How Serious are Ramaphosa’s Overtures?

Cyril Ramaphosa’s fate, ever since his election to the Chairmanship of the African National Congress/ANC/, has been to be compared to Thabo Mbeki. This is particularly true of South Africa’s standing in Africa and the world. The incoherence in South African foreign policy has been growing for the last six years. This might seem a considerable overstatement, but there is no question that, at home and abroad, the conducts of former President Zuma evoke widespread angst, uncertainty, and criticism. Then, how much is the new president trying to change,both image and substance wise,the conduct of external relations? How much is he spending on African affairs? What is he actually able to accomplish? Can we found a return to normalcy and a principle to impose greater consistency on foreign policy? Evidently so.

There are several ways of looking at Ramaphosa’s recent moves: his sympathetic tone on Zimbabwe, his sort of pressure and support to Kabila’s pronouncement to step down and meeting the Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma. This came in the aftermath of the BRICS Summit and the Johannesburg Declaration. On Zimbabwe he has called on all political leaders and the people of Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the election and should they have challenges, they must follow legal remedies provided for in the constitution and electoral law. He is also taking high profile interest in support of peace processes, notable among which is re-affirming South Africa’s commitment to continue working with IGAD and the African Union to assist the people of South Sudan to achieve lasting peace, stability and development. These diplomatic and political overtures are critical in the revitalization of South African role and place in Africa affairs. It is commendable that after a pause Ramaphosa seems eager to involve in African mediation.

Equally important is the handling of the BRICS Summit in which all players committed to reforming the international system, and to building a more multipolar world; though a consensus have not been reached about what the new order should look like. Evidently this entails a greater focus on Africa within the BRICS. But as South Africa pursues the continent’s interests in addition to its own, it will have to remain open to working not just with the BRICS, but also with other key African players, developing countries and coalitions. The real focus is therefore to support and reinforce a rules-based order. After all, that is in Africa’s interests and Pretoria should have been at the forefront of articulating those interests.

In this regard the election of South Africa as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2019–2020 year could be a plus. Regardless, Ramaphosa’s diplomatic advances should take cognizance of the new socioeconomic and political realities that continue to prevail in the African continent.The continent remains deeply marked by its conflict situations and political transitions which essentially invite external interventions. There is a need for a loud voice and a gatekeeper type of policy process grounded in African realities.