Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu spoke to Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor Shannon Ebrahim about the key foreign policy issues currently concerning South Africa.
Question: Does South Africa plan to assist Zimbabwe with the holding of a national dialogue to find political solutions to the country’s challenges?
Answer: I am not aware that they have asked for our help in a national dialogue but if they do we would be only too happy to act as mediators. But we can’t be the ones to initiate something on their behalf as that would be imposing our own will on them.
Q: What will South Africa do to contribute to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery?
A. One of the things that we discovered as we were talking through what their problems are and what we could do to help, is that sanctions are still imposed on them even after the regime against which the sanctions were imposed is now overtaken by new elections and a new presidency. We want to help them lobby those that imposed the sanctions to lift them. There is no way that Zimbabwe can be on a path of economic recovery with sanctions hovering over their head. They can’t even loan money from us in South Africa without breaking sanctions.
Q. Has there been any clarity on how much financial assistance South Africa is likely to give to Zimbabwe, and will it attach conditions to it?
A: I think it would be very unethical for me to be disclosing that kind of information. We have had discussions with them and are willing to help within our means, but I am not sure that the amount of money to be made available has been made public. We will be guided by Treasury on the amount.
Of course there will always be conditions. The reason that we are giving financial assistance is to get them out of a particular situation, and the conditions will be that we would like to see that the money is going towards what we have all agreed on, which will assist with their economic recovery. We are giving a loan in good will as we want to assist them and we trust that the money will go towards what we have mutually agreed upon.
Q: Why did South Africa not condemn the violence of the Zimbabwean security forces against civilians a few weeks ago during the protests?
A: When it became clear what was happening in Zimbabwe we issued a statement. We abhorred violence in the clearest way possible. Even at the time of the elections when live fire was used I did indicate in a press conference that South Africa was not happy that live ammunition was used. We were supportive of President Mnangagwa’s willingness to investigate what went wrong. We released former President Kgalema Motlanthe to go and investigate, and he is a man of integrity. I haven’t seen Motlanthe’s recommendations and I have no idea how far Zimbabwe is on implementing those recommendations. I will investigate what happened with those recommendations.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Q: Why did there seem to be a disjuncture between the SADC and AU positions on the DRC electoral outcome?
A: I can only discuss the SADC position, I cannot talk about the AU position because I don’t remember that the AU had a meeting on this matter. There was a caucus meeting of the AU but it wasn’t a formal AU meeting, so I am not at liberty to discuss that.
The position of SADC has been clear from the beginning. We have been assisting the DRC to make sure that they go to elections, and we put pressure on them to ensure that elections were held. We have been monitoring their commitment to us and they have been coming to us and reporting on their progress.
As part of the region it is our responsibility to make sure that we adhere to democratic principles that all of us believe in. When they finally agreed that they would go to elections we were very happy. Their electoral commission CENI came to explain to us the processes that they would be following, and we were happy with those processes. When we went to Namibia, we asked Kabila to step down and he made a commitment that he would be standing down.
All the parties which were contesting the elections in the DRC have had access to South Africa, either through the ANC or at the level of government, as they were reporting to SADC through us when we were SADC Chair. Various political leaders came to South Africa to talk to their people living here. We treated the DRC no differently from how we would treat other countries going to elections. Our biggest concern was that the elections should be peaceful. Any outbreak of violence would affect us and it is our responsibility to help create an environment of peace.
Q: Post-apartheid South Africa has a long history of involvement in the DRC, why have we invested so much political and financial capital in the country, and will we continue to be involved in nation-building efforts?
A: We would have to go back to the time when Madiba held discussions with President Mobutu sese Seko. When we look at what we were able to achieve in assisting the DRC we are very proud as South Africa that we played this particular role. We have invested in the DRC as it needed the assistance. We benefited from the support of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola, and they didn’t count the pennies. In the spirit of solidarity they assisted us. In the same way, the DRC was going through a difficult period, and we decided to support the people of the DRC.
Q: How is South Africa using its position on the UN Security Council to counter regime change efforts by the West in Venezuela?
A: Some Latin American and Pacific Rim countries came to the UN Secretary General and said they would like the UN to intervene in the matter of an impending implosion in Venezuela. We applied our mind to that. We are a government that has a particular revolutionary ethos and we are a progressive government. We have a human rights ethos running through our policies and we are therefore concerned about the crisis in Venezuela. There is a better way to solve the situation, and we are using our time on the UNSC to see how to alleviate the problems. Any threat of violence is completely unethical and unacceptable.
We are convinced that the people of Venezuela are capable of solving their own problems, and are capable of asking for help from the UN. We need to discuss the matter and come to a common agreement. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked for an immediate snap debate in the UNSC on Venezuela and he put the options that the US had on the table, and those were not considered acceptable options to the UN Security Council. We are hoping that the members of the UNSC can find each other on this matter.
Q: What are your views regarding the front page news story in the Sunday Times last week regarding a “letter” written to President Ramaphosa by the representatives of the US, UK, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Germany on barriers to investment in South Africa?
A: What came out in the Sunday Times was that there was a letter. We then called the five ambassadors involved, and they explained to us that it was a non-paper. The newspaper report said it was a letter written by the ambassadors and sent directly to the president. This is unacceptable. If a country needs to express themselves to a head of state they have to go through particular protocols.
In Davos our president met with the leaders of many of these countries and there were no differences of opinion.
We have to investigate and raise with the Sunday Times where this so-called “letter” is. If it was a letter, that would be completely against all protocol.
There didn’t seem to be any reason for those ambassadors to write such a letter in the week that the President was going to deliver his State of the Nation Address. When we called them we had clarity on what had happened. The non-paper was eight months old, and it doesn’t even involve most of the ambassadors that are currently in the country. I would like us to investigate where this story came from that there was a letter. Can we find this letter as the information I got was that there wasn’t one.
We knew that there had been discussions between those ambassadors and the Investment Envoys, but we didn’t know that there had been a non-paper written. The ambassadors now regret the misunderstanding that led to that situation. None of our South African ambassadors would ever write a letter to the President of the United States and go and deliver it there.
Q: Do you feel that South Africa is still putting forward ideological positions as it has done in the past?
A: I feel that there is a dearth of ideology. We seem to be floating towards some kind of ideological bankruptcy. We need to have an ideology as a country and as a party. People need to know what we align ourselves with, and we need to start with the ruling party. The ruling party’s political school needs to step up so that our people know instinctively what we stand for.
Q: Do you foresee difficulties within BRICS given the new Brazilian administration’s anti-China rhetoric and their close association with the US and other right wing governments?
A: BRICS is an association of willing partners which would like to assist each other. Governments come and ago and we are still hoping that the association will last. The President of Brazil has not broken away from BRICS, and he is the Chair of BRICS this year. We will wait and see what he has to say about BRICS, but I don’t expect that his relationships with other people will take him away from BRICS. We built the association over a long period of time and its successes speak for themselves.