South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Engaging Cambodia, ASEAN and the World

July 15, 2015

KH-Cambodia-UniversityDistinguished Lecture @The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh-July 2, 2015

South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Engaging Cambodia, ASEAN the World

by HE Ambassador Ms. Robina P. Marks

South Africa-Freedom 1994

We defend the rights of people who are marginalized, excluded or stigmatized on any of these grounds whether it is in the African union or the united nations. We believe that we all have the right to live a life that is free from discrimination, sexism, or religious prosecution. But most of all, we believe that a nation that does not learn from its mistakes is doomed to repeat them again and again. And this is the message  that we share with the world wherever we are.–Ambassador Ms. Robina. P. Marks

It gives me great pleasure to address you on this event, the first of its kind, where we’ve partnered with this university to share with you the foreign policy objectives of my own country, South Africa.

We at the Embassy of South Africa are proud to be associated with The University of Cambodia that has for years produced responsible citizens who continue to play various leadership roles in society. I am also pleased to see that the motto of this university is ‘in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom’. It is therefore more than appropriate that I address you here today, in your pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, about my country, South Africa.

I have 4 countries that I am responsible for-Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. But Cambodia is the country that is closest to my heart, because we share difficult memories of the past. Both of our countries have seen wideSouth African Ambassador scale atrocities and human rights abuses; but both of our countries have also worked hard to reconcile with the past so as to focus on building our countries in a way that will enable it to create a better life for its entire people.

You might know that South Africa was isolated, and rightfully so, from the rest of the world for many, many years because of a system that the White minority rule imposed on the indigenous people of South Africa a system that was called Apartheid. This system was meant to segregate people on the basis of the colour of their skin.

And in this terrible system, whites and blacks were not able to live in the same neighborhood, marry, or go to the same schools and places of worship. It was an offense to do any of these things, and Black people had to carry a pass-an identity card-that indicated who they were and where they belonged. And so all of us were classified on the basis of the colour of our skins, shape of our noses, texture of our hair.

This system also meant that the best jobs were reserved for white people, and the most menial jobs for black people. Black people were also not allowed to vote in the country of their birth, and so you had the peculiar situation that 5 million people, out of a population of about 40 million, made decisions for the whole country. The apartheid government was also very repressive system, and so many of us who protested against apartheid were imprisoned, banned, or died under mysterious circumstances. In fact, the cause of death for many black anti-apartheid prisoners were often cited as accidental cause of death, and that they slipped on a bar of soap while they were in the shower, or that they fell from a high building. But we knew what the truth was. And with the help of the international community, we were able to end apartheid, and start our transition into a new democracy that is non-racial and non-sexist. In fact our constitution is considered to be one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, because we have made human rights and socio-economic rights the basis of our constitution, we had our first democratic elections in 1994, and Nelson Mandela was the first black President of the new South Africa

Nelson Mandela Quote

We consider Nelson Mandela to have been the father of our nation-and his legacy to us is his commitment to turn away from the anger and bitterness of the past to allow for peace and reconciliation. The world joined us in mourning the death of this great man in 2013, and his funeral was attended by the highest number of heads of state ever recorded for a funeral. We also convened a memorial service here in Phnom Penh, and I was extremely touched by the way in which many ordinary people came up to me and told me that his ideas and his life had also inspired him.

But there are other things that you may not know about us. Ours is a country of close to 50 million people, we have 11 official languages and we are also known as the rainbow nation. A rainbow nation, because of the diversity of our cultural backgrounds, and we come in all colours of the rainbow! We are located at the Southernmost tip of Africa, and we are also called the Cradle of Humankind, because it was in South Africa  that the oldest remains of a human being were discovered. But we are also a country of inventors-we performed the world’s first heart transplant and more recently, also the world’s first penile transplant. We have one of the oldest mountains in the world, known as Table Mountain, which was declared one of the seven wonders of the world. We have the oldest wine industry after Europe, and our wines are highly sought after-we also have the world’s longest wine route and the highest bungee jump in the world.

We are the recipient of three Nobel Peace awards, for Nelson Mandela, FW De Klerk and Chief Albert Luthuli. Ours is also a country that has some of the largest mineral deposits in the world- gold, diamonds, platinum to name just a few. In fact the largest diamond ever discovered was found in SA, and today it is part of the Queen Elizabeth’s throne! We are home to one of the largest national game parks in the world, where you can experience our wildlife-lions, cheetahs, the African elephant and tigers. In fact, Kruger National Park is twice the size of Switzerland! You might also know that we hosted one of the most successful FIFA World Cup in SA in 2010, and we attract many tourists.

world, but that we are all united in one important sense-that we are dependent and connected to each other as people, but also countries to ensure that we build and contribute to a better life for all of our people. And that it is only through cooperation that we are able to build our countries, and therefore build a better world for current and future generations.

This is also the basis for our presence here in Cambodia. Like you, the textile industry and tourism are strong pillars of our economy. We also share with you the World Bank’s assessment that you represent an attractive investment destination, with sound macroeconomic policies in place, supported by steady economic growth. And so there’s a lot that we can do to learn and grow with each other.

This also explains why, at the centre of our foreign policy is the concept of fostering people to people relations with Cambodia, with common interests as a testimony of the global community in which we live in.

Our Foreign Relations Policy instructs us to pursue the vision 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. We are committed to promoting South Africa’s national interests and values, the African Renaissance and the creation of a better world for all.

South Africa’s relations with Africa and the world are driven by our commitment that peace and stability are critical for us to deal with our key challenges of fighting unemployment, poverty and inequality. We pursue peaceful means of resolving conflicts whenever we are given an opportunity to do so. In this regard we are driven by our experience and pain of apartheid discrimination which denied peace to the majority of the country’s citizens.

