[in] focus

SA’s leadership roles on global stage track its domestic agenda

Faith MaberaAfter President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address, one commentator called foreign policy the governmental stepchild, referring to its scant coverage of foreign policy engagements.

Save for the mention of SA’s plan to accede to the Tripartite Free Trade Area and the Continental Free Trade Area and the utility of the Brics group in the promotion of value-added trade and intrastate investment, domestic issues and economic diplomacy constituted the bulk of the president’s speech. Yet this year will be a hive of activity for SA’s foreign policy enterprise. Apart from chairing the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Brics and the Indian Ocean Rim Association and wrapping up its co-chairing of the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation, SA will be the sole African member of the Group of 20 (G-20).

Looking ahead to 2019, it seems to be all systems go for SA’s third tenure (2019-20) as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Closer to home, as the Ramaphosa administration finds its feet on the diplomatic front, SA will have to take stock of its positioning in the African context and whether its moral and political capital will demand a repurposing, not only in diplomatic momentum but also of priorities and strategies.

For instance, will we see an African agenda 2.0, distinct from the Nelson Mandela era (focused on SA’s credentials of good international citizenship), Thabo Mbeki’s overdrive into institutionalising and finetuning SA’s foreign policy, or Jacob Zuma’s thrust in economic diplomacy, albeit of the "Look East" variety? While the state of the nation address resonated deeply with economic development and foreign economic strategy, Ramaphosa’s exposition pointed to the oft-overlooked dynamics underpinning the entanglement of domestic politics and international relations. There is a bold recognition of the delicate balancing act between national interests and international engagements, and the centrality of structural factors that underpin sound policy decisions, such as a strong, capable state and an efficient bureaucracy, including a professional diplomatic service.

In the context of foreign policy analysis, the interaction between the domestic sphere and the global arena has been depicted as a two-level game in which leaders seek to achieve negotiated outcomes at the international level that gain domestic approval. As such, these outcomes or win-sets at international level are shaped by preferences and coalitions, inputs by domestic political institutions and actors seeking to influence outcomes, and bargaining strategies employed by the foreign policy elite at the international level.

In pursuit of basic foreign policy goals — security, autonomy, wealth and a reorganisation of global power — it is imperative that SA goes back to the drawing board, garnering lessons from past triumphs and blunders and injecting strategic direction to foreign policy. The profiling of SA as a pluralist middle power and the prioritisation of multilateralism as a key pillar of its foreign policy demands solid normative consistency between SA’s domestic political framework and its objectives in the global arena.

An examination of the core business of the multilateral forums SA is participating in 2018 reveals consistency with domestic priorities: The Indian Ocean Rim Association 2018 theme is ‘Uniting the Peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East through Enhanced Co-operation for Peace, Stability and Sustainable Development’. As chair, SA will seek to align the activities of the association with the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy in maritime security, capacity building, skills development and technology transfer in the ocean economy.

The SADC 2018 theme is Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains, in line with the SADC Common Agenda and regional plans. The Brics 2018 theme is Inclusive Development Through a Socially Responsive Economy, prioritising economic prosperity and inclusive growth; science and technology; conflict resolution, peace and social justice; and revisiting the global commons by strengthening responsible forms of strategic co-operation and sustainable development. In the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation, SA is overseeing the implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Action (2016-18).

SA is co-chair of the G-20’s development working group as well as the Africa advisory group on the G-20 Compact with Africa. These priorities reveal an overlap in thematic and strategic focus that dovetails the priorities set out in the National Development Plan as well as Africa’s Agenda 2063.

It remains to be seen whether SA will be able to connect the dots on the foreign policy agenda while proving adept at playing the two-level game in diplomacy and domestic politics.

Ms. Faith Mabera is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) associated with UNISA.

The article was first published in the Business Day, 01 March 2018


The strategic imperative of SA’s 2018 Brics presidency

PhilaniMthembu large

The year 2018 will be one of South Africa’s busiest on the diplomatic calendar since democratisation in 1994. While it offers many possibilities and opportunities for newly sworn in President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration, it will also test the state’s strategic thinking when it comes to utilising its international partnerships to achieve domestic and regional priorities.

While South Africa maintains a large diplomatic presence in the world, question marks persist on whether the country’s foreign policy brings about tangible benefits for the broader society. This question is especially pertinent in tough economic and political times. South Africa finds itself chairing the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group of countries, the Southern African Development Community, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and has recently put through its bid for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

These multiple responsibilities place an obligation on the foreign policy community to craft a coherent and consistent strategy in line with the country’s domestic and regional priorities. While the Department of International Relations and Cooperation remains the central focal point for South Africa’s international relations, sub-national spheres of government such as cities and provinces have become increasingly important foreign policy actors.

The task of the South African state will thus be to ensure a coherent, whole-of-government approach underpinned by a clear grand strategy on South Africa’s international relations. The state will thus have to demonstrate an ability to co-ordinate within and outside of government to make use of the available human resources involved in thinking through and implementing South Africa’s foreign policy.

During the recent State of the Nation address debate on February 19, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor noted that under South Africa’s Brics chairship, the country would prioritise the promotion of value-added trade and intra-Brics investment into productive sectors, while pointing out that under its chairship of the SADC it would prioritise implementing the SADC industralisation strategy and developing an infrastructure roadmap.

Given the focus of the Brics New Development Bank in funding sustainable infrastructure, the country will have to explain to its African partners to what extent the Africa Regional Centre of the Bank now headquartered in Johannesburg would contribute to filling the infrastructure gap in the region.

While some within and outside of South Africa have argued that the country’s Brics membership constitutes a turn towards the East (read China) and a shunning of relations with partners in the North (read EU and the US), Pandor sought to dispel this line of argumentation. She states that "(a)s we work to further strengthen the Brics partnership, we will certainly not neglect other valued and established partnerships such as the one with the European Union, which continues to be an important trading, investment, development co-operation and dialogue partner for South Africa".

Her balancing act is more in line with the empirical reality of South Africa’s international engagements, where more than 70 percent of the country’s foreign direct investment continues to come from countries in the EU. This line of reasoning also takes into consideration the reality the EU remains the number one source of funding for regional economic communities and the African Union. Perhaps this signals a more pragmatic approach that balances the country’s engagement with global reformers in the Brics and established powers in the global North. In this approach, Brics is not romanticised as heralding an overturning of the global system, but instead plays a role in the country’s overall grand strategy and positioning in global politics.

The real pressure thus lies in crafting a pragmatic foreign policy, yet one still defined by a stronger normative underpinning drawing from the country’s domestic values. Whether one is a Brics optimist or a sceptic, and there remains many sceptics within and outside of South Africa, the reality is that South Africa is a member of the Brics grouping, and its 2018 presidency will usher in the beginning of the second decade of the Brics partnership.

The only way to allay the anxieties of sceptics will be to demonstrate a type of diplomacy that sees Brics membership not as an end goal in itself, but as part of a web of international engagements synchronised with delivering on South Africa’s domestic and regional priorities. Those responsible for implementing the country’s foreign policy must use 2018 to inculcate a culture of strategic thinking and engagement on the global stage that brings about tangible benefits to the country’s citizens.


Dr. Philani Mthembu is Executive Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Co-founder of the Berlin Forum on Global Politics. His views are his own unless otherwise stated.

The article was first published in the Independent Online (IOL) 27 February 2018


BRICS 2018, who are the role players in the South African agenda?

ArinaMuresanThis year is South Africa’s turn to host the BRICS presidency. The statements thus far have focused on synergy and continuity of previous BRICS summit joint statements and declarations, but pivoted upon taking active steps towards a national and international developmental agenda. In addition, South Africa has identified four new key priorities for its presidency in 2018 by establishing a vaccine research platform, a forum centred on gender and women, a working group on peacekeeping, and further linkages between economic partnerships and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Having joined the partnership in 2010, South Africa’s membership has been questioned critically due to a weaker economic position contra the BRIC complement; however, others have lauded South Africa’s ability to punch above its weight. As South Africa undertakes the chairing duties and prepares for the summit, scheduled for 25 – 27 July 2018 in Johannesburg, it is important to explore which stakeholders contribute to the formal discussion on BRICS and the challenges and opportunities they may face in 2018.

The first of three levels contributing to the discussion, Track I diplomacy, consists of the official governmental engagement between the BRICS partners. At national government level, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) liaises with Parliament, the Presidency and various technical departments in making links to achieve their foreign policy. The BRICS partnership holds strategic importance for South Africa’s international relations, as emerging powers are changing the geopolitical landscape and existing power structures. This membership makes a significant contribution to South Africa’s soft power potential and strengthened bilateral and multilateral ties, which have contributed to increased co-operation in trade, finance, development and other sectors. The BRICS’ interest in the rest of Africa also allows alternative forms of finance to reach the continent. While the BRICS have been criticised for focusing their trade on commodities, exporting cheap retail objects to Africa and replicating neo-colonial models of cooperation, the diverse forms of development and peace and security assistance have also presented alternative options of growth and empowerment for the continent. For many South Africans it is still difficult to discern why South Africa is part of this partnership and why it may benefit. Government departments and official agencies will indeed step up their public communications for a period, yet it is important to keep the citizenry informed at all times.

Track II diplomacy includes officially designated or government-affiliated institutions such as the BRICS Think Tanks Council (SABTT) and the BRICS Business Council (SABBC), which were both institutionalised in 2013. The pre and post-summit SABTT discussions will be drawn from a theme of inclusivity, whereby research will be focused on four areas: 1) economic prosperity and inclusive growth; 2) prioritising our productive, creative, and scientific powers; 3) conflict resolution, peace and social justice; and 4) revisiting the global commons by strengthening responsible forms of strategic cooperation and sustainable development. These research areas are central to the South African context; however, communicating academic research to a wider audience that includes government, businesses, civil society and citizens may remain a challenge. Similarly, businesses in the BRICS countries also have an important role to play in strengthening the partnership and facilitating trade and investment links between the governments. At present, there are a number of working groups on the topics of infrastructure, deregulation, agribusiness, financial services, energy and the green economy, skills, manufacturing and aviation; which were created to support businesses to navigate markets and gain a better understanding of the various dynamics in the BRICS countries.

The third track of diplomacy, Track III, includes interaction with civil society organisations and people-to-people engagement, which represents the largest South African stakeholder, the citizens. Civil society organisations were first invited to the 2015 BRICS summit, held in Ufa, Russia. This diplomacy track is still in the processes of moving towards institutionalisation and thus engagements are held on an ad hoc basis. Civil Society allows more citizens to engage on core societal and developmental issues, as well as receive more information regarding BRICS and how individuals may benefit or become involved. The bigger challenge that the South African civil society contingent is experiencing is access to sufficient funding to support their activities in communicating the BRICS agenda, in addition to carrying out their responsibilities. National government departments, such as DIRCO have been quick to support ad hoc meetings; however, more work needs to be covered consistently in order to support the Civil BRICS movement.

Based on the interaction in the various tracks of diplomacy, it is possible to see both a bottom-up and top-down approach to South Africa’s agenda setting. Actors are able to draw clear linkages between national priorities, found in documents similar to the Constitution, the National Development Plan 2030 and various emerging trends, and foreign policy commitments. Although DIRCO has explained that it envisions BRICS having a direct impact on South African domestic priorities, glaring economic and social disparities still exist, which call to question the attentions paid to these partnerships. The upcoming summit is being anticipated as a prestigious event in South Africa’s diplomatic calendar, which may garner national success if a synergised communication strategy includes all stake holders.

Arina Muresan is a researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the IGD or UNISA.

BRICS Strategy: Towards the 2018 Johannesburg Summit

Sanusha Naidu

In six months’ time, South Africa will host the 10th BRICS Summit. This is a significant achievement since the grouping became a formalised inter-state platform.

The timing of the Summit could not come at a better time for Pretoria. The significance in chairing and hosting the Summit represents a strategic moment for the host country to take advantage of its Chairperson in pushing for key institutional mechanisms in terms of global development and strategic governance. It also exemplifies the opportunity for the South African government to identify and pursue a set of objectives aligned to the national political and economic interests that must address the triple helix challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

And it is precisely in this context that South Africa’s BRICS Presidency under Cyril Ramaphosa government needs to be understood.

In the past several weeks as ANC President and, now, as President of the Republic, Cyril Ramaphosa has shown dexterity in what he sees as critical junctures for recalibrating the country’s ailing economy. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ramaphosa pursed an agenda of rebranding South Africa as an investment destination. He showed that he is a man on a mission to reclaim the country’s State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) as being held hostage to be looted. Instead under his watch he sees the SOEs together with international and domestic investors to be drivers of the economy and assist in rebuilding the country’s socio-economic base so that poor and marginalised are provide with access to their basic human right resources. The message in Davos was loud and clear: SA remains open for business but with policy certainty and stability.

The suave of Ramaphosa in Davos was also about retuning the default setting of our foreign policy gauge. For some time now South Africa has been at odds with its direction and vision. This is not to suggest that the bureaucracy in DIRCO have been sitting on their laurels; they have shown stellar commitment in effecting the country’s foreign policy pillars. But their jobs were made that much harder when it became unclear where and who was implementing the foreign policy objectives. What is needed now is clarity and coherence around our foreign agenda is.

So what will Cyril Rampahosa’s BRICS Strategy be? It will be one that builds on Davos and extends the charm offensive to make BRICS an indelible part of the country’s growth, employment and investment pathway. While President Ramaphosa is seized with recorrecting the domestic landscape, and fairly aware of how he will be judged in delivering on the big promises of growing an economy that creates jobs, the newly elected President of the Republic is also acutely attentive that he has to makes the BRICS work for the country’s national development plan and socioeconomic priorities. This means changing the completion of the trade relations between the country and the other BRICS’ countries, increasing the investment footprint and ensuring that South African investors are equally able to access the BRICS markets.

The stage is set for President Ramaphosa to introduce himself to the BRICS leaders in July and present his vision of a rebalanced non-aligned vision that encompasses more than business as usual approach but a more pragmatic and integrated tactic that ensures greater economic traction between South Africa and the BRICS.

Sanusha Naidu is a Senior Research Fellow the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

This article was first published in the Sunday Independent 18 Feb 2018 https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-sunday-independent/20180218/282381220020588


FrancisKornegayWhether US President Donald Trump and his administration and supporters appreciate the magnitude of Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies and pronouncements (as Jesus intoned on the cross: ‘they know not what they do…’), Trump’s dubious achievement has been to force a total recasting of the Israel-Palestine logic. It is thus no longer a question of land, but of democracy. And as might apply to that old pre-Trump logic, there is the old saying: ‘You can never go home again,’ ‘home’ being the ‘peace process’ mantra of Camp David, Oslo and the Quartet: the ‘two-state’ delusion a la Padrig O’Malley . International reactions following Trump’s Jerusalem bombshell has shifted discourse definitively in the direction of ‘one-state’ as the only realistically inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But does that automatically put paid to the two-state scenario? Not necessarily, though it certainly places this outcome far into a long-term future if not ruling it out altogether – not that ‘one-state’ is imminent either. It is the pure sequencing logic of the two/one-state dynamic that requires critical interrogation.

To be sure, the bi-national one-state option is not what Jews and Israelis wedded to an Israel, both democratic and Jewish look forward to given the demographic future of political geography stemming from the eastern Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley. A two-state solution is the only path to a genuinely democratic state that is also Jewish. Yet the ultra-rightwing, pro-settler drift in Israeli politics, augmented by the powerful US Israel Lobby spearheaded by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and financing from such ultra-right oligarchs as Sheldon Adelson (a major financier in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as an underwriter of rightwing pro-settler politics in Israel) has all but buried the two-state scenario.

The Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ might better be dubbed the Israeli ‘piece process’ as Tel-Aviv, under successive Likud regimes, backed by a bipartisanly captured US Congress relentlessly gobbles up the West Bank. Whether or not such a stealth strategy was the original intent, Israel and its over-zealous backers face a ‘beware what you wish for’ trap as the Piece Process rolls on! Israel-Palestine is de facto one state. As such, Israel’s presumed democratic character has long since eroded into what can now only be candidly described as a minority-ruled settler-dominated, military occupationist state.

Many in the US seemed emotionally traumatized by former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid when it came out in 2006. Yet 12 years later, we are looking at a repressive regime in Tel-Aviv that has tracked almost to the letter the path of racist minority-settler regimes in Algeria, Kenya and throughout a Southern Africa that also veered increasingly to the repressive ultra-right before ultimately succumbing to majority-rule. Is this now the scenario awaiting Israel? For like apartheid South Africa, Israelis seem hell-bent on turning Israel into a pariah state on the international stage, repudiating the Liberal Zionist Project.

So what might be done? It may well be that the long-term solution – and it will be long-term and bitterly protracted – is one that turns the two-state vs. one-state logic on its head instead of ruling out the two-state option altogether. The emphasis, instead should shift to democratizing the repressive one-state reality; this calls for a new discourse that no longer marginalizes the one-state option, but openly and honestly recognizes it as a plausible though daunting path to Israel-Palestinian peace (as opposed to Israeli ‘piece’!).

As such, the one-state option could be hypothetically linked to an eventual two-state possibility (in theory) in a two-stage process: First, an internationally-backed ‘anti-apartheid’ movement throughout historical Palestine aimed at transforming racist and militaristic minority-settler occupation into a non-sectarian, multi-ethnic democratic state with equal political and civil rights for Arabs and Palestinians residing within and outside Israel, including in the West Bank and Gaza. The Second stage would be optional.

This would involve a bi-national referendum among Israelis and Palestinians on whether-when-how to move toward negotiating two democratic states – or remain a one-state bi-national democracy. In other words, it may well come down to realizing that two-states may only emerge after a one-state transition to democracy in historical Palestine. But ‘two-states’ becomes purely an optional possibility, no longer the centrepiece of a ‘piece process.’

Meanwhile, the bottom-line should dictate that democracy and human rights for Palestinians not be held hostage to what has evolved into nothing more than a morally and politically bankrupt expansionist colonial-settler ‘apartheid’ charade. As it is, the plight of the Palestinians now takes a back seat to the US and Israel prioritizing with Saudi Arabia a dangerous sectarian geopolitical power-struggle against Iran at the expense of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Thus is democracy for the Palestinians and the two-state charade interlinked with wider geopolitical power dynamics in the Middle East.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is the senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington is co-editor of Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order (AISA).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.




bricsa policy

logo copy

Contact details
Address:   3rd Floor Robert Sobukwe Building
263 Nana Sita Street
South Africa

PO Box 14349
The Tramshed
    E-mail:    info@igd.org.zaThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
      Telephone:   +2712 337 6082
      Fax:   +2786 212 9442
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Linkedin Follow our RSS feeds