South Africa’s ‘new dawn’ of international strategy

South Africa’s ‘new dawn’ of international strategy

After a troubled decade under President Zuma, South Africa is emerging to what new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has dubbed a ‘new dawn’. The new era showcases a fresh international strategy that seeks to capitalise on the country’s various opportunities.

A New Dawn

Given South Africa’s forthcoming national and provincial elections, this year will inevitably be dominated by domestic politics. For South Africa, 2019 poses fresh international opportunities (and challenges) to reposition itself as a credible voice in global affairs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s public postures in late 2018, shed light on how South Africa will position itself globally after the Autumn election. They have set out to recapture the country’s moral authority and to re-acquire strategic global influence. South Africa’s recent decision, at the United Nations General Assembly, to reverse its abstinence from voting to condemn the human rights abuses in Myanmar signals a decided reorientation in South Africa’s foreign policy.

Ramaphosa’s promise of a New Dawn transcends the preceding era and introduces a dynamic approach to policy. His active engagements with multilateral organisations and international partners showcase a renewed pursuit to advance South Africa’s interests through international means. The President’s charm offensive to garner foreign investment is aimed at bolstering the domestic economic project, tactically advancing his electoral drive.

Sisulu has established a Review Panel to work on institutional capacities and offering clearly defined policy objectives. The panel includes experienced old hands Aziz Pahad and Ayanda Ntsaluba, to implement Sisulu’s turnaround foreign policy.

Ramaphosa’s strategic skills on display

Ramaphosa’s diplomatic and rhetorical skills were on full display during his maiden visit to the United Nations. He tactically deployed South Africa’s most potent diplomatic weapon: the legacy of Madiba. Ramaphosa sought to assert international influence by unveiling a statue in commemoration of the revered global icon.

As the principal guest of the ‘Nelson Mandela Peace Summit’, convened on the eve of the annual general assembly last September, Ramaphosa evoked the overlap between Mandela’s values and that of the United Nations. This was a clear attempt to re-position South Africa as a responsible global power, committed to upholding international law. This is important for the new administration who seek to distance themselves from the transgressive Zuma era. In doing so Ramaphosa leveraged Mandela’s gravitas as an international statesman, advocating for a “more representative, equal and fair United Nations”. Additionally, his call to “resist any and all efforts to undermine the multilateral approach” is calculated to a global order that is threatened by the United States’ new unilateral policies.

Ramaphosa’s endorsement to reform the United Nations and its Security Council claims an authoritative, independent vantage. It is from this vantage that South Africa has the most to gain. Unlike Zuma, who pursued national interests through narrow anti-Western tactics, Ramaphosa can advance the national interest and representative global governance by presenting a sovereign embodiment of international norms and values.


Strategic opportunities: The UNSC and BRICS

Increased discord among the United Nations Security Council’s veto-bearing powers has opened significant influence for non-permanent members. South Africa rejoins the Security Council as a non-permanent member at a precarious and opportune time. Its seat at the table grants the opportunity to help steer and accomplish matters, thus far only been in discussion. For example the advocation of peace in Yemen and South Sudan.

The about-turn on the Myanmar vote is an encouraging sign indicating a social responsibility. Minister Sisulu has announced that votes will henceforth be cast individually and upon direction from the Executive. This circumvents an often recalcitrant diplomatic process and advances a foreign policy that serves the national interest.

Sisulu stated:

“We want to usher in a new era where South Africa can lift itself out of poverty and inequality and regain its stature in the world… We want South Africa to be once again a moral compass and a voice of reason in a world increasingly overcome with selfish, narrow interests”.

A challenge for Ramaphosa’s administration is how it seeks to benefit from BRICS. Instead of an anti-Western mechanism, BRICS is a cogent, cooperative association engendering representative global governance. It is evident through its initiatives that it seeks to reform, not a revolution, international order. As a member of this exclusive group, South Africa holds considerable leverage.

Responding to global instability, BRICS is building beyond its rhetorical form. BRICS Plus is an extension of the BRIC bloc construct to incorporate closely affiliated countries of bloc members. South Africa, through BRICS Plus, has the opportunity to assert its constitutional values and reconciliatory ethos.


Transcending “nine lost years” under Zuma

South Africa’s seat at the Security Council and its membership to BRICS may reverse Zuma’s narrow foreign policy.

An independent stance could grant South Africa greater international power, accelerating the tide towards an imminent multi-polar world order. South Africa’s foreign policy appears to present an independent, middle ground in the fractured global disorder. Whilst the nation defends multilateralism (as seen in the UNSC), it searches for new opportunities to exert influence (through BRICS).

South Africa is emerging from what President Ramaphosa has called “nine lost years”. A new, balanced sovereign strategy will not only promote South Africa’s international interests but also assist to consolidate the domestic policy landscape as well.

Categories: Africa, International

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