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Will Cyril Ramaphosa push for an ‘African Renaissance’?

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Tuesday, 4 June 2019 11:02

Guests sing as they arrive for the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as President, at Loftus Versveld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa has an opportunity to reach beyond stereotypes of xenophobia and economic dominance, and push for a re-engagement with the continent.

The assassination of a Rwandan national in Cape Town shines a spotlight on South Africa-Rwanda relations.

Camir Nkurunziza, according to several local newspapers, was a former bodyguard-turned-critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

It is particularly thorny item for the inbox of newly appointed international relations minister Naledi Pandor. The relationship between Rwanda and South Africa has been rough:

  • Last year, a Rwandan website called Pandor’s predecessor a “prostitute” for meeting with dissident Rwandan general Kayumba Nyamwasa.
  • In 2013, another Rwandan dissident – former intelligence boss Patrick Karegya – was murdered in South Africa, followed by another attempt on the life of Nyamwasa that led to the expulsion of three Rwandan diplomats.

The way South Africa handles the Nkurunziza affair will indicate how South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to approach foreign relations with the continent.

  • With South Africa taking the chair of the African Union in 2020, will there be greater re-engagement, after the arm’s-length approach and opportunism of former president Jacob Zuma?

Certainly, the choice of Pandor – a key Ramaphosa ally with a calm but firm approach – suggests so. Likewise, the signing of the continental free trade agreement is an important commitment.

During his inauguration speech, which was held on Africa Day and attended by several African heads of state including Kagame and the AU chairperson Moussa Faki, Ramaphosa paid special tribute to African countries and their support for South Africa:

  • “We remain eternally grateful to all nations represented here for the sacrifices and tireless contributions by your people and governments to the liberation of our land.”
  • “We reaffirm our determination to work with our sisters and brothers across the continent to realise the African Union’s vision of Agenda 2063.”

A new vigour

Just last week, South Africa – which is currently the holder of a non-permanent UN Security Council seat – clashed with the US on whether to renew sanctions against Africa’s youngest country, South Sudan.

  • South Africa’s ambassador to the UN Jerry Matjila told the Security Council that the country held the “firm view that sanctions imposed on South Sudan at this time is not helpful to the current complex political process”.

South Africa has been vocal on the Western Sahara issue, holding a conference in March reiterating that the country has the right to independence from Morocco as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

And South Africa has been working to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe, keen to stem the flow of migrants.

On some issues, the old reflexes are still there. South Africa, for example, was relatively swift to accept the victory of Felix Tshisekedi in the DRC over Martin Fayulu despite widespread allegations of fraud.

  • For the International Institute for Strategic Studies: “In this instance, Ramaphosa was most likely swayed by the Zuma faction within the ANC, which built up economic interests in the DRC under [former president Joseph] Kabila’s rule.”

But there may also be some big changes in South African policy, such as a more cautious approach to allies like China and Russia, a change from Zuma-era deals for nuclear plants the country cannot afford.

Bottom line: Foreign policy under President Ramaphosa “may resemble the ‘African Renaissance’ agenda of the Thabo Mbeki presidency”


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