Donovan Williams: Who GNU that this could be a good outcome for International Relations?

Published Jul 1, 2024


Donovan Williams

In the late hours of Sunday night President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Cabinet for the seventh administration.

Many across the country, and most probably the African continent and other parts of the world, were quite interested in the balancing act Ramaphosa and the African National Congress would have to perform, given the outcome of the recent national and provincial elections.

An outcome, wherein albeit the ANC remained the largest political party, it however failed to receive a decisive majority for the first time since 1994.

The ANC invited all parties to join the Government of National Unity.

Some like the Economic Freedom Fighters and the MK Party, preferred to join but with conditions that the ANC refused to meet.

The Democratic Alliance willingly took up the invitation and dropped its various demands, but preferred to try and squeeze the ANC in the negotiations on the composition of the Cabinet.

Their public negotiations stance, although at times backed by various media publications, because of its salacious and sensationalist content, was not able to meet the DA’s targets.

Indeed, the macho approach by the DA worried progressive internationalists across the country. In the GNU there were at least two parties, the DA and the Patriotic Alliance, who have been openly pro-Israel and pro-Western.

Whereas the South African government had spent the best part of 30 years building SA’s reputation of being a straight shooter in the international arena, that does not play to the powers that be, whether they are found in the West or the East, and the country placed Africa’s needs and humans rights at the centre of it’s international engagements.

The international approach of the South African government has not only won it plaudits from other governments and multilateral bodies, but also ordinary activists, especially in Europe and the United States, who found great affinity with the South African views on matters.

The major concern though was if the DA, in particular, joined the International Relations ministry, even if it was at a Deputy Ministerial position.

The DA’s foreign relations stance and approach is not just at variance to the ANC’s but one could describe it as antithetical.

It prefers to support the United States-led West über alles. Therefore, if the DA was appointed to the International Relations ministry, diplomatic engagements would really suffer.

There ran a real risk that the political representative of South Africa, would be at odds with the South African diplomatic staff at the various multilateral forums. South Africa’s reputation would be greatly harmed, and reputation in diplomatic circles is crucial.

The incumbent Minister of International Relations, who had become the face of South Africa’s courage and commitment to a better world, Dr Naledi Pandor, did not make it onto the Parliamentary list because the ANC had not received enough votes, there was concern about what would happen to the portfolio.

There was hope that possibly the President would decide to appoint Dr Pandor as one of his two non-parliamentary members of Cabinet.

But those hopes were dashed when a video was released of Dr Pandor saying goodbye to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation staff across the globe. It was clear she would not go to those lengths, if there was even a hint of her reappointment.

The Sunday night Cabinet announcement revealed that the ANC has placed a high premium on international relations.

The Minister and the two Deputy Ministers are all from the ANC, with Ronald Lamola as the Minister, and returning the impressive Alvin Botes as Deputy Minister, joined by Thandi Moraka as the second Deputy Minister.

Therefore, despite communities that claim solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and they may not have supported the ANC in the elections, South Africa’s support for Palestine, as an example, was not transactional or in the hopes of getting votes. Highly commendable.

Lamola, together with Dirco DG Zane Dangor, is credited by Pandor for suggesting that South Africa take the government of Israel to the International Court of Justice.

He is an inspired choice, and we can expect that he will work very well with Botes and Moraka. All three are young and exciting choices and will bring fresh energy to the portfolio.

Thus, even with the GNU balancing and the loss of Dr Pandor, the ANC and Ramaphosa were clear.

South Africa’s foreign policy stance is to remain, therefore its involvement in BRICS continues, and the centrality of African development, as well as the importance of human rights.

Pandor’s approach on Israel, as well as the manner in which South Africa worked within BRICS and other multilateral bodies, was one that balanced both power with a caring and moral approach, we could even call it ‘Ubuntu’. However, the new team may have to trade some of that Ubuntu for some realpolitik.

The developments in Gaza and Ukraine has meant that China and Russia have become exceptionally close.

Simultaneously, the reaction of the United States, not just towards Russia, but especially China has created the conditions for a world economic crisis.

China has been preparing for this for a while. For instance, it has decreased it’s importing of African oil and gas, in favour of Russia initially but lately it has increased its imports from the Middle East, that is Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

Lamola and his team will have to calculate how it can leverage the political relationship into a seriously meaningful trade partnership, which recognises African underdevelopment and does not require South Africa and other African countries to become anti-West.

It is a tough task, but in manner of speaking the International Relations portfolio has fortuitously benefited with a team that could be a little more forceful and a lot more strategic.

We have a lot to look forward to – who GNU?

*** Donovan E. Williams is a social commentator. @TheSherpaZA on X (formerly Twitter)

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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