The Presidential Years

The fact that the liberation movement had internationalised the issue of apartheid created a legacy of opportunities and challenges for Mandela and for democratic South Africa as it set out to transform the country’s place in the world. It had won support to various degrees from almost the entire global community for the freedom struggle and for its approach to negotiations. But while this meant the new government had friends and allies across the world, they were not always friends and allies to each other. Nor was their support always unreserved.

The success of the campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa meant on the one hand that the liberation movement had more representative missions and more extended international relations than the apartheid regime; but on the other hand, companies that had cut links with the country, had found new markets or suppliers and would not automatically return.

Politically, the emergence of a world dominated by one great power meant that for the countries of the South, Nelson Mandela’s presidential years had to be a time to strengthen regional and sub-regional organisations to assert their autonomy and their collective interest in shaping a more equitable and multilateral world order, one in which the relationship with the big powers would be equitable rather than based on domination and subordination. The end of the Cold War also brought to the fore a new emphasis on democratic governance across the globe, as distinct from mere focus by world powers on geo-political self-interest.

All this, however, was still tentative; and rather than being a mere observer in the changing global realities, South Africa intended actively to help promote positive change as it set out to become a valued member of the international community and a thriving part of the world economy.

The emergent South African foreign policy evolved in part from the multifaceted relations developed by the ANC over the years. It reflected in part the dynamic changes the world was going through with the end of the Cold War, quickening globalization and resurgence of economic liberalism. There were careful collective efforts by the government to help redefine global relations in this period of relative disruption of a previous global order. Some aspects were foisted on the country as numerous efforts were made to duplicate South Africa’s ‘political miracle’ as a human experiment of global significance. In this vortex, the towering presence of Mandela, the personality, occupied an important place.

Africa’s renewal required a broader reshaping of international relations. In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly as president, in 1994, Mandela had stressed the urgency of reshaping the priorities of the international community and the way nations and regions related to each other.

The reality can no longer be ignored that we live in an interdependent world which is bound together to a common destiny.

The very response of the international community to the challenge of apartheid confirmed this very point that we all understood, that as long as apartheid existed in South Africa, so long would the whole of humanity feel demeaned and degraded.

The United Nations understood this very well that racism in our country could not but feed racism in other parts of the world as well. The universal struggle against apartheid was therefore not an act of charity arising out of pity for our people, but an affirmation of our common humanity.

We believe that that act of affirmation requires that this Organisation should once more turn its focused and sustained attention to the basics of everything that makes for a better world for all humanity.

The elaboration of a new world order must, of necessity, centre on this world body. In it we should find the appropriate forum in which we can all participate to help determine the shape of the new world.

The four elements that will need to be knit together in fashioning that new universal reality are the issues of democracy, peace, prosperity and interdependence.

The great challenge of our age to the United Nations Organisation is to answer the question - given the interdependence of the nations of the world, what is it that we can and must do to ensure that democracy, peace and prosperity prevail everywhere!681

But within the broad global context the line between ‘North’ and ‘South’ traced another vital dimension alongside the focus on African renewal. Mandela outlined this perspective in an address, towards the end of his term, to a summit of Mercosur (Southern Market, embracing several of Latin America’s economies). Placing the issues firmly in the context of persisting global imbalances, he spoke of:

… the unity of experience of the developing world and the great potential for strengthening the South through co-operation and building relations amongst ourselves - and at the same time how this could be the basis for advancing a mutually beneficial partnership with the countries of the North. …

South Africa gained its freedom at a time when the international community itself was undergoing profound change. In our era of global economic integration and liberalisation the economic interdependence of nations is such that none of us can achieve our goals unless others, and in particular those in our regions and our continents, also achieve those same goals for themselves. The challenges of development and peace are beyond the capacity of any one nation to solve.

The reconstruction and development of a free South Africa therefore also brought the challenge of defining a place in the world for ourselves that is consistent with the ideals of democracy and social justice which informed our struggle and which motivated the solidarity of the international community.

As an African country at the crossroads of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, South Africa regards itself in every way as a part of the South. Our strategic location brings us the potential to be a bridgehead between South America, the Asian East and our own continent of Africa.

No longer should the vast oceans among us be an obstacle to closer links between people, enterprises, countries or regions. Today, as Africa is reborn and old links with the countries both to our East and our West are renewed under modern conditions, South and Southern Africa are looking to realise the potential for co-operation with their neighbours across the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean as a vital component of our economic growth and the growth of Africa.

Common contexts led us both - in the Southern part of Africa and in the Southern cone of Latin America - to establish and build regional associations informed by a commitment to democracy; by the imperatives of development in a rapidly globalizing world economy; and by the recognition that peace and security are dependent on development, social equity and proper environmental management in the context of the goal of sustainable development.

The same logic that led us to regional association demands that we extend this to links between emerging regional groupings, continents, and amongst nations of the South in general. …

This should be part of a more general effort to strengthen and diversify South-South co-operation by giving it substantive content through increased linkages and the development of a specific pro-South bias in investment, trade and technology exchange and transfer. ...

Amongst the greatest opportunities for fruitful co-operation lie in co-ordinated interventions in multilateral organisations in order to promote policy and action that is in the interest of developing countries.682

Four years later, the same imperatives of reshaping the global, with still more urgency, informed his address to the Non Aligned Movement Summit in Durban.

We have to remake our common world a new. The violence we see all around us, against people who are as human as we who sit in privileged positions, must surely be addressed in a decisive and sustained manner.

I speak here of the violence of hunger which kills, of the violence of homelessness which kills, of the violence of joblessness which kills, of the violence of malaria and HIV/AIDS which kill and of the trade in narcotics which kills.

I speak of the destruction of human lives which attends underdevelopment, of societies over which we preside. …

The violence against which I speak is also the violence of war. …

What I am speaking of are the twin issues of development and peace which have been the central objectives of our Movement from its foundation and remain its principal challenges.683

Strengthening South-South relations meant building the multilateral organisations that collectively asserted a common interest, and it meant expanding economic and other relations between countries. Hence there were visits early on to countries of the Asia-Pacific region, well on its way to becoming one of the world’s main economic regions - first India, Japan and South Korea and later the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Thailand and Pakistan and, at the end of his presidency, China.

In Seoul he spoke of a sense of history deriving from a

… sense of history [that] derives from the potential that our engagement in these two days has tapped - an emerging partnership between two nations with many common attributes. It derives from the consolidation of what is bound to be a positive trend of the new millennium - greater co-operation between Southern Africa and Asia.684

The other side of the coin was building more co-operative relations with countries of the North, whether based on mutual economic interests or on shared aspirations. The latter loomed strongly during his visits to Scandinavian countries. Although the visits to Norway, Sweden Denmark and Finland came late in his Presidency, the message of thanks for past support and confidence in future co-operation reflected the extent to which those countries had been stalwarts of solidarity and support for the anti-apartheid struggle.

The achievement of our goals depends also on others achieving the same goals. In this modern world, whatever happens in one country has an impact elsewhere, even across the globe. The integrated development of Southern Africa; peace and stability throughout our continent; and the forging of an international order which ensures that world economic growth translates into development are all essential parts of our approach as we establish our place in the international community of nations.685

Because these countries, he said, shared this approach, South Africa had ‘confidence in the future of a relationship that was forged in the trenches of struggle for our freedom’.