A Conversation With Minister Naledi Pandor of South Africa

Friday, September 24, 2021

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa


Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Minister Naledi Pandor discusses the state of democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, the South African response to COVID-19 along with lessons learned for the future, and the country’s role as a leader in the region.

GAVIN: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting.

I’m Michelle Gavin. I am the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies here at the Council, and I’m so pleased to be joined in person, which is such a rare treat for us all these days, by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Naledi Pandor.

The participants in this meeting consist of Council members across the country who are joining us online, as well as a small number here in person in New York. So I just want to remind everyone that today’s meeting is on the record and video will be posted to the Council website.

Minister Pandor has had a remarkable and distinguished career in public service. She has been South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation since the middle of 2019, so she’s been at the helm of South Africa’s foreign policy through some very trying times. And she served previously as minister of higher education and training and as minister of science and technology.

She’s been a member of Parliament since 1994, a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC since 2002, has a distinguished academic background and background as an educator, and we’re just very fortunate to have her here with us to discuss South Africa’s foreign policy priorities and challenges.

So, Minister, if I may start, this week President Ramaphosa addressed the General Assembly and he spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of truly global responses to the global problems that we’re experiencing, from COVID-19 to climate change. And it’s, of course, easy to see how that makes good sense and it’s equally easy to see that the world is on a different path right now.

Vaccine inequity is most stark in Africa where less than 4 percent of the population has been vaccinated. Of course, the numbers are better in South Africa, but they are still low. And African countries are coping with the effects of climate change in the form of drought, flooding, disrupted agricultural conditions, even though in many cases it contributed very little to the problem, and still are dealing with massive energy deficits.

So what is the South African vision for how we move from these realities to a more just dispensation where burdens are shared and African states are really helping to drive the international agenda? What changes do you wish to see? And how might South Africa, which has some of the most advanced pharmaceutical sector in the—on the continent and also is Africa’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but still suffers from inadequate and unreliable access to power—how might South Africa be part of the solution?

PANDOR: Well, good morning, first of all, and morning to everyone. Thank you very much for the opportunity.

I think what President Ramaphosa was expressing in his statement to the General Assembly was our concern that whilst at the advent of the pandemic we saw the most amazing global collaboration, the response to the presence of the virus in countries all over the world has been less than collaborative.

So we have failed, multilaterally, to ensure that we equally support all countries to vaccinate. We now have the solution, which would be of assistance, and that is over five very good vaccines with differential impact. But, certainly, they do help to prevent severe illness.

But what has happened is that the most wealthy countries have purchased surplus doses and are not making them available to the poorest in the world. So you have a situation where very few African residents are vaccinated while there are countries in the world that are speaking of a third dose, as is the United States government.

Now, we are absolutely grateful that President Biden has made doses available to the continent. We sincerely appreciate that. But as South Africans, we do think it is demeaning to be dependent, and that what we should utilize the pandemic as is a lesson for Africa to develop an independent ability to produce vaccines and other treatments as well as health equipment, because what has happened is, due to the absence of a vibrant vaccine production industry in Africa, Africans are now at the back of a queue.

The fear that we have is if we do not speedily vaccinate, we’re going to develop even more variants, which, of course, pose a threat to all of us. And so it is critical that we return to a multilateral collaboration through which we ensure that everyone is vaccinated or as much of the population as to give global immunity.

But we’re not seeing speedy movement toward that. And this is the call of us are making. As a response, what we have done as South Africa is to ask that in the WTO there be consideration of a temporary waiver of the TRIPS regulations to allow us access to access, to patents and technology for the production of vaccines in countries that have the competence to do so. This would be a temporary waiver, but it would allow us to produce sufficient numbers to share with developing countries that don’t enjoy any access.

South Africa is fortunate. Our government reacted very speedily to the advent of the pandemic. When we became aware that vaccines were being produced, we were able to order. We have the means to pay for those doses. So we have sufficient to achieve some level of population immunity.

But we know that for the large number of countries on the continent, they’re in a very dire situation. So through the WTO, we’ve been arguing for this waiver. We have had support from the majority of developing countries. But many developed countries, including some in Europe, are against such a waiver and have preferred the proposal of partnerships.

Partnerships are fine, but what you want is independent ability. It’s access, and you have to have that. We are producing in South Africa, through a partnership between one of our pharmaceutical firms, Aspen, with Janssen here in the United States, so they produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

We were horrified to discover that while Aspen Pharmaceutical would produce Johnson & Johnson, there were preorders by a number of EU member states, and South Africa would have had access to a very small number. So we intervened immediately. The president approached the European Union Commission president and an agreement was reached that the majority of the vaccines should be made available to South Africa and Africa.

