lobby groups, but is guided by four strategic pillars and informed by the country’s national interest, says President Jacob Zuma.
“We look at what is of benefit to the South African people, and what will advance our domestic priorities at that given time,” Zuma said during a lecture on South Africa’s foreign policy at the University of Pretoria on Thursday.
South Africa has come under fire recently over the delay in the visa application of the Dalai Lama, as well as its abstention from a recent UN Security Council vote on the situation in Syria.
Four foreign policy pillars
Zuma said South Africa’s policy was guided by the four pillars of the African agenda, South-South co-operation and North-South dialogue, multilateral and economic diplomacy, and bilateral relations with individual countries.
At the same time, the country was careful not to lose sight of its domestic priorities and national interests, which always informed its international engagements.
Zuma said South Africa’s foreign policy in key regions of the world including Africa, Asia and Europe was built on the grounds of an “open society, in which government is based on the will of the people”.
He added that South Africa was committed to “transformation of the global system of governance from a power-based to a rules-based system in a just and equitable global order”.
He emphasised that multilateralism – addressing international issues through international organisations like the UN, rather than through individual nations – was a key foreign policy platform for South Africa.
UN Security Council vote on Syria
Asked why South Africa had abstained from the UN Security Council vote on the situation in Syria, Zuma said Pretoria was being cautious because recent Security Council resolutions had been abused, their implementation being taken far beyond the mandate of what was intended.
The draft resolution in the Security Council had strongly condemned Syrian authorities for their violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters this year and called for an immediate end to human rights abuses.
Zuma said South Africa was concerned that this resolution was part of a hidden agenda to institute regime change. He was referring to the Security Council’s earlier Libya resolution, which he said was abused because military action was chosen instead of peaceful resolutions to the conflict in the country.
“The African Union was not given space to implement its roadmap and to ensure an African solution to the Libyan question,” Zuma said, adding that the UN had undermined the AU’s work.
Pretoria was of the view that a holistic political solution had to be found, one that respected democracy, political reform, justice, human rights as well as the socio-economic development needs of the people of Syria, in order to ensure long-term peace and stability in that country.
UN ‘must partner with African Union’
Zuma called on the UN and international community to partner with and support the AU’s efforts in bringing about peace on the continent. He said the way the UN had dealt with the recent African conflicts, the Libyan crisis in particular, had strained relations between the two organisations.
“We have addressed the UN on the need to maintain a positive and cooperative working relationship between the UN and the AU on peace-making and peacekeeping, and generally on matters that affect Africa.”
Zuma committed Pretoria to supporting the AU’s efforts to bring peace, political reform, justice and human rights to many conflict-affected countries like Sudan, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Madagascar, and the DRC.
As in the Middle East, he urged the international community to support these countries’ quest for freedom, human rights and dignity.
South Africa hopes to use its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council to sway this agenda.
“We believe we are playing a constructive role, pursuing the interests of our country and the continent,” he said.
Reform of international institutions
“Our pressing priority currently is the reform of international institutions, including the United Nations Security Council. Africa and Latin America are not represented as permanent members on the Council. This is a serious anomaly which reflects negatively on the UN system.”
Zuma said South Africa was also committed to economic diplomacy to attract investment and tourism, remove barriers to trade, support the development of larger markets in Africa, and expand markets for South African products.
This, Zuma said, was linked to the domestic imperative of eradicating inequality, unemployment and poverty.
Over the years, South Africa has been more aggressive towards the pursuit of the country’s economic interests, with Zuma playing a “super salesman” not shy to promote South Africa’s interests among foreign leaders, including those of India and China.