Is foreign policy coherence in safe hands as GNU takes root?

Published Jul 7, 2024


By Reneva Fourie

The June 30 announcement of the seventh administration’s executive brought relief to many of us as the Ministry of International Relations remains under ANC control.

Alvin Botes, known for his dedication and astute intellect, has been reinstated as deputy minister. The vibrant and bold Thandi Moraka is the second deputy minister. Additionally, Ronald Lamola, the former minister of justice and a key contributor to South Africa’s engagements with the International Court of Justice on Palestine, is now serving as minister.

With the support of the highly accomplished director-general, Zane Dangor, the line-up suggests promising stewardship of South Africa’s foreign policy, instilling confidence as the department champions critical projects related to, among others, the AU’s Agenda 2063, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and the ambitious BRICS+ programme, and prepares to host the G20.

Contentment with the ANC’s continued control of the portfolio presumes that including anti-progressive forces in South Africa’s Government of National Unity (GNU) would have minimal impact on foreign policy positions. The assumption is probably based on the belief that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) solely manages foreign affairs. However, this is inaccurate.

Many government departments play distinct roles in nurturing bilateral and multilateral relations, thereby influencing foreign policy goals and the domestic reform agenda. Furthermore, the Cabinet must approve positions tabled at significant multilateral forums; Parliament must ratify all international agreements, and the portfolio and select committees must oversee the department. The Cabinet and Parliament’s compositions are crucial in determining support for international agreements and solidarity.

The DA holds six ministerial and six deputy ministerial positions. Additionally, the party has 87 parliamentary seats and holds the position of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. This indicates the party’s substantial clout in the political landscape. Its impact is not confined within national borders but extends internationally, surpassing perceived levels of authority, as demonstrated in the analyses of four ministries and two deputy ministries assigned to the DA.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is a crucial government entity, second only to the Presidency. Its mission includes managing civil registration, overseeing citizenship and protecting the official identity and status of individuals. The department also provides institutional support and allocates funds to the Electoral Commission of South Africa and the Represented Political Parties’ Fund.

As the entity in charge of passport issuance, port control and managing refugees and asylum seekers, the DHA plays a crucial role in promoting international relations and collaboration.

Its involvement in visa issuance, fee determination and fee collection through its staff in 32 foreign missions or through designated Dirco officials further underscores its influence in global affairs.

Second, in the current era of artificial intelligence, big data, e-commerce and e-governance, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies plays a pivotal role in advancing the ICT interests of the country internationally. The department carries the responsibility for internet governance and cybersecurity and oversees all radio communication including that related to maritime and air safety.

Additionally, it supervises the implementation of ICT infrastructure, which is reinforced by eight undersea cables, and promotes investments in data centres and cloud service providers. Moreover, the department actively engages with international telecommunications organisations, such as the Universal Postal Union and the International Telecommunications Union.

The mandates of the Departments of Agriculture (DoA) and Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) also intersect with those of Dirco.

For example, the DoA is tasked with promoting economic development, trade, and market access for farming products and fostering international relations for the sector. This involves negotiating, finalising, and ensuring compliance with import requirements, giving the department significant influence over tariff determination and developments at the World Trade Organisation. Hence, the department has attachés in France, Japan, Ethiopia, Switzerland and Belgium.

Similarly, the DFFE is entrusted with processing environmental laws, regulations, policies, norms and standards to protect and conserve the environment, including wildlife, ecosystems, natural heritage, air quality and the impact of climate change.

It also oversees relevant bilateral memorandums of understanding and ensures compliance with international obligations. Additionally, the department is responsible for stabilising the fishing sector and deterring illegal fishing and abalone poaching. Thus, the departments rely on facilitating international relations to achieve their mandates.

Furthermore, the title of deputy minister may appear to be of lesser importance, but South African deputy ministers provide significant strategic support to their ministers. Hence, the deputy ministers in the powerful departments of finance and trade, industry and competition have substantial sway over South Africa’s global engagements.

The National Treasury manages the country’s finances and crafts fiscal and monetary policies that determine our macroeconomic performance. Fiscal policy underpins income generation and expenditure as expressed in the budget.

In contrast, monetary policy involves regulating the money supply and interest rates through the actions of the Reserve Bank. The National Treasury and the South African Reserve Bank are principally influenced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which affects our fiscal independence, as well as the determination of our trade partners and humanitarian aid beneficiaries.

Then, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition promotes regional and continental economic integration. It also plays a key role in facilitating exports and investments, by negotiating market access, co-ordinating trade pavilions and deploying foreign economic representatives to South African embassies to carry out the functions. It is an essential partner in the BRICS+ and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.

The influence of the DA deputy ministers in the two departments, with their neo-liberal orientations and the susceptibility of the Treasury and Reserve Bank, could threaten South Africa’s foreign policy objectives. This includes disrupting the BRICS+ agenda to promote trade in local currencies or currencies other than the US dollar.

The provision of such immense power to the DA might not have been deliberate but it could prove perilous. Before assuming its current positions, the DA obstructed the government’s attempts to provide humanitarian aid to Cuba and filed a court application to mandate the authorities to apprehend Vladimir Putin should he have attended last year’s BRICS+ summit.

Additionally, the DA did not hesitate to weaponise trade by exploiting the African Growth and Opportunity Act to undermine SA’s neutrality in the Ukrainian/Russian conflict. The DA will probably wield their new-found power even more assertively.

Generally, too, the DA (and other GNU representatives), will probably not represent South Africa’s official foreign policy on various issues in their formal and informal engagements with foreign counterparts, which will adversely affect foreign policy coherence.

* Dr Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security.

** The views in this article do no necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL