Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu

WATCH: Q&A: Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on Israel, Brics and Burundi

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published May 18, 2018

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Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu talks to Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor Shannon Ebrahim about South Africa’s foreign policy priorities following her budget debate in Parliament this week.

Q 1: If South Africa succeeds in getting a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, what issues would South Africa like to prioritise on the Council?

A: I would like to preface my answer by saying that we will not be representing South Africa, we will be representing the continent. We go on behalf of the continent and we have been mandated and supported by the continent. What we bring to the table is our experience and concerns about how we resolve what we consider boiling points. We currently chair the SADC and we would want to start with the issues that concern the SADC the most. As a country we are really concerned about the situation in the Middle East so we would like to prioritise the Middle East as that, for us, is the next biggest breakdown of the entire global system.

Q2: US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has said that the top 10 countries least likely to vote with the US at the UN (which includes South Africa) will have their aid cut. What is your response to these types of US threats?

A: The US has got to find a way of negotiating more than issuing threats - it is not the most conducive way in which we conduct international relations because people vote for various reasons, and a punitive measure taken against them does not solve the world’s problems.

We have on occasion voted against the US when we felt we did not agree with a particular policy and we voted against them on the Iraq situation a long time ago and we have been proved to be correct.

I haven’t had the opportunity to interact with my counterpart and share my views and to find out why they would come up with such a threat, how they intend to monitor votes, and why they have taken such a strident position.

Q3: Some members of the media have suggested that the Ramaphosa administration is attempting to strengthen relations with the West and is less focused on the Brics partnership than the previous administration. Is there any truth to this?

A: There is no truth to that at all. One of the reasons why the president is reaching out to everybody is precisely because he is concerned about the economy and the joblessness of our youth. A stable economy creates a stable environment within which our policies can reach maximum benefit to all. He has indicated that his priority is the investment summit that he is planning to host in October. The first summit that he will be hosting in South Africa is the Brics Summit which is an indication of his commitment to continue his relationship with Brics, and is not at the expense of any other relationship. I don’t know why there is the perception that he is more interested in the West.

 Q4: What are South Africa’s priorities in terms of outcomes at the upcoming Brics Summit in July?

A: Our priority is to make the summit a spectacular success. What we have tried to do which is different in this particular summit is to involve civil society and labour, as we are avoiding a situation where we are not seen as inclusive.

We will have a mini-summit for civil society and a mini-summit for labour in order to allow their voices to find expression in the Brics summit itself. In terms of outcomes, we must see how to harness the fourth industrial revolution and use it to leapfrog into the future as the potential it has for us is enormous, and we want to partner with those who have advanced technologies.

Q5: South Africa has committed itself to a strategic partnership with China, particularly in the context of Focac (Forum on China-Africa Co-operation). How do you foresee strengthening our relations with China? Can South Africa prioritise the issue of moving forward on the beneficiation of our own minerals at the upcoming Focac Summit in Beijing in September?

A: We have prioritised our relations with China because we have found that it has innovative ways of dealing with matters. You yourself have reported on China’s interest in our economic zones and we would be interested in getting assistance from China in these zones. We have taken a deliberate decision to beneficiate our own minerals but we haven’t gone as far as we should have as we don’t have the necessary technology or infrastructure. We won’t leave this issue only to Focac, but will also discuss it at the Brics Summit. We are so looking forward to Focac as it will be the first time that our president will be in China on a state visit.

Q6: Former president Nelson Mandela said in 1994 that he wanted human rights to be “the light that guides our foreign policy.” As Minister for International Relations and Co-operation, are you prepared to make human rights a cornerstone of South Africa’s foreign policy once again as Mandela had envisaged?

A: Yesterday when I put together my budget speech I was very careful to send that particular message - human rights and peace - as that is what we inherited from Madiba. The reason why it is so important and dear to us is because we come from a very long, brutal struggle.

We have been trying to get South Africans to understand that human rights are absolutely essential. That is what has been the driving force behind our contributions in multilateral forums. It remains a central point in the ANC’s foreign policy, and it remains the basis of our foreign policy. It is what drives us when we intervene on issues that have to do with the violation of human rights of the Palestinians, or any other situation.

