Evident within the speech are clear areas of continuity from the previous term, as well as several ‘new’ priority areas that have been raised on the foreign policy agenda.
On the one hand continuity points to consistency in approach. In this case the Minister’s budget speech reflects a consistency in South Africa’s foreign policy focus on Africa, South-South cooperation, engagement with the North and a focus on participation in global governance.
The importance of engagement with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in terms of regional integration, trade and peace and security is highlighted along with continued emphasis on relations with the African Union (AU) and bilateral relations with African countries.
When it comes to South-South cooperation there is consistency in the focus on the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and, perhaps to a lesser degree, IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa). The expression of solidarity with Palestine and Western Sahara also remains present.
Continuity also reflects the persistence of particular issues within wider international relations. The persistence of inequality within the global system of governance remains. The achievement of UN reform, focused on the Security Council, remains a distant prospect despite President Jacob Zuma’s challenge to the UN to address this inequality ahead of its 70th anniversary (2015).
The continued suppression of the people in Western Sahara and Palestine, the slow pace of regional integration in SADC and the continued presence of conflict and underdevelopment across Africa mean that these concerns remain part of South Africa’s foreign policy.
The continuance of particular elements of the budget from one year to another also reflects challenges in implementation. This includes the establishment of the South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA), aimed at managing South Africa’s international development cooperation, the finalisation of the White Paper on Foreign Policy (the Diplomacy of Ubuntu), and the establishment of the platform for engagement with civil society – the South African Council on African Council on International Relations (SACOIR).
When it comes to what is ‘new’ in this year’s presentation, in terms of South Africa’s engagement with Africa and the AU, Agenda 2063 is now up for consultation. This is an important area where South African stakeholders need to engage, especially as the Minister notes the ‘domestication’ of Agenda 2063 to be aligned with our own National Development Plan.
Secondly although there is no mention this year of elaborating on a policy and strategy concerning South Africa’s national interest, natural resources as a driver of foreign policy are becoming increasingly evident. This year includes a focus on water and energy with reference to the Lesotho Highlands Water project and the Grand Inga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A further area is the increased attention on oceans governance, overcoming South Africa’s ‘sea-blindness’ to take into account the role of the oceans surrounding the country in security and trade (the Blue Economy).
What stands out in particular this year is the idea put forward of South Africa’s foreign policy undergoing its ‘own second transition’. This includes change at 3 levels ‘policy development, policy implementation and cadreship development’. When President Zuma first introduced his idea of a ‘second transition’ it raised numerous questions as to what exactly this meant. While it is accepted that foreign policy is dynamic and needs to reflect the changing context and circumstances in which it operates, the question remains: what does a second transition mean for foreign policy development, implementation, and what is understood by cadreship development?
The initial stance in developing the new South Africa’s foreign policy was that a ‘pro-active’ approach needs to be adopted in order to benefit the people. In a recent article, Prof Olivier points out that there is too much ‘blue-sky planning’ and too little implementation. A focus on a ‘second transition’ could again divert much needed attention from implementation. As the second term for this administration begins it is time to ‘sweat the small stuff’ in terms of implementation and to get foreign policy working for South Africa.
Lesley Masters is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue Associated with the University of South Africa.