Friday, 08 April 2022

Pretoria: International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor has urged the Heads of Mission to take it upon themselves to help the President and the government to rebuild investor confidence and market South Africa as one of the most sophisticated and promising emerging markets.

Minister Pandor said that economic diplomacy must drive the work of the Missions and “it cannot be mere rhetoric, as the outcomes of our efforts on the ground must result in increased foreign investment and trade”.

The Minster was addressing the South African Heads of Mission Conference on Thursday in Pretoria.

“If we are to achieve our national priorities of addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality in South Africa, it is the job of our Heads of Mission to champion the message that South Africa is open for business,” she said.

Pandor said that there is also a need to emphasize in government’s public statements the role that South African businesses are playing abroad, particularly on the African continent.

The Minister said that everyone is cognisant of shrinking budgets and the myriad of challenges that the country faces, but the Heads of Mission need to play a leadership role in finding innovative ways to sell the country to the world.

“And it starts with portraying a positive image of South Africa both in public and in private. We need to believe that South Africa has what it takes to compete on the world stage.

“Your role as our top diplomats is to work towards rebuilding investor confidence, and marketing South Africa as one of the most sophisticated and promising emerging markets, offering a unique combination of highly developed first world economic infrastructure, with a vibrant market,” she said.

Pandor said that the Heads of Mission are expected to engage with prospective investors and take the initiative to personally forge linkages between companies abroad and producers and manufacturers in South Africa.

SA’s stance on Russia-Ukraine conflict

Minister Pandor said the country’s non-aligned policy position did not mean the government was not critical of Russia’s actions.

She said  the non-aligned policy on the conflict was for South Africa to maintain an independent foreign policy position.

“Our non-aligned position does not mean that we condone Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which has been in violation of international law. South Africa has always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, in keeping with the UN Charter.

“We have also decried the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from the ongoing military operations, and called for the urgent opening of humanitarian corridors and the provision of aid to the civilian population which, as usual, bears the brunt of the suffering when violent confrontation breaks out. We have held these views with respect to Palestine and many other countries where sovereignty is threatened,” she said.

The Minister said government needs to redouble its efforts to explain to the South African public and friends what drives the country’s foreign policy.

“We also need our senior diplomats to speak with one voice and defend the government’s position on these issues, to avoid confusion and mixed messages,” she said.

The Minister lamented how foreign dignitaries had been critical of South Africa’s stance in the conflict.

“I have been astounded at the manner in which diplomats resident in South Africa have attacked our policy positions in a manner implying they are here to instruct us,” she said.

SA’s ambassador to Ukraine, Andre Groenewald, said South Africa has an important diplomatic role to play in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Groenewald, who arrived in SA on Monday, reflected on the mammoth task of assisting with the repatriation of more than 90 South Africans.

Speaking on the side-lines of the conference, he said: “We need to get our South African flag back in Ukraine”.

He said that about four South African families were still remaining in Ukraine for specific family reasons and he is in touch with them.

Reflecting on the difficulty of getting SA citizens out of the country, he said that managing the COVID-19 pandemic equipped him to deal with the situation.

“One of the things that made me almost cry at the beginning of the war was one of the young students, who is only 18-years-old, said to me: ‘Ambassador, it’s my first time out of the country and it’s the first living in another country, and I do not speak the language. Please, just look after me’,” he explained.

Groenewald thanked South Africans for the support and prayers sent to him and his family during that difficult time.

He said at the moment they will not go back to Ukraine because it will not make sense to run into a situation where you cannot even work.

The three-day conference continues at Dirco offices in Pretoria where South Africa’s envoys will be briefed on the strategic mandate and objectives of the current administration, with a special focus on economic recovery initiatives outlined during the 2022 State of the Nation Address.

Various ministers are also expected to brief the Heads of Mission on their departmental programmes.