International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Photo: ANA
Johannesburg - Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu has ushered in a new relationship with the press in South Africa, offering to institutionalise monthly briefings on international relations, and engage on South Africa's foreign policy. This was well received by journalists across media platforms who have long wanted to engage with policymakers on burning issues related to South Africa's role both on the continent and globally.

The new accessibility translated into an almost two-hour media briefing on issues as far ranging as the recent historic signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the two recent SADC Organ meetings, challenges around fiscal governance of the Pan African Parliament, and challenges regarding conflict hot spots on the continent.

Particular attention was given to the situation in South Sudan where the protagonists President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar signed a peace agreement under the auspices of IGAD, only to have the ceasefire broken within hours. "We need adherence to the peace agreement so it is not a situation of hope deferred," Sisulu said. "We have agreed to impose targeted sanctions, and South Africa will prioritise South Sudan in the UN Security Council." 

The issue of Western Sahara also came under the spotlight with Sisulu acknowledging, "Most countries in the AU are concerned about Western Sahara. We need to strengthen support for the resolutions on Western Sahara and we need to get certainty." In a bold admission Sisulu said, "We are funding the Government of Western Sahara - the Polisario, we have an agreement to fund them and their activities."

Sisulu was asked what specifically DIRCO has done over the past six months to implement the ANC's resolution at its 54th conference in December that South Africa must immediately downgrade its embassy in Israel to a liaison office. "The ANC resolution on this issue at the 54th conference was clear and unambiguous," Sisulu said. "The ANC subcommittee on International Relations has not yet met to give us a deadline...this will be top of the agenda."

When asked whether as Minister for International Relations Sisulu would consider asking cabinet to revisit the issue of South Africa withdrawing from the International Criminal Court in light of the fact that most African countries which had declared they would pull out of the ICC have now decided to remain. Sisulu responded saying, "South Africa was concerned with the skewed way in which the Court had exercised its jurisdiction...there needs to be a change in terms of equality in the way in which the Court deals with issues," Sisulu said. "We are reopening the debate and then we will take it to parliament. Previously the decision (to withdraw) was unanimous, but now there are separate voices wanting us to revisit the issue."

Sisulu proved that she was truly an accessible Minister by remaining behind after the press conference to engage directly with some journalists one on one.