What is the future of SA foreign policy?

Photo © MyANC / Facebook

On 30 June South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, kicked off its week-long policy conference in Johannesburg.

Party cadres will meet under the (now ironic) call “The year of Oliver Reginald Tambo: Let us deepen unity!” in memory of one of the ANC’s most formidable and respected leaders.

Even a casual observer of politics in South Africa cannot be immune to the barrage of media reports detailing leaked emails, the alleged capture of elected officials by prominent businesses interests, and the fracas this has caused within the governing party.

In June the country – still reeling from the president’s latest re-shuffling of his cabinet that led to the deployment of loyalists to shore up his power – posted negative economic growth for a second consecutive quarter, certifying a recession. At the same time increasing disquiet from political opposition, calling for the redistribution of wealth, has caused government to amplify the refrain for “radical economic transformation” in an attempt to recapture mass-support and shift blame. These are interesting and uncertain times in South Africa.

This policy conference is a precursor to the ANC’s December 2017 electoral conference, where the top leadership and next president of the party (and most likely the country, if the ANC is able to win the 2019 general elections) will be selected. While political manoeuverings are already underway with certain individuals already having begun their campaign for the presidency, this conference is important because of the nuts-and-bolts policy discussions that will be undertaken.

Notable among these is the policy discussion document The ANC in an unpredictable and uncertain world that is characterised by increased insecurity and the rise of populism – which amounts to a working draft of the country’s future foreign policy, released by the International Relations Sub-Committee of the ANC’s National Executive Committee. Launched on 11 June this year, the document positions the party as a ‘progressive internationalist’, claims to be unapologetically left-leaning, favouring its historic relations with former liberation movements and the left, while attempting to respond to the emerging challenges of the contemporary global milieu.

In these uncertain and rapidly shifting times, there is a proclivity for countries to turn inward and become more protectionist. However, this is a stance that South Africa can ill-afford. Its future is intrinsically linked with the rest of the continent and established relationships with key economic powers in the West.

Establishing constructive relationships with emerging powers, and with the rest of the world, remains of pivotal importance to propel the country forward, and to finding creative solutions to new and existing challenges. South Africa seeks to be an active global citizen, prizing multilateralism and pushing for changing the rules of the global system to be more inclusive of the developing world’s priorities and power shifts.

Above all, South Africa’s foreign policy cannot afford to abandon its tradition of striving for the attainment of universal human rights, human dignity, equality, freedom and democracy – as enshrined in our constitution.

30 Jun 2017