In an important new book, South Africa’s foreign policy performance over its first quarter-century democratic governance is put under the spotlight. Professor Eddy Maloka, CEO of the African Peer Review Mechanism, surveys South Africa’s performance in an incisive, accessible, credible account of how and why the country has acted in regional and global affairs.
Professor Maloka, an historian by training, is both a scholar and a practitioner of South African foreign policy. In addition to his years of research, writing and teaching, he also worked in national and provincial government. He served as special advisor to South Africa’s foreign minister between 2009-2016.
His latest book – When Foreign Becomes Domestic: The Interplay of National Interests, Pan-Africanism and Internationalism in South Africa’s Foreign Policy – is constructively provocative. The book, he stresses
is written for students of international relations, practitioners whose hard work in our diplomatic service is not always appreciated, and the public interested in the intricacies of South African foreign policy making and implementation.
Maloka argues for the benefits of taking a long-term view of foreign policy trends and principles. And based on his own rich experience in public service, he also urges greater efforts to bridge the worlds of scholarship and the hard work of diplomacy.
I agree that ways can – and should – be found to foster closer working relations between academics who study and teach about foreign policy and the women and men with responsibility to act on behalf of all South Africans in world affairs.
But it may be more difficult than many of us might hope. This is perhaps best illustrated in the chapter National Interests and Human Rights – the most thought-provoking and timely in the book in my view.
The author concludes that the national interest and human rights remain “the two topics bedevilling Tshwane’s foreign policy.”
South Africa continues to be an open and often fractious democracy, where no one is above the law. Protecting this fundamental equality and freedom lies at the heart of human rights concerns of citizens. In my view it should also be the lode star of foreign policy.
Yet conflicts arise, often with global partners, who don’t share South Africa’s democratic commitments. In a world of sovereign states cooperation requires compromise. Sustaining and advancing African solidarity can also be contentious domestically. This is especially so when principles of human rights are, or appear to be, at risk.
Professor Maloka cites three controversial foreign policy decisions: South Africa’s membership of the International Criminal Court; the recent saga surrounding former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the court; and the Dalai Lama’s attempt to visit the country.