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In January 2020, we will succeed Egypt as chair of the continent’s premier intergovernmental organisation, the African Union (AU).
Also in January, we will take over the reins of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – the body which monitors Africa’s political, economic governance and other facets of national life to enhance the continent’s development agenda.
Leadership of these institutions provides South Africa with an opportunity to scale up its contribution to the continent and the rest of the world.
A crucial question in this regard is: what kind of Africa and world do we intend to contribute towards, through our leadership of these international institutions?
It is fair to assume that the continent and the world will defer to our leadership only to the extent that we exude sufficient political and moral suasion on the pressing challenges facing humanity.
One recalls this point being made with striking irony by a senior member of the George W Bush administration during a discussion with a minister and a presidency official during the closing days of the Thabo Mbeki reign in mid 2008.
The American bemoaned SA’s positions on the contentious international issues of the day. They begrudgingly conceded that SA’s posture was grounded on principle and was, as a result, appreciated by significant sections of global political opinion.
They warned that hard would be the klap the day we descended into expediency, which would provide ostensible cover for the flagellation. The strategic interests of Africa and the global south to which we are a part will be served by domestic and international efforts to realise the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, not the least important of which is the mobilisation of resources for development to poorer regions of the world, especially Africa.
To illustrate the point through the phenomenon of mass migration, it is reasonable to assert that the reduction of poverty and hunger, of gender and overall societal inequality, and arresting environmental degradation, among others, would lead to a substantial cutback in migration.
In the early 1990s, the left in South Africa appreciated this link and articulated an illuminating perspective that still holds promise for addressing the roots – and to some extent, the manifestations – of migration.
In the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) base document, the ANC argued that “we cannot build the South African economy in isolation from its Southern African neighbours”. It reasoned that “such a path would benefit nobody in the long run”.
For its part, the 1994 Intelligence White Paper noted that “massive socio-economic degradation … poverty, hunger, homelessness and unemployment … will render the political changes meaningless if they are not accompanied by a significant improvement in the quality of our people’s lives”.
It espoused a “holistic” concept of security which “incorporates political, social, economic and environmental issues” and stressed that “the objectives of security policy go beyond achieving an absence of war to encompass the pursuit of democracy, sustainable economic development and social justice”.
Implicit in the foregoing are some cold hard facts.
The most obvious is that without addressing the economic and political push factors that account for internal and external migration at a national, regional and continental level, we are unlikely to stem the tide of migration into the urban areas and a relatively better-off – in real and notional terms – South Africa.
Another is that whereas states in the region and across the continent are agreed on the necessity for integration, South African national discourse seems to suggest, albeit schizophrenically, that integration is about economic goods and services at the exclusion of poor people.
Hardly anything is said about skilled professionals such as medical doctors. What then should happen to nationals of countries whose scarce skills are being put to use to serve and develop SA and other countries?
Yet another is that while socio-economic and political factors coalesce to produce regular tragedies in which fellow Africans further to the north, the west and Sahel regions of the continent regularly drown in rickety boats on the Mediterranean en route to an increasingly right wing and resentful Europe, the common refrain about “porous borders” implies there is something a land border can conjure up that an oceanic body of water failed to achieve.
Still another is that the lexicon employed by some in the media and political leadership is increasingly verging towards the right and xenophobia.
It attaches with a degree of self-injuriousness which may, in the long run, attract all manner of negative responses from within and beyond the continent. Why, for example, are Africans from outside South Africa “foreigners” and not “Africans from beyond our borders?”
It is also eclipsing the Pan Africanist and internationalist perspective of the African liberation movement which previously made it possible for the continent to withstand challenging episodes.
Suffice it to say that as we take over the reins of the UNSC, the AU and APRM, we must emphasise the necessity for common and co-operative approaches to tackling the fundamental causes of mass migration: this entails equitable distribution of resources within and between countries, especially between the global south and the developed north.
A little-known fact is that Pretoria is the second largest host to foreign missions after Washington. We achieved this feat to a large measure because of the worldly pedigree of the men and women who occupied the front ranks of the struggle against apartheid and the eminence in which that struggle came, over time, to assume in African and world estimation.
Part of the challenge in sustaining our pride of place in the world lies in a delicate pursuit of a congenial interface between domestic and international politics.
– Ratshitanga is a social and political commentator
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