South Africa’s endless ocean of possibilities

In November 1497, Vasco da Gama reached the Cape, making landfall on the Africa continent. His journey, all the way to India, would later become one of the most important shipping routes in the world. Today, South Africa remains a whistle-stop for many ships and the country is responsible for managing a vast expanse of ocean in the southern hemisphere.

Maritime safety, the blue economy and wildlife conservation have been brought to the fore as South Africa begins implementing plans following the proposed extension of the continental shelf. In 2006, the United Nations considered the country's claim of a million square kilometres of ocean floor that stretches to the Prince Edward and Marion Islands in the Antarctic.

This is likely to assist numerous industries in South Africa but more importantly generate new sources of revenue for the country. In this regard, issues of security and sustainability have become paramount in the governance of the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans. This was discussed during a symposium on the Blue Economy and the challenge of maritime security for South Africa and Southern Africa on 17 November 2014, hosted by Unisa's Institute for Global Dialogue in collaboration with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Open Society Foundation South Africa, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and SA Defence & Security Management Network.

Exploring partnerships

To fully utilise the blue economy, South Africa will need to address a number of challenges including; unemployment, security and criminality. "National security is linked to the unity, stability and prosperity of the Southern African region and the continent in general," said Roelf Meyer, Minister of Constitutional Affairs under President Nelson Mandela.

The current Chairman of the South African Defence Review believes it's necessary to have partnerships with like-minded African states that can contribute to democracy, economic advancement and stability.

In recent years, the South African navy has been effectively deployed in counter-piracy and there's a critical need for the defence force to continue in the regard. However, Meyer explained that the country cannot do it alone. "Given the financial constraints and the money that the defence budget requires, African and international partners should assist with maritime safety and security."

He further proposes utilising South Africa's shipping lanes and getting partners on board. "In exploring the blue economy and maritime security it will be important for us to look at our neighbours, beyond the African coastline. Since our sea route is so important for other continents as well, some countries are already our partners."

A new way of doing things

Some of the projects and opportunities that government has been brainstorming since the shelf-extension application have been mining, resources sustainability and many others. It's for this reason that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation wanted to host a conference that translated into policy instruments that help stakeholders to look at this important aspect of economics.

Fadl Nacerodien, Head: Policy Analysis Research Unit, DIRC, said the attention on South Africa's maritime efforts is timely. "This comes at an opportune time because so much of the emphasis is being shifted from the north to the global south. We want to lay the foundation for further research and discussions within particular sectors that will allow us to more towards better policy development."

*By Rajiv Kamal

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