The key theme which runs through the findings of South Africa's foreign policy is that the country needs to reposition itself as a moral compass. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

It has been a year in the making, but finally the review panel on South Africa’s foreign policy has wrapped up and made its findings public. The task of the panel had been to assess the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa’s foreign policy trajectory. The key theme which runs through the findings is that South Africa needs to reposition itself as a moral compass. 

The panel found that due to a number of missteps and strategic opportunities missed, South Africa hasn’t lived up to the respect it gained in the international community and on the continent, and has not played the role it was expected to in international relations. This led to the decline of South Africa’s influence regionally, continentially and globally. 

The panel referred to the sentiments captured in Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s budget speech in May 2018 where she said, “We once were a giant in the world, and our reputation was well-known because of what we represented. The world was richer for having given us support and for us having given them the miracle of 1994. In Mandela’s memory, in his honour, we have a responsibility to regain the stature that he left for us. That stature allowed us to punch above our weight and succeed. We’ll regain that stature and put all our efforts into making sure that we make the world a better place for all.”

According to Former Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad who chaired the panel, the fact that South Africa garnered 183 votes in the UN General Assembly to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2019 and 2020, despite all of the country’s challenges, suggests that a lot of goodwill still exists from member states. 

Given the strategic importance of the period ahead, the panel made recommendations on how South Africa could strengthen its hand in terms of diplomacy, one of which is that the Department of International Relations must change the fact that its divisions tend to work in silos, and it needs to have much more robust engagement with civil society on foreign policy issues. The panel also found that South Africa’s use of economic diplomacy, whereby its diplomats attempt to increase trade, attract investments and grow the national economy, was not being maximised. It was also recommended that South Africa make far greater use of cultural diplomacy to spread its ideas and influence in the globe. 

In analysing political and security realities in the world, the panel concluded that we are living in a dangerous world order. This order can be characterized by a serious trust deficit in politicians, insular politics, the possibility of Brexit, the America First approach, religious fundamentalism, increase in populism as well as xenophobia. There is clearly the growth of nationalist and isolationist tendencies whereby the powerful reduce complex problems to their own narrow national interests. The immediate consequences of these realities are trade wars, market volatility, and a serious negative impact on the United Nations. 

This new and challenging global order requires a far better equipped diplomatic core that can address these challenges, and more effectively address South Africa’s key national interests in the international arena. 

The panel was made up of former Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad, former DGs Ayanda Ntsaluba and Sipho Pityana, former Ambassadors Lindiwe Mabuza, Welile Nhlapo, Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini, Gladys Sonto Kudjoe, Sisa Ngombane, as well as Dr Khulu Mbatha, Enoch Godongwana, and Xhanti Payi. 

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor.