South Africa has not valued the importance of foreign policy as it should. Rather, we tend to blame other countries for almost everything bad that happens to us, because we have weak foreign policies; we take indecisive diplomatic positions that are of little benefit to our own people, for whom grinding poverty is a daily reality.
Perhaps this will now change, with the appointment of Naledi Pandor as minister of international relations and co-operation. She is a widely respected politician with excellent academic and political credentials — she is, after all, the granddaughter of the legendary Dr ZK Matthews. Her position is equivalent to that of the secretary of state in the United States. It is an important position and requires someone who has gravitas.
It is clear that President Cyril Ramaphosa was not happy with the way in which Lindiwe Sisulu, who preceded Pandor in the post, dealt with the downgrading of the South African embassy in Israel.
Nor was he pleased with her handling of the diplomatic spat with Rwanda. We have recently learned that a critic of the Rwandan government was shot in Cape Town. This is not the first time that a Rwandan has been killed in our country. Little has apparently been done to identify and apprehend the killers.
The Venezuelan crisis was also not handled well by Sisulu. Certainly, no normal person would support the role of the United States in this matter. Although we differ with the stance of Washington, this does not mean that the country has no economic problems, nor that the people are happy to be led by Nicolás Maduro.
We cannot be seen to be entering a divided terrain and then picking a side. Our role is to help create conditions for dialogue between the different parties and, in that way, resolve the issues between them.
Sisulu was rather too “personal” and subjective when dealing with the issue of the South African embassy in Israel. Perhaps her intention was to use it to try to impress Ramaphosa so that he might return the political favour by appointing her as his deputy president?
With Pandor now at the helm, we can feel confident that our diplomatic “strains” with Rwanda, Israel and other states will be resolved amicably through dialogue and not through the abuse of power.
It is no secret that people of Palestine and Israel are sitting with a political impasse, one that existed even before the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. Although there have been many attempts to bring about peace, these either collapsed or agreements were not honoured by one or other of the parties.
Both parties are to blame for the current situation, and both have to take responsibility for their actions. South Africa does itself no favours by blaming one side only. Rather, we should focus on finding a lasting, negotiated solution, which many believe will be the creation of two states: one for Israel and one for Palestine.
Washington under President Donald Trump claims to have a “deal of the century” for the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is a positive move that should be hailed and honoured by both parties. It is now up to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to talk to each other and seek a lasting solution to their political impasse.
Perhaps it is here that Pandor can play a meaningful role. She has the necessary emotional intelligence to put aside personal judgment and take a position based on the best needs of South Africa. She will hopefully put South Africa first.
It is also clear that Ramaphosa is on a charm offensive by appointing this smart and eloquent politician. It is now possible that our presence in the African Union will become more meaningful, and that we will begin to use our economic and political influence to shape continental politics. With the shifts brought about by Ramaphosa, South Africa has the opportunity to take centre stage internationally again.
Kenneth Mokgatlhe is director of the Linx Research Institute and Public Relations Consultants. These are his views.