So it was quite astounding that there were preorders which would have just ensured that we don’t have such access. Had we not discovered this, we would have been in an even worse position. So our aspiration is to ensure that we invest significantly in innovation and research capacity and that never again should Africa be at the back of the queue. It was a very good awakening lesson for the African continent.

Many of us have been arguing for stronger investment in science research and innovation, and I think our arguments are shown now to have been very good ones. (Laughter.)

GAVIN: Yeah. It should put some wind in the sails—

PANDOR: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.

GAVIN: —of those efforts. And with regard to climate change, which your president also discussed and has had devastating effects in southern Africa in particular, both flood and drought, I know that your government recently set some more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But what would you like to see in terms of the international agreement to provide some more adaptation support for states that contributed very little to the problem we’re all experiencing?

PANDOR: You know, one of the concerns that, you know, an African minister might have is that many of our conferences are excellent talk shops where we pass very good resolutions, where countries make significant commitments, but the commitments are not followed by practical action.

So if you look at the outcomes of a series of climate change conferences, you would find that funding was promised. You would find that technology capacity was referred to. But if you investigate what followed, none of those actually came into fruition.

So we continue to say, as Africa, we accept that we have a responsibility to respond. So we have a common responsibility as part of the world community. As part of humanity, all of us must take steps to protect the environment. But our responsibilities are different.

So we have common but differentiated responsibilities because developing countries didn’t make a larger contribution to the problem that we’re confronted with today. But we’re accepting that we must respond as well. We can’t say, you know, you fight climate change or we’ll continue emitting. So common, but differentiated.

The differentiation means those with means must provide funding support, which has been promised over many, many decades but has not come forth. So South Africa, we’ve gone out somewhat on a limb. We are the chair of the Environment Committee of African Ministers of the Environment and we’ve been working to develop a common African position that will come to Glasgow later this year.

But as the government, we work very closely with stakeholders, the private sector, labor, civil society, and we’ve now tabled a very ambitious response by South Africa. The first entry into reducing the high levels of emission in our country is going to be increased use of renewable energy resources, and we have committed to this as government.

We also are converting coal energy resources to noncoal, to renewable. We’re working with technologists from the United States, from countries in Europe. We’re also getting funding through private sector funding. So that is underway. We’ve already identified some of our coal-fired power stations as the pilot sites for this conversion.

Alongside that, we have to have a response to the community because we have large coal resources in South Africa, and if we’re not utilizing them this means local communities don’t have jobs. It means mines will be closed down.

So we have to think about how we develop responses that help absorption of over a hundred and eighty thousand people currently employed in that mineral sector. So we are looking at retraining for technicians for solar energy and other new energy resources so that we transform the nature of the community’s business activity and not have this response, which means they then are poor and have no means of livelihood.

GAVIN: Yes, common problems that, certainly, we experience in our country as well.

And so I wanted to talk to you a little bit more about some of these commonalities, like the United States and South Africa has experienced quite a bit of domestic political tension, even some civil unrest recently, and it can be difficult for any government to devote a great deal of attention and political capital to foreign policy when domestic crises are urgent and complex, and doing so is perhaps even more difficult in democratic states like ours where citizens can demand to know why government is concerning itself with foreign issues when there are matters to attend to at home.

So in your role, how do you square those sentiments with the regional and global expectations of South Africa as a continental leader and how do you link South Africa’s foreign policy priorities to domestic issues around job creation, the urgency of job creation for South Africa, and migration management?

PANDOR: It’s not always easy. One of the things we have in my department is a very significant public diplomacy program through which we have outreach into communities to explain the work that we do, because they sometimes may think you’re a joy rider as a minister of international relations and that you’re just on the airplane all the time, whereas actually you’re doing quite a lot of work on behalf of the country.

So we do go out into the community. But we also clarified to South Africa that the key policy priority of our government in terms of international relations is Africa and a better Africa. And our country has to understand that we have an obligation to ensure the development of the African continent and, in particular, to support efforts toward ending conflicts on the continent and so we do devote quite a lot of South African resources to the fight against conflict to ensuring this peace.

We are part of many peace missions on the continent and we often would be found around the negotiating table in countries such as South Sudan, in Lesotho, where we had a lot of political problems and violent conflict.

So the advance of Africa is extremely important to us. But we also have linked our foreign policy to a human rights ethos. So our core principles in our constitution are respect for human dignity, of the promotion and achievement of nonracism, and the pursuit of gender equity are very important in the nature of foreign relations that we would engage in.

So if your country pursues racist policies, we’d be less than keen to have relations with you. So I think we’ve really tried to make a reality out of a principled approach to foreign policy and our key tagline is a better South Africa, a better Africa, and a better world.

GAVIN: In that vein, you know, as a country in which so many people fought for so long and sacrificed so much for genuine democratic governance and representation, does South Africa see the defense of democracy as a foreign policy priority in this era of democratic decline and rising authoritarianism?

And if so, what does that mean in practice, for example, in SADC member states where South Africa has a lot of influence, like Zimbabwe, which has gotten less free in the last few years, or Eswatini, where pro-democracy protesters were killed this June by, you know, forces representing an absolute monarchy?

PANDOR: I think, you know, South Africa faces quite a challenge, a complex one, in that you have to be careful about appearing to be an outlier and so incurring a very negative sentiment toward you as a government.

This does, I think, challenge us with respect to how we relate to our neighbor that is Zimbabwe. We attempt to persuade. We talk to the government. But we also talk to the governing party in Zimbabwe to persuade the leaders of the party that they should consider another path.

So, you know, South Africa’s, really, practice is always to be in discussion with, in conversation with, persuading, and we are able to show what works. We’re able to show we have a very open and democratic parliament. We have regular, free, and fair elections, and we support countries that are trying to entrench democracy.

So you’ve had massive conflict in the Central African Republic, where we played a role in providing some support to protect the emerging democratic government. And what we have done with the CAR is when they have elections our election commission provides support administratively to them. We even would pay for the printing of their ballots and the transporting of their ballot papers, the training of their electoral officers, because we’d like to entrench democracy so that they have a sustainable democratic system.

So that is the kind of role that we play. But we cannot go to you and say, you must be like us, because we’re all very different political system. But we encourage peace, we encourage multiparty democracy, and we encourage a focus on development.

Where you have a constitution that is inadequate to those criteria, we could work with you should you be willing to write a new constitution, as we are doing with Lesotho.

President Ramaphosa has been the facilitator in Lesotho for several years. They’re now at a point where after much, you know, very difficult deliberations, we have a stakeholder-agreed framework for a constitution and it’s currently being drafted by the Basotho, supported by South Africa.

So that is the kind of work that we do. But if we come to you and you don’t wish to have a discussion, it’s very difficult because we can’t force you. I was in Swaziland recently and, you know, our way of working is, yes, we’ll talk to the government when there’s a difficult situation. But we must also talk to those who oppose, to the stakeholders.

The government, essentially said, you can’t speak to anyone else. So we said, well, we can’t help you SADC because if we don’t have the opportunity to speak to everyone and try and draw you together, our presence is useless. We are now chair of the organ of SADC so I’m no longer going to be able to walk away. (Laughter.) I have to engage with a difficult situation. And I hope that the government of Eswatini will be open to a broader national deliberation on democracy.

GAVIN: I think I have time for one more, and I wanted to ask about another place where South Africa has devoted political energy and, in fact, has deployed forces at Mozambique, and the terrible instability in the Cabo Delgado region.

So most analysts who’ve looked at what’s been going on in Mozambique, where there is an insurgency in a fairly remote part of the country that claims to be linked to the Islamic State, most analysts who look at this think there’s no lasting military solution, essentially, to this insurgency, that there are underlying issues of governance and disenfranchisement at the heart of the problem.

And so to complement the military security approach that SADC has decided on to deploy forces to support the Mozambicans and in trying to, you know, impose some stability, is there a political or a diplomatic strategy that complements that to help Mozambique address those underlying issues?

PANDOR: Yes, there is, because as we discussed what was happening in Cabo Delgado, it became very clear that the community was not necessarily against this group that are called insurgents. So we had to examine why is the community not appearing to be supportive of the government’s intervention. And it became very clear that Cabo Delgado is a very wealthy region in terms of gas, a very large gas find with Total and other companies involved in that extraction.

But the local community are not beneficiaries. Even the workers who work in the gas field come from outside the community, outside Mozambique. So it is very, very clear to us and was that this is a socio economic problem, that alongside fighting insurgents there had to be a social development response.

And if you read the conclusions of the SADC summit, they incorporate both the security element but the social economic development element as well, and the government of Mozambique has accepted this. I was speaking to the minister. Actually, we met here, and she indicated that they are getting assistance with the development priorities that are very clear for that community, as well as with the return of residents who had been displaced in the course of this conflict. So they are looking at a housing program and other initiatives.

So yes, indeed, we recognize that it’s not simply a security matter. It’s very much a community development issue at play as well, as well as, I think, some inadequacies in the governing party, some conflicts internal and criminal networks’ use of that region as a transit point for drug—illegal drug trade.

So this is something we also are paying attention to.

GAVIN: Yours is a very complex job with a packed agenda.

PANDOR: It is.

GAVIN: So I could indulge myself all day asking questions about China and peacekeeping reform, any number of topics. But it’s time to invite others to join the conversation. And so at this time, I would like to invite members to bring their questions forward. Just a reminder again that this hybrid meeting is on the record, and we’re going to take our first question, I believe, from one of our virtual participants. Someone’s going to make that magic happen.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take the first virtual question from Lucy Dunderdale Cate.

Q: Hi. My name is Lucy Dunderdale Cate, and I’m with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I worked for a few years with the African Union Commission and would love to hear your thoughts just on engagement with the African Union Commission and South Africa, particularly with the reforms that are happening that—with the African Union. Would really love your kind of strategy and thoughts on that process.

PANDOR: Well, we’ve been a party to some of the reform processes, particularly in 2020, when we served as chair of the African Union. We also oversaw the implementation of the meritocratic employment process, which had been set out in the reform framework.

So, indeed, South Africa continues to play a significant role in the African Union. I still feel the changes haven’t yet gone far enough. I believe the African Union has to do more with respect to having officers that can oversee the implementation of the development priorities that are in the African Agenda 2063, which spells out what we call the Africa we want.

I think much of the implementation is being left to states without sufficient oversight support and the support of policy experts who may assist countries to implement effective programs that reflect those Agenda 2063 aspirations.

But there has been change. There continues to be, I think, inadequate financial administrative ability. Some of the accountability measures are weak, in my view. But I’m a bit of a nasty person in that regard. So, perhaps, you know, it’s just my character. But I do think we need stronger administrative capability on the finance side. I think some of the costs are just ridiculous, and we have to have greater financial accountability because we pay a quite a large sum in membership fees as African member states.

Nevertheless, the African Union is doing good work. It is growing and maturing as an African continental body and I think over time, as we get more and more talented young people into the institution, we will see it playing a very significant role.

Q: Thank you.

GAVIN: Why don’t we take a question from here in the room, if we have some hands? Yes, right here.

Q: Do I stand up? I don’t even remember the protocol.

GAVIN: Please introduce yourself and—

Q: So my name is Katharine Zaleski. I run a company called PowerToFly.

And I actually have five women who work in South Africa right now who have been messaging me throughout this entire conversation with questions they want to ask you, but—(laughter)—they particularly want to know about—you know, they’re working from home in the technology industry and very interested in how South Africa is going to continue to encourage women working from home within this environment with local companies but also with international companies like my company.

So, thank you.

GAVIN: Future of work.

PANDOR: Future of work. Well, this is something that’s been discussed in South Africa. I know that several companies have found the working from home a very useful model following the pandemic. But many workers have not had the tools—the digital tools—available to them, including members of my own department because we had a very poor technology system in our department and we’ve had to modernize very speedily.

Currently, we’ve ordered a large number of desktops and laptops but they’ve not been delivered. You know why? Because companies have run out of microchips, apparently. So we would want to see more use of digital resources and work-from-home opportunities for all workers. And it, you know, depends on companies, really, there to make that decision. My own preference is to see you at headquarters. But, you know—(laughter)—as long as you do what we require, I suppose we should permit that to happen. But it makes the workspace a bit of a lonely place.

But we’ve been able to work effectively. We managed for the past sixteen months to carry on our work as a department, but it does change the nature of work and the nature of the workplace.

GAVIN: Let’s take another question from our virtual attendees.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

At this time, we do not have any virtual questions. Ambassador Gavin, back to you.

GAVIN: Good, because I have a very eager roomful of people. The gentleman right here.

Q: Thank you. Robert Pietrzak from Sidley Austin, retired.

Minister, I must say that South Africa is very blessed to have someone of your knowledge and competence playing the role you do. Getting back to your earlier remarks on COVID and the vaccinations, we have—we found in the United States and other nations have as well that having the vaccinations isn’t enough. You have to deliver them, and we struggled with that at the beginning and many other nations have.

In South Africa, if it gets the doses either from other nations or through its own production, does it have a system in place already to make those deliveries and is it doing anything to assist other African countries in establishing a system like that?

PANDOR: Well, with the respect to the first part, yes, we do have the system. But we had to develop it. We had to work hard at it, because you couldn’t use, you know, the ordinary public health system on its own. We’ve been very lucky, I think, during the pandemic in that a very positive partnership developed between our significant private health system and the public health system.

So that meant we had many more people committed to responding to the pandemic. We’ve had a similar response with respect to the vaccination program. Added to it, large employers have also set up vaccination offices in their premises and this has helped a great deal because they’ve opened up those spaces to the ordinary public and it has meant that if you are, you know, keen to be vaccinated, you can join a queue at Metropolitan or Discovery headquarters or at a bank and you will be vaccinated. I was vaccinated in a car park. I was horrified, but—(laughter)—there were a lot of people there and it was being used for that purpose.

So yes, indeed. