Avoiding the word “recession”, President Cyril Ramaphosa invoked the spirit of Nelson Mandela in an effort to reassure the international community that South Africa will ably be navigated through the stormy waters of the current land debate. Diplomats responded positively, but were left with quite a few questions.
In just over a week President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team will board a commercial South African Airways flight to New York to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly. On the day before the opening of the heads of state gathering, a Nelson Mandela Peace Summit will take place in honour of the world figure and former South African president’s 100thbirthday celebrations.
To make sure that the rest of the international community was on board, Ramaphosa invited foreign ambassadors in Pretoria to a meeting at the Department of International Relations on Friday morning, where he took the opportunity to channel Mandela to talk about international solidarity, and also to reassure those looking at us from the outside that South Africa’s robust debate – and screaming matches – would have a happy ending.
This is important, because towards the end of next month Ramaphosa hopes to see the people with the big money from abroad attend his investment summit and pledge their long-term commitment in dollars to the country. He has a $100-billion target to make in five years, and lately the uncertainty created by, among others, the land debate, has been slowing him down.
Not sticking to the rather clinical written script, Ramaphosa brought up the land issue by saying it has attracted a lot of attention in South Africa and “has drawn quite a bit of attention in other countries as well”. He had the good grace not to mention United States President Donald Trump’s first tweet as president mentioning Africa and the US chargé d’affaires Jessye Lapenn, who was in the audience, didn’t flinch.
“The land reform process as it unfolded, will take place in an orderly manner in a way that advances the interests of all our people and not just a few,” he said, and explained the historical reasons behind it.
“On an overall basis, we want to use this as a process that is going to enhance the growth of our economy,” he said, without mentioning the recession once.
On this issue, “South Africa … will build our own consensus as a nation, as we did in 1994 under the able leadership of Nelson Mandela. It will be a South Africa-made solution,” he said.
Ramaphosa, who was Mandela’s first choice to succeed him, and who was closely involved in negotiating a new dispensation for South Africa, knows that the peaceful transition from apartheid is one of South Africa’s best export products to date. Pushing this button could go some way towards helping to convince foreign investors that the country wasn’t going to the dogs as yet.
The diplomats afterwards said Ramaphosa didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know, but they did have the warm glow about them of officials who could report back to their principals that they heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. If international relations deputy minister Reginah Mhaule, who was MC at the event, didn’t do such a good job of discouraging questions, the diplomats might even have asked some questions during question time – but nobody had the courage to put their hands up.
They did say afterwards that they were still unclear about the details of the investment conference, due to take place on 25 to 27 October in South Africa, and needed to know soon so they could invite the appropriate businesspeople from their countries. One diplomat indicated that ministers from their side will be in South Africa early on in October. Their forward planning couldn’t wait until early September, which is when the exact dates for the conference were announced for the first time. South Africans are rather good at annoying on an international scale by leaving details for the last minute.
Turning to the international stage, Ramaphosa thanked those who stood by South Africa in being elected to occupy a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. “Our engagement with the world is informed by our own experience during the liberation struggle of international support and solidarity,” he said. “You are in South Africa because you have chosen to be our partners.”
He said South Africa was concerned about “the rise in the last two decades of unilateralism in global affairs and the violation of national sovereignty”. It would work to strengthen “multilateral systems of governance and collective global decisions” – another barb at Trump’s latest moves in the opposite direction.
In this regard he asked for support for South Africa’s position on the reform of the UN Security Council, which would mean expanding the permanent and non-permanent category from 15 to 26 seats, and giving Africa two permanent and five non-permanent seats in the body.
Finally, Ramaphosa also gave clarity about former president Thabo Mbeki’s role in the Democratic Republic of Congo – after President Joseph Kabila’s men so roundly rejected him a couple of weeks ago – by saying that Mbeki was appointed as special envoy to the Great Lakes region. This confirmation comes after international relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s back-flipping and spinning just last month, when she said a former president could not be a special envoy to a president. Ramaphosa has just confirmed that he could.
As for the DRC, their ambassador to South Africa, Bene M’poko, just happens to be dean of the diplomatic corps. In closing the gathering, he pledged the DRC’s support for South Africa on the UN Security Council, praised South Africa’s role as peacekeeper on the continent, but made no mention of either Mbeki or his own country’s rocky road to its elections in December.
One of the ambassadors wrongly said with an eye roll that, because “he made a speech of 15 minutes”, they didn’t have a chance for questions.
In reality, he spoke not much longer than five. DM
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