Q7: What has Dirco done to date to downgrade South Africa’s relations with Israel in keeping with the ANC resolution at the December policy conference?

A: In between the passing of that resolution and where we are now has been a transition, a lot of adjustment has gone into that. We have not had the opportunity to sit down and work out how we operationalise some of the resolutions that were taken at the ANC 54th national conference. I will be having discussions with our ambassador.

We have recalled our ambassador from Palestine to find out from him the facts of what is going on in Palestine and thereafter take the necessary decision. We will also be discussing with the ANC subcommittee on international relations.

The Jewish Board of Deputies is keen to meet me, and I would like to meet them sooner rather than later. My only request is that they should relate to me as a fellow South African.

Q8: The human rights situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate, with Human Rights Watch documenting how Burundian security forces and ruling party members have committed serious human rights abuses with impunity leading up to this week’s referendum. Is South Africa going to raise its voice in calling for Burundi to adhere to African and international human rights conventions?

A: We would be. We have spent no less than five years in assisting the people of Burundi to move from a situation of war to one of peace. We did it because we believed they deserved to have a better future for themselves, and because we believe in basic human rights.

Burundi was in a terrible situation when we got there, it was during the time of Mandela and he very quickly decided that we would intervene and support the peace process.

It therefore is a responsibility that we would like to take on, having spent so much of our resources and time and given so much of our support to create an environment where there is democracy.

It would be a reversal of everything we put there if there is a reversal of the situation in Burundi.

When we pulled our troops out of Burundi it was because we thought Burundi had adopted democratic processes, and we thought it was on a path of democracy and peace. We will certainly raise our voice around this issue, definitely.

Q9: You have expressed a desire for South Africa to play a greater leadership role on the continent. With regards to South Sudan, how do you perceive South Africa being able to make a meaningful impact on resolving the political violence that continues to plague that country?

A: In Burundi we were invited to come in and assist. In South Sudan we have not been invited in the same way, and I am convinced that South Sudan doesn’t want interference. We wouldn’t mind doing that because we have expended a great deal of our resources in putting our forces in South Sudan to keep the peace there, and if we can find a way of solving the conflict, the sooner the better.

We do have people in our country whose purpose is to assist the government and create an environment where there can be dialogue and negotiations, and create an environment conducive for peace. It helps us a lot as they are the forerunners of government. There is a team that is on their way to Madagascar and we have given them support to go there as there is a brewing problem, and we would like to push them towards a peaceful election.

We appreciate the work they do in conflict resolution. They are always in the shadows, and maybe when we have succeeded, and when we have taken the decision to send them to South Sudan, we would like them to speak publicly about what they have been finding because getting South Africans to have a better understanding of what we are involved in means we have a greater buy-in to what we are doing. I want us to encourage our conflict resolution teams to report regularly to South Africans about the progress they are making in the areas they are working in.

Q10: South Africa has been very generous in allowing hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans to work here, and it must be a relief that the Zimbabwean economy may improve under President Emmerson Mnangagwa. What are your expectations for the Zimbabwean economy moving forward?

A: Zimbabwe is going through a very difficult economic period and we understand that. We would like to give them the opportunity to settle down after their election. If they don’t, their economic situation could be dire. They have natural resources that remain untapped, and if they focus on that they could revive their economy.

The president and I were in Zimbabwe to discuss these matters, and one of the things both presidents were considering were joint economic ventures in tourism, for example. We have found in our tourism industry we have been able to attract a great deal of resources. We would like our tourism trade to include Zimbabwe and Botswana.

In most of our discussions with Zimbabwe, the issue of the revival of the economy has been central. When Zimbabwe has a thriving economy, the Zimbabweans are likely to go back.

The downside is that Zimbabweans have a higher skills level than we have, and we need to train our people in skills in order to have a more productive workforce. We need to find a way to ensure the transfer of skills to our people before Zimbabweans go back.

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