The document sent shockwaves through the diplomatic corps in Pretoria. Was South Africa about to abandon its decades-long strategy of neutrality? Was this the preamble to some kind of formal allegiance with Beijing?
On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma delivered a briefing to ambassadors at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse, ostensibly to discuss South Africa’s international relations ahead of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. But the subtext was clear: this was about soothing ruffled feathers, about reassuring nervous diplomats that nothing had changed – for now at least.
Zuma explained that South Africa’s foreign policy was based on the Freedom Charter, and was dedicated to building “a better Africa and a better world”. He outlined four foreign policy guidelines drawn straight from Nelson Mandela’s seminal essay on the subject, including commitments to: promote human rights and democracy; respect justice and international law; promote the African Agenda in world affairs; and spur economic development through regional and international cooperation. He didn’t mention China at all, or the US’s neo-colonial agenda.