Mbeki’s African dream comes full circle

Elders: Lindiwe Sisulu wants former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe to advise on foreign policy. (David Harrison)

Elders: Lindiwe Sisulu wants former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe to advise on foreign policy. (David Harrison)

Former president Thabo Mbeki could soon be back to finish what he started if the international relations department has its way and brings him on board to spearhead the revival of his African Renaissance project.

“His knowledge and experience is unequalled in African politics,” the international relations and co-operation minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, said this week. “And we would like him to be a kind of elder statesman that we can go to when we want to deal with a tricky issue and want to get views that are different from ours or want to get confirmation of our own views. I don’t think we are going to allow him to not agree.”

Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that the department had appointed a review panel to evaluate the country’s foreign policy and advise on ways to strengthen South Africa’s economic diplomacy with other African states. The panel will also suggest ways of re-establishing ties with countries such as Nigeria and the Caribbean states, ties that were strong during Mbeki’s era.

Sisulu said his role would be above that of the review panel, although the specifics of his involvement had not yet been finalised by her and President Cyril Ramaphosa. She said the government was also planning to bring former president Kgalema Motlanthe on board.

“Instinctively, we would like the president [Mbeki] to come back to the fold, [and] we would like president Kgalema [Motlanthe] to come back. President [Jacob] Zuma is continuing to play a prominent role within the ANC and has made himself available whenever,” Sisulu said.

Mbeki’s African Renaissance was a call for African solutions to African problems and aimed to ensure the political stability and economic regeneration of the continent, with a specific focus on freeing it from its international debt burden. It was also a quest for a new world order by challenging the unfair balance caused by globalisation and financial markets.

Sisulu surprised the international community this week after a meeting with Ramaphosa, at which they decided to recall the South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, in response to the massacre of about 60 people during protests on Monday in Gaza.

The minister also said she would implement the ANC’s elective conference’s decision to downgrade the embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

The move, which was applauded in the ANC, was deemed outrageous by local Jewish representatives. Sisulu met Ngombane and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies on Wednesday in a bid to allay their concerns.

“We have been given an instruction by the ANC’s national conference to downgrade [our diplomatic representation] but we’re not there yet. We have not even interrogated the resolution [from the conference] yet. What we have done is to recall the ambassador in response to the violence in Gaza,” Sisulu told the M&G.

Referring to the continent, she said South Africa would not withdraw its support for the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila but her department would closely monitor the run-up to the elections scheduled for December.

Kabila is one of Zuma’s key allies in central Africa and has been under pressure to agree to give up power after the elections because of fears that he will change the country’s Constitution to extend the presidential term limit.

Opposition parties in the DRC have called on the Southern African Development Community to ensure this does not happen.

“He [Kabila] was asked to come and answer some of the questions [at the African Union double troika in Angola]. He was in the hot seat and we went through his plans to go to elections in December,” Sisulu said.

“He presented his road map and we accepted that. We called in the electoral commission to explain to us what they are doing in relation to ensuring that there is a secure and free and fair election.”

In Burundi, a referendum on whether president Pierre Nkurunziza’s term could be extended until 2034 was worrisome, Sisulu said.

“We are wanting to go back to Burundi to see how we can get them back to that system that we left there. We have invested a lot of energy, time and resources in putting Burundi on a democratic footing and it does concern us when we find out the country might have veered from where we left off,” she said. 

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