Last week an American investor lay in intensive care after he endured a brutal attack on the streets of Johannesburg. This is not unheard of in South Africa, nor anywhere else in the world; however, following the State of the Nation Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the irony could not be lost.
The SONA is an opportunity for the president to showcase to the world South Africa’s attractive opportunities for trade and investment. It is a time to motivate current investors that their money is in the right place and it is an opportunity to provide hope to citizens that the government has a plan to achieve economic growth through continued foreign direct investment.
Following the missed opportunity at his SONA, Ramaphosa had a great chance, at the recent G20 Summit, to outline a clear departure from a decade of ambiguous, inconsistent and incoherent foreign policy. It was the perfect platform to leave behind the days of defying the International Criminal Court and illogical UN voting patterns where SA often found itself on the right side of wrong decisions. Based on his address at the summit, there is still much left to be desired.
The G20 Summit houses 80% of the world’s GDP. More than 80% of its membership covers the Americas, Europe and Asia, while Australia, Africa and the Middle East have scarce representation through single country membership. With this in mind, it was crucial that South Africa was able to convince countries with a strong standing in the international arena that there is no uncertainty when it comes to the stability of its economy and the opportunities it is able to provide to foreign investors.
The G20 itself has recognised that in order to increase trade and sustain economies, it has to tackle issues of common purposes, such as climate change, energy and migration. South Africa, therefore, finds itself in a situation where it needs to remain relevant on the international stage and can no longer rely on the foundations left by Nelson Mandela.
Nigeria and Egypt are constant competitors for SA’s seats on bodies such as Brics and the G20. For years, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and East African regions have grouped together in harmony and unity to create an enabling environment focused on intra-state trade and mutual development. They know that inclusivity is a far better path than isolation.
Inclusive diplomacy with a clear agenda focused on trade and co-operation generates a clear signal that this country is open for trade and not aid. It is an agenda and pattern of behaviour that invites continued foreign investment.
Ramaphosa would have done well to allay our existing bilateral trade partners’ apprehension and assure them that South Africa relies on their trade and is a reliable partner in Africa. With Brexit looming, South Africa can take advantage of a crisis opportunity to negotiate better trade deals between it and the United Kingdom, as well as with the European Union. We should have also taken this opportunity to entrench ourselves favourably in the new Intra-Africa Free Trade Treaty to reinvest in our regional diplomacy.
South Africa needs to humble itself in its approach to foreign policy and seek to open doors with countries it has engagements with. An open-door policy is an entrance to opportunity. Our focus needs to move to the future and away from the past. Applying a “struggle” mentality in policy and relationships might earn us friendships but does nothing for nurturing trade and advancement.
SA’s legislation and membership on international bodies need to be geared towards increasing trade and lowering barriers such as costs and agreements. We need to increase negotiations and dialogue while being a productive member of the bodies we serve and the regions we represent.
Maturity is required from South Africa to ensure its foreign policy remains separate from party politics for the benefit of its citizens. The president wasted this opportunity to address all these issues – instead, he simply suggested that China would have more influence internally with regards to aid and not necessarily bilateral trade.
Furthermore, South Africa’s interference in the domestic affairs of some countries and respect of sovereignty in others shows that we cannot self-correct rookie errors and often rely on the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) to steer the ship and keep our politicians out of trouble, rather than risking our executive to oversight the department.
The president has shown we have long run out of new ideas, and that holding on to our past is the last bastion of power and relevance we rely on to be involved in the international arena. This is sad considering that the opportunity exists for us to showcase a successful young democracy which is learning from its mistakes and the injustices of the past.
Securing permanent seats for South Africa on international bodies is not just a victory for our country, but also ensures continued opportunities for growth on our continent through trade, while aiding in the alleviation of issues related to migration and climate change.
This past SONA was indeed a missed opportunity and we appear to have proved only that we host mildly-inviting prospects for foreign investment at the G20 Summit. Ramaphosa’s comments on the sidelines of the summit, followed by the company he kept, poses a great risk to the foreign investment and economic growth of our country.
Ramaphosa is condemning South Africa to eternal residency in the intensive care unit, on life support, with our light stuck on red, emitting a signal reflecting that we are not open for business. DM