African partnerships must become the hallmark of SA’s foreign policy

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma Photo: ANA Pictures

Chief Albert Luthuli, the first Black African to win the Nobel Peace Prize, left an indelible mark on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. When it was her turn to represent a free and democratic South Africa on the international stage, Dlamini-Zuma would often quote those words used by Inkosi Luthuli at his acceptance speech of the peace prize.

Luthuli had said: ‘This is Africa’s age – the dawn of her fulfilment, yes, the moment when she must grapple with destiny to reach the summits of sublimity saying, ours was a fight for noble values and worthy ends, and not for lands and the enslavement of manna.”

The sentiments raised by Inkosi Luthuli would often guide South Africa’s top diplomat in her work in the international community. Dr Dlamini-Zuma had served as South Africa’s foreign affairs minister both under presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe. Her stint as foreign affair minister came at a time when the international community was opening up to the idea of an African renaissance. While Mbeki led various efforts on the continent and designed a future for Africa, with other key heads of state, it was often left to Dlamini-Zuma to operationalise these plans. 

A key achievement of the continent during this time was the evolution of the Organization of African Unity, founded on the principles of unity and solidarity, into the African Union. A number of heads of state, Libya’s Mummar Gadhaffi included, had advanced the idea of a united Africa. Yet under Dlamini-Zuma’s stewardship of South African diplomacy, South Africa was not only privileged to host the launch of the AU in Durban in 2002 but also host the Pan African Parliament (PAP) in Midrand.

The launch of the African Union had been a culmination of a number of processes including the Lagos Plan of Action, the Abuja Treaty and then the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, better known as NEPAD. Together in ensuring that African parliamentarians consider vital questions of the social, economic and political future of our continent through PAP, the African Human Rights Court was also established and will eventually be amalgamated with the African Criminal Court. The court has yet to be established.

The Commission on Human and People’s Rights was established while various financial institutions must still be finalized and founded. At the same time, Dr Dlamini-Zuma also played an important role in establishing the Pan African Women’s Organization (PAWO) which seeks to harness the collective initiatives, energies and advancement of women on the continent.

Together with NEPAD, the Mbeki administration, and with Dlamini-Zuma, had also pursued the practice and institution of an African Peer Review Mechanism. In this way, instead of accounting to agencies and governments outside of the continent, the mechanism provided a fraternal correction between African states and a practical way to ensure African solutions for African problems. Through this mechanism, African governments could hold each other accountable, especially in terms of democracy and development. 

Dr Dlamini-Zuma whilst being South Africa’s foreign affairs minister led a number of initiatives on the continent. In the Sudan, in 2007, they had urged the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. She had also highlighted and lobbied support for relief efforts in Darfur, urging all those involved in the conflict and those assisting in restoring calm to resolve outstanding issues around the UN-AU Hybrid force in order to end the humanitarian crisis. Then already, she had highlighted the need for capacity building in South Sudan, four years before its declaration of independence.

She was also been instrumental in the signing of the Pact on Peace, Security, Stability and Development signed by the leaders of the Great Lakes region. Advocating always that it is countries themselves that must determine their own peace and destiny, the pact sort to put in place institutions that will see a healthy resolve to conflict and the endorsement of all parties to regional reconstruction and development.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, under Dr Dlamini-Zuma, would have also been involved in the peace processes of the Cote d’Ivoire, Comoros, Burundi and Sierre Leone. An advocate of the Sahrawi peoples, the Department would have strongly advanced the fight for independence of the people of Western Sahara.

While the African continent remained central in South Africa’s foreign policy during the Dlamini-Zuma years, there were also efforts to bring about peace and development in the Middle East and Timor-Leste. In fact, so central was Africa in South African foreign policy, that when South Africa was elected a non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in 2007/8, of the fifty-six resolutions taken by the Council, over half, at thirty-four, pertained to African countries. Six UNSC resolutions were on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, five on Liberia, four on Cote d’Ivoire, three on Sudan and two on Western Sahara.

In the following year, 2008, the Council also spent much of its time and resolutions on Africa. Thirty-six of the sixty-five, more than half, UNSC resolutions were on African countries. Eleven resolutions were on the Great Lakes region including resolutions on Rwanda, the DRC and Burundi. The border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, on the Council’s agenda the year before as well, had two resolutions dedicated to it. Five resolutions were also on the Middle East.    

In each of these resolutions, South Africa’s leading role on the continent would have been important and the leadership of Dr Dlamini-Zuma therefore in this respect goes uncontested. Her championing of the African continent therefore laid a solid foundation for when she then proceeded to become chairperson of the AU Commission.  

For the past decade, we may suggest that the Zuma administration looked east in its approach to its foreign policy. Except for Brazil, South Africa’s entry into the BRICS group of nations highlighted a great accomplishment for President Zuma and his foreign policy. Through BRICS, South Africa has come to champion greater cooperation in south-south relations and multilateralism. Traditional partners such as the United States and the European Union have had to give way for organs such as the Forum on Chinese African Cooperation and India-Africa Forum.

Given Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s former role and her championing of African interests, it would be good for her to build on the efforts made by President Zuma. While we have made partners in the east and south, it would be good for her to highlight again to our international partners the need to development infrastructure on the African continent, ensure food security and access to water, develop human capital and open markets for trade as well as  reflect once again on those words by Inkosi Albert Luthuli: Africa’s age has come!

Luzuko Bashman is Chairperson of the ANC Youth League in the Dullah Omar Region (Cape Town Metro) in the Western Cape