We continue to nurture our historical relations with countries whose foreign policies were concerned with the human rights and dignity of our people at a time which supported us in ending apartheid. It is partly this orientation which drives what many see as a ‘look to the East and South’ slant in our foreign relations. Our relationship with Asia is an important one to us, and one that continues to grow. We see Asia, the tiger, and Africa, the lion, as the last two frontiers of economic growth, and we have a lot to offer each other. It therefore makes sense to us that our trading patterns have also shifted-today; China is our largest trading partner, followed by Japan, the US, the UK and Germany. The old orientation to Europe has shifted to Asia, who, like Africa, has weathered the financial crises very well.

Our Foreign Policy is also articulated in our commitment to focus our international relations and cooperation towards building a better Africa and a better world. Politically and economically, we are the largest and most significant economy in Africa, and are also the only African country that serves on the G20. We also currently chair the G77 plus China, and we have served twice in the UN Security Council. We are also the first country to voluntarily dismantle our nuclear program. Sa is respected as a credible, impartial partner in many countries who are going through a reconciliation and nation building process, because it is important for us to share our lessons and best practices. So that is just a brief background on South Africa.


Our foreign policy is based on an African concept called UBUNTU, which means, ‘I am, because you are’. Using this concept is a reminder to us that we live in a multi polar worfd

Allow me to share with you our immediate and long term priorities as we seek to operationalize our stated vision and commitment towards building a better Africa and a better world.

Africa and African Union

Our economic and political efforts as a country, while also recognizing the internal challenges we face as a country, are deployed with the recognition that we are first an African country and that we should support all efforts aimed at the attainment of prosperity to Africa. We cannot talk about the realization of prosperity in Africa without peace and stability. It is South Africa’s stated intention, working together with other African countries, regional organisations and the African Union, that there should be no African child who cannot realize their dreams because of circumstances of war or insecurity in their country. As such, we aim to be part of the African countries that positively strengthen the African institutions so that we can reach the targets outlined in the Agenda 2063 framework document. Of course, your equivalent for the African Union is the ASEAN, and we continue to cooperate with each other. This relationship goes back all the way to the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, which was the first time that Africa and Asia came together to seek cooperation with each other. Therefore the spirit of Bandung is still with us today as we seek partnerships.

Enhancement of our strategic partnerships

We actively continue establishing geostrategic partnerships through strengthening South-South relations while also advancing strategic relations with the formations of the North. With the changing global trends, it is important for South Africa to diversify its relations particularly with other emerging economies in order to open up new ways of finding sustainable solutions to global challenges.

Our participation in formations such as G20, BRICS, IBSA, G-77 and others is guided by our desire for a World that is fair and equitable. With our BRICS partners we are forging ahead creating credible institutions, such as the New Development Bank.  Europe and North America also remain South Africa’s strategic regions and we are encouraged to see that in both regions there is widespread recovery following the crippling economic crisis that started in Europe.

Our structured bilateral relations with both countries of the South and the North also provide us with a platform to engage in sustainable partnerships for development, including through the promotion of trade and investment; the establishment of joint projects for infrastructure development; and the sharing of technical skills that can help upscale delivery to our stated five national priority areas.

Creation of a fair Global Governance system

One of the foundations of South Africa’s foreign policy is our firm belief in multilateralism and collective solutions for shared challenges. Former President Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. While this was in reference to our struggle against apartheid regime, this saying also provides an instructive lesson for the current global governance structures. These remain imbalanced and not reflective of the current global realities.

With reference to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), we remain resolute in our call for the reform of this important institution that is tasked with global security matters. In fact, many of the agenda items of the UN Security Council deals with issues and yet we are not one of the permanent members.

The current composition of this institution makes it difficult for the UNSC to respond to global crises in a responsible manner. We belief that the 70th anniversary of the U.N. this year provides an opportunity to make a meaningful progress on the reform the UNSC. We shall not rest until this important institution and others are reformed because we believe that transforming these is not only good for the institutions themselves, but will also provide testimony to the stated principle of sovereign nations participating in foreign relations as equal partners.

South Africa is of the view that multilateral cooperation is more relevant than ever before in seeking lasting solutions to global problems. That is why we will continue to ensure that the voice of the South is heard in such fora as G20, while also enhancing our constructive engagement with partners on such issues relating to an equitable global trade regime as well as on issues of global climate change.

The world has an immense capacity to resolve global problems through cooperative means. South Africa’s membership of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) also provides an opportunity for us to advance this position. It is our view that non-governmental organizations have an important strategic role to play in international relations as they contribute the type of skills and practical experience that are valuable to resolving global challenges.

Strengthening South Africa’s participation in Economic Diplomacy

Economic Diplomacy has become the central pillar of relations among nations and as a country we are forging ahead utilizing the resources we already have while also developing new skills in this area. We aspire for a South Africa that continues to attract international trade and investments which will enable us to participate in the on-going initiatives aimed at positioning Africa as a major economic continent. One of the key objectives is to expand Africa’s industrial base.

In conclusion

We have been able to turn away from our painful history of apartheid to a country that respects the human rights of everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation, race, gender, physical ability or religion. We respect our cultural diversity, because we believe that that is what makes us stronger as a nation.

We defend the rights of people who are marginalized, excluded or stigmatized on any of these grounds whether it is in the African union or the united nations. We believe that we all have the right to live a life that is free from discrimination, sexism, or religious prosecution. But most of all, we believe that a nation that does not learn from its mistakes is doomed to repeat them again and again. And this is the message  that we share with the world wherever we are.

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