Much has been said and written about the havoc wreaked on the domestic front in South Africa by a near decade of President Jacob Zuma. Perhaps because of their immediate relevance, Zuma`s shenanigans involving state capture, higher education and alleged corruption have eclipsed his trail of failure and destruction on the diplomatic front. It is therefore critical that Cyril Ramaphosa, as he cements his power in the ANC and most likely the government as well, should address Zuma`s foreign policy mess with the same vigour that he brings to Zuma`s domestic legacy.
Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled " In fixing Zuma`s messy legacy, Cyril dare not neglect foreign policy", published on Sunday Times, 21 January 2018.
Ramaphosa does not have the luxury of being able to bide his time and wait for his turn at the helm of power in the Union Buildings before he tries to reassure South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world that the country`s tainted foreign policy will be reset to the glorious era of former president Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.
South Africa`s diplomatic failures are shown most prominently when you look at the unpredictability that came to define the Zuma years. Seemingly made off the cuff, Zuma`s policy was self-contradictory, indecisive and lacking in long-range calculation. An example is the Libyan case in 2011 when South Africa, as a temporary member of the UN Security Council, voted in favour of UN Resolution 1973 which was the basis for the no fly zone sought by then US president Barack Obama. It precipitated a Nato invasion and seven months later rebels killed Muammar Gaddafi.
The decision by Pretoria came as a shock for foreign policy analysts because it flew in the face of South Africa`s key tenets since the end of apartheid. Top among these principles were nonintervention in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, as well as opposition to the use of force in resolving international crises. Not for nothing did Mandela volunteer his services as a mediator between George W Bush and Saddam Hussein in 2003 before the troops were on the ground; similarly, then president Mbeki resisted pressures to intervene in Zimbabwe after the drama of the 2008 election. As a result of the Zuma legacy, South Africa has lost, or maintains only a tenuous grasp upon, the titles it could once claim with confidence: leader, representative and promoter of the continent. Misadventures in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as a growing distance from the continent`s other major player, Nigeria, have sealed the country`s decline.
If there was a plan in any of these escapades, there seems little evidence of it. Underlining this was a lack of communication and transparency, made all the more suspect due to the personalised nature of the policy. Indeed, in retrospect, we may label this South Africa`s lost decade in foreign policy. Now the South African government is undergoing some changes, creating the chance to renew and refocus the nature and scope of its foreign policy in the region, the continent and the world as a whole. Ramaphosa is not known for his foreign policy brilliance - his diplomatic record in Lesotho is lukewarm at best - but there are promising signs, not least among them the presence of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the ANC`s celebration of its 106th anniversary. Kenyatta congratulated Ramaphosa - `my brother` as he called him during a press briefing - on his victory at the ANC elective conference.
Ramaphosa must return to the path set by Mandela and Mbeki. The country must also regain the moral high ground that these administrations held, and restore the intellectual capacity of yesteryear. Pretoria must co-operate but remain nonaligned; in other words, pragmatism must win the day at every turn. If something does not serve the continental and national interest it must be swiftly thrust aside. But how can Ramaphosa go about doing this? Resuscitating South Africa`s collaborative capacity is a necessary first step.
Pretoria ought to once again seek a leading role on global issues and the African agenda, and issues in need of leadership abound, from the increasingly unpredictable occupant of the White House to the UK`s exit from the EU, the rise of China and the AU`s need for self-financing. On none of these can South Africa go at it alone. New leaders are emerging in various corners of the continent: Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, Nigeria in est Africa, and Kenya in East Africa. Other states, such as Botswana and Ghana, are taking progressive stances and punching above their weight diplomatically. For example Ghanaian President Nana kufo-Addo, during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Accra last month, shocked his guest by calling for Africa to reduce its dependency on the West.
Ramaphosa must work closely with the Department of International Relations and Co operation. He must ensure that the ANC restores its intellectual capacity. Also important is that he does not underestimate the power and importance of communication with the eneral populace, especially through the party`s eekly letters. South Africans deserve and demand accountability in all aspects of national policy, including Pretoria`s engagement and interaction beyond our borders. Reliable communication will go a long way towards reducing the high level of uncertainty, speculation and unpredictability, as well as the misunderstanding, that so uniquely defined the Zuma era.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg