Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu briefing the media at the OR Tambo Building in Pretoria. Picture: Jacoline Schoonees/DNS

“Human rights remains central to South Africa’s foreign policy and interaction with other countries,” Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told journalists assembled in Pretoria on Tuesday. From Zimbabwe to Western Sahara, from a seat on the UN Security Council to Chair of the African Union in 2020, South Africa intends on making human rights its mantra. It was a message well received by the diverse array of local and international media representatives in attendance. 

On Zimbabwe, Sisulu acknowledged that the government had noted developments in Harare following the recent protests, and said that South Africa intends on supplying its northern neighbour with non-lethal methods of crowd control. A major priority will also be to get the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe lifted. “Zimbabwe won’t get out of its economic problems without sanctions being lifted,” Sisulu said. 

On Western Sahara South Africa will host a SADC conference next month to pledge solidarity with the people of Western Sahara, highlighting their plight and exploring ways in which to assist with the attainment of self-determination. “Last year the SADC Heads of State resolved to hold the Solidarity Conference for Western Sahara, which remains the last colony on the African continent,” Sisulu said, “we will also debate this issue in the UN Security Council.” 

The monthly media briefing on international relations has given the media an opportunity to grill the Minister on issues of concern, a lengthy engagement which is proving to be valuable for both sides. Tuesday’s media briefing followed on the heels of a breakfast engagement between the Minister and foreign Ambassadors, where diplomats were briefed on preparations for the upcoming South African elections, and issues to do with enhancing diplomatic security.

Sisulu was particularly optimistic about developments at the recent AU Summit at which South Africa was elected as AU Chair for 2020, as well as the Chair of the African Peer Review Mechanism for the ensuing two years. “The APRM was driven by South Africa and it is now one of the organs of the African Union,” Sisulu noted.

As Chair of the African Union South Africa plans to push the issue of silencing the guns in Africa by the end of 2020. “We are deeply honoured to have been accorded the opportunity to Chair the AU, and we will take advantage of the opportunity to advance the African Agenda 2063 of silencing the guns so that Africa is at peace with itself. The peace dividend must also translate into meaningful development,” Acting Director General of the Department Mxolisi Nkosi said. 

There are 16 African countries due to hold democratic elections this year in addition to South Africa, including Botswana, Benin, Algeria and Nigeria. “While there are still a few pockets of challenges in various countries, I believe we are making strides towards greater democratisation on the continent,” Sisulu said. 

When asked what progress the department had made with regards to implementing the ANC resolution to downgrade the South African mission in Israel the Minister said, “We are bound by the ANC resolution as we are an ANC led government. We are in the process of abiding by the ANC resolutions.” 

On the International Criminal Court and whether South Africa still plans to withdraw, Sisulu said that the Department is reviewing government policies. “We need to look and see if it was the right decision, as we were at the forefront to get the world to buy into the setting up of the ICC. The Review Panel will discuss the matter,” Sisulu said.