The Role of South Africa – KSInsights Apr 2024

Published on 07 May 2024

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be here today and I thank you for this opportunity to meet with you all under the auspices of the Economic Club of Kuala Lumpur, the KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific and the Star newspaper.

This meeting comes just a few days before we celebrate our Freedom Day on 27 April: this year being the 30th Anniversary of Democracy in South Africa. On that historic day 30 years ago, all South Africans of voting age stood united in long, winding queues to vote in the first democratic elections ever held in the country! The majority of people were voting for the first time in their lives.

The direction of our foreign policy was set a few days later on 10 May, when President Nelson Mandela stated at his inauguration, to the world leaders present, “We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy”. Further he said, “We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination”.

Like all countries, our foreign policy is rooted in our historical experience and in our National Interest. Deriving from these, the Vision of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa is of an African continent, which is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, and united, and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable. In other words, what we want for ourselves, we want for our brothers and sisters in our continent of Africa, as well as the world at large. We want to help create a better South Africa for all, a better Africa for all, and a better world for all.

This speaks to what is sometimes called the concentric circle approach in our foreign policy. Firstly, our foreign policy is rooted in our domestic values, principles, priorities, and objectives, ultimately aimed at addressing the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. It derives from our Constitution, and our National Development Plan 2030. This then finds expression in our commitment to the growth and development of Southern Africa, particularly through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its Regional Indicative Strategic Development Programme; as well as to a stable and prosperous African continent, working within the African Union and in terms of its’ development Agenda 2063 and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). From this then flows our commitment to solidarity and cooperation with countries and institutions of the South, where we find our intersection with Malaysia, and to cooperation with countries and institutions of the North. Lastly, it finds expression in the multilateral global arena, in our commitment to multilateralism and a just and equitable world order.

Therefore, put another way, the pillars of South Africa’s foreign policy accord central importance to advancing and championing the interests of Southern Africa and the African Continent; secondly, to working with countries and institutions of the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment; and to promote global equity and social justice; thirdly, to working with countries and institutions of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world; and lastly, doing our part to strengthen the multilateral system, including its transformation, to better reflect the diversity of our nations, the current realities and to ensure its centrality in global governance.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The title of my presentation today references South Africa’s constructive role in the emerging multipolar world. Central to this is a belief in our “Shared Destiny in a Changing World”. In this regard, the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent geo-political developments in Europe and the Middle East have brought into sharper focus than ever before the urgent need to cooperate on issues of global common concern, such as food and energy security, diversified supply chains, health systems and responses, regional insecurity and instability, and climate change. More than ever, we need to collaborate to overcome common economic challenges and to reimagine the global governance institutions.

Today, our globalised world has become ever more volatile, uncertain, and complex. It is also confronted with cross-cutting and borderless challenges, including global warming, terrorism, global pandemics, resource scarcity, and cyber security threats. The global governance architecture is at a crossroads, as it struggles to manage these stateless challenges afflicting humankind, while governing relations between states, as well as those between states and nonstate actors. We all need to play our role in protecting what the SDGs represent, namely a better world for all based on a recognition that there are certain global problems, that cannot be solved alone but only in the partnerships offered by the multilateral umbrella provided by the United Nations and other international organisations

Even more so today, as we are witnessing a pushback against globalisation, as well as the emerging trends of unilateralism, populism nationalism, xenophobia, and protectionism. These make it difficult to confront common global challenges in a multilateral setting. The world is experiencing a shifting balance of forces in global economic relations and changing centres of power in a geopolitical context. The interest shown last year in the BRICS Summit hosted by South Africa, particularly in relation to the expansion of BRICS and the use of national currencies in trade and investment, perfectly illustrates the changing global geopolitical dynamics.

This is as a result of numerous factors, key among these being the rise in the contributing share of developing countries to the global economic output. Innovations in technology under the 4th Industrial Revolution are having a profound impact on the world as we know it.

JUST AN ASIDE ON BRICS QUICKLY: Certain narratives attempt to post BRICS as being set up in opposition to something, or as an alternative to something. I can assure you that it was not constructed in opposition or to counter anything. We are not against any country or group of countries. Rather we came together as a set of countries sharing a set of principles and objectives of what we would like to see happening nationally, regionally, and globally.

We have established institutions such as the BRICS New Development Bank that provide options and choices, in this case regarding alternate financing. The NDB is not set up in opposition to the WB and IMF, but rather as a complementary organisation.

This narrative also speaks to the question of being forced to make binary choices. It is a false narrative to say that moving closer to one partner or partnership necessarily means moving away from another. Non-aligned means you can be friends with all and enemies of none. It is not about being with us or against us as it were. In this regard, NAM is as important as ever, as we need likeminded countries to stand together to defend the space in the middle where we are not forced to choose sides, where we can defend the freedom and space to choose.

Lastly regarding BRICS, the issue of dedollarisation was also misrepresented ahead of the Summit in Johannesburg last year. In fact, BRICS never posited an alternate currency. Rather, the discussion was about using national currencies to fund trade and investment, and to provide the financing for infrastructure projects, through such as the NDB.

Distinguished Participants

In order to deal with these common global trends, challenges, threats, and opportunities, under the concentric circle approach, as I have said, our international engagement extends beyond SADC and Africa to encompass solidarity, cooperation and partnership with countries and institutions of the South to advance a developmental agenda designed to cater for common needs and concerns. Strategic partnerships are created with these countries and institutions through bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral arrangements. It is in this context that we see the emergence of BRICS. It is also where we find our intersection again with Malaysia – the space where we have a “Shared Destiny in a Changing World”.

We share many similarities with Malaysia in terms of our approach to what is needed to make the global governance system more inclusive, equitable and representative. We share common needs and concerns as developing countries of the South. Further, our two countries share many similarities politically, economically, and socially and both our countries find unity in a diversity of races, religions, languages, and cultures. We have a shared commitment to pushing back the frontiers of poverty and underdevelopment in the South, as well as a commitment to promoting the rights of the Palestinian people – an important task made ever more so by what we are witnessing in Palestine and Israel today.

As like-minded, non-aligned countries, Malaysia and South Africa have common views and interests in various areas, including in organisations such as the United Nations and its agencies; the Commonwealth; the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM); the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the G77 caucus within the United Nations, and even in ASEAN, with South Africa having been accepted as a Sectoral Dialogue Partner. South Africa and Malaysia are cooperating in all these various multilateral fora, both recognising the importance of multilateralism as the only answer to resolving issues of common global concern. This cooperation reflects our shared values and commitment to influence the global agenda so that it reflects the needs and concerns of the South and best reflects the changed realities of the global order today.

In terms of ASEAN, South Africa acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) with ASEAN on 10 November 2020 and we have been accepted as a Sectoral Dialogue Partner of ASEAN. South Africa’s accession to the ASEAN TAC, along with Egypt and Nigeria, is a step closer to forging a strategic partnership between ASEAN and the African Continental Free Trade Area, through the African Union. Active trade and investment between the two blocs will change and improve the lives of people in ASEAN and Africa. In this process, it is important that we both recognise each other as gateways to our respective regions.

Accordingly, we believe that it would be important that our two organisations, ASEAN, and the African Union, initiate a process of systematic exchanges, as we share a common vision on a range of global issues and domestic challenges. Democracy, human rights, sustainable development and challenging the prevailing global system and power structures, as well as the global financial architecture, are pivotal in the foreign and domestic policies of our countries.

Another important area of possible work together, including within IORA, is on the emerging Indo-Pacific Concept. The IORA Outlook on the Indo-Pacific adopted at the Council of Ministers in Dhaka in 2022 complements the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, with several synergies that provide a further basis for cooperation for mutual benefit, especially in harnessing the opportunities in the Ocean Economy. The MoU signed last year between IORA and ASEAN at the East Asia Summit in Indonesia has laid a firm basis for deepening cooperation between the two regional organizations for mutual benefit in the Indo-Pacific region, including advancing the AfCTA. As with Malaysia, we too want to see the Indo-Pacific as a region of development, peace, stability, and prosperity.

However, we caution against the Concept being used for other purposes, such as the containment of a certain power in the region. Further, we emphasise that the Concept must embrace all members of the region, including Africa.

Ladies and Gentlemen

In terms of attempting to play a constructive role in this emerging multipolar world, South Africa has deliberately sought to contribute wherever we can in our region, continent and globally. We have utilised our own experience to promote dialogue and negotiation as the only sustainable means to solve conflict. We have shared our story of negotiated settlement in an effort to assist in bringing peace for example in Northern Ireland, in Sri Lanka, and in the Middle East Peace Process, through such as the Spier Initiative. We have contributed to UN and African peacekeeping Missions and in efforts to Silence the Guns in Africa. In this regard, we have played an active and leading role in the SADC Organ, the AU PSC, and have twice in recent years served on the UN Security Council.

In an effort to promote sustainable development and a better life for all, we have hosted such important gatherings as the WSSD, the WCAR, and the COP17 climate change talks. We have played an instrumental and leading role in the development of SADC and the AU, including initiatives such as NEPAD, Agenda 2063, and the African Peer Review Mechanism. We played an active role in the development of first the MDGs and then the SDGs, as well as in the WTO Doha Development Round. We have promoted the restructuring of the global political, economic,

and financial architecture to be more balanced, representative, and equitable to secure a global governance system that better reflects and represents today’s realities.

Most recently, as you all well know by now, we decided to pursue a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice to prevent the further slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

On this issue, let me start by outlining South Africa’s position on Palestine, as well as on the tragic situation in Gaza. The bonds between Palestine and the forces of liberation in South Africa were forged during our struggle for freedom. That is why in December 1997, our President at the time, Nelson Mandela famously said “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Therefore, we regard the issue of Palestine as a human rights issue, an issue of self-determination, not an issue of religion. It is a question of justice.

Since 1994, South Africa’s foreign policy position on Palestine has been consistent and has displayed systematic diplomatic support at multilateral, regional and bilateral levels. To this effect, South Africa has played a role in supporting peace efforts by sharing its negotiated transitional experience, supporting capacity-building, and facilitating inter-Palestinian dialogue, including the appointment of Presidential Special Envoys, and providing support at the African Union, among other initiatives.

Like Malaysia, South Africa stands firm on the issue of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and consistently speaks out about human rights abuses by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. South Africa remains resolutely committed to the Palestinian cause and supports all efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State, existing side-by-side in peace with Israel, within internationally recognised borders, based on those of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.

To this end, a viable and sustainable peace plan for the Middle East must ensure that Palestine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and economic viability is guaranteed, with sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel. The outcome of negotiations must be a just, sustainable, and lasting peaceful solution to the conflict.

In terms of the specific crisis currently underway since 7 October 2023, South Africa has condemned the attacks on civilians by both Hamas and Israel. Further, we have condemned the use of collective punishment in Gaza and the atrocities being committed against the civilian population by Israel.

Therefore, on 29 December 2023, we filed an application to institute proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice regarding the implementation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip, as well as a request for urgent provisional measures.

On 26 January 2024, the Court delivered its order on South Africa’s request for provisional measures. Whilst not all provisional measures that were requested by South Africa were granted, six crucial measures were that would necessarily lead to a ceasefire if properly implemented.

These measures included that Israel must, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention and in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, ‘take all measures within its power’ to prevent the commission of acts prohibited in the Convention, in particular killings, causing serious physical or mental harm, the deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the population in whole or in part, and the imposition of measures intended to prevent births. Further, that Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent and punish direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

Following on this, the South African Government made an urgent request to the ICJ on 12 February 2024 to consider whether the decision announced by Israel to extend its military operations in Rafah, which is the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza, requires that the Court uses its power to prevent further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

The ICJ subsequently declined this request for urgent measures to safeguard Palestinians being threatened by an Israeli ground assault in Gaza, believing essentially that the original Court Order was sufficient in addressing these concerns.

In a new filing to the ICJ on 6 March 2024, we requested the Court to take additional emergency measures to halt Israel’s attacks on Gaza to counter famine and starvation there. On 28 March, the Court did adopt emergency measures, as it found that famine was setting in. It ordered Israel to ensure food supplies to the population in Gaza without delay.

Lastly, on 5 April the Court set out the schedule for the rest of the deliberations of the Court on the merits of the allegation of Genocide, stating that South Africa had until 28 October 2024 to make its’ submission, and that Israel had until 28 July 2025 to respond. Although the Court has indicated in January that there is a plausible possibility of Genocide in this matter, the Court has not taken a decision on whether genocide has been committed or not. Nor has the Court decided whether it even has jurisdiction to hear the case as, during Israel’s oral hearing in January, the argument was raised that there was no dispute between South Africa and Israel. As such, Israel requested the Court to remove the case from its list. While this was unsuccessful and, even though the Court did find that there was indeed a dispute between South Africa and Israel, it is very likely that Israel will still raise preliminary objections on the ground of the case being inadmissible, which will have to be considered by the Court before the matter can proceed to the merits phase. If preliminary objections are raised, the merits phase will be suspended whilst the preliminary objections phase is determined.

In a related, but independent development, South Africa and Malaysia joined a request by the United Nations General Assembly of 30 December 2022 that the International Court of Justice render an advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. South Africa argues that the prolonged Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, the illegal annexation of parts thereof and the construction of settlements in the Palestinian territory, in violation of the international law relating to occupation, violations of International Humanitarian Law applicable to occupation, racially discriminatory legislation and violations of International Human Rights Law, including the practising of the crime of apartheid, have resulted in the occupation itself becoming unlawful under international law.

In yet another separate but related development, the International Criminal Court (ICC) received a referral from five countries (South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros, and Djibouti) to investigate whether crimes have been committed in the Palestinian territories as part of Israel’s response to the October 7 Hamas terror attacks. The ICC was already investigating the situation in the Palestinian territories over possible crimes committed since June 2014 in Gaza and the West Bank. This investigation began in March 2021. The ICC is investigating alleged international crimes committed by individuals on both sides of the situation in Israel and Palestine, subject to its jurisdictional limitations (which are contested).

In our assessment of the developments to date, we believe that the provisional measures decided by the Court mark a decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people. It is the first time that Israel has been held to account in an international institution and that its’ crimes have been documented in an international court of law. Double standards and hypocrisy have been exposed in this process. The ruling also affirms the importance of global governance institutions, including organs of the United Nations. A further implication is the reputational, political, and diplomatic impact on Israel, including in the court of public opinion.

The finding also makes it clear, as I have said, that that there is a serious risk of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Third States must, therefore, also act independently and immediately to prevent genocide by Israel and to ensure that they are not themselves in violation of the Genocide Convention, including by aiding or assisting in the commission of genocide. This necessarily imposes an obligation on all States to cease funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions, which are plausibly genocidal.

In conclusion, however, the current sad reality is that Israel is clearly disregarding the ICJ, despite submitting its’ first report as ordered by the ICJ. Israel has ignored warnings from the USA and others against its’ planned offensive in Rafah, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected calls to hold off on a Rafah ground offensive. He has also explicitly rejected the idea of the two-state solution. Diplomatic efforts to bring peace in Gaza are stalling and the overall death toll in Gaza continues to spiral ever higher, the majority being women and children. Most of the population is internally displaced and faces disease and starvation, in addition to the ongoing threat of military strikes.

Therefore, we must continue to do everything in our power individually and collectively to put pressure on Israel to stop the killing, to implement the binding decisions of the ICJ and to work towards a sustainable solution for the long sought freedom of the Palestinian people. Hopefully, all these efforts will provide a new impetus to the search for a lasting political solution, peace, and stability in the Middle East.

In closing, we have come a long way together as countries and regions. The prospects into the future are as bright as ever if we show the same commitment and fortitude as those who went before us. We share similar positions and approaches to important global issues, such as climate change, the SDGs, and the rights of the Palestinian people. Therefore, there is much room for extending our cooperation and the opportunities present in the relationship, including in multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, NAM, the Commonwealth, IORA, and ASEAN, as I have said.

Relations between South Africa and Malaysia, with your help, can only go from strength to strength, becoming ever closer and more diverse. As we forge a renewed strategic focus between us, let us remember the words of Prime Minister Badawi on a visit to South Africa in July 2005:

Indeed, Malaysia and South Africa have a deep and abiding relationship based on solid foundations, which can be built upon, not only for the benefit of both our countries, but also for the larger developing world. Both our countries have played important roles in the past and we can continue to do so in the future.

This is also therefore the message that I bring you, Mr President, that we in Malaysia view our relations with South Africa as pivotal and strategic.

We concur! As President Mandela said in Malaysia in March 1997 – “Many, many things make the common bond between us a natural one. In your company we feel we are among brothers and sisters – friends in need and friends indeed”.


07 May 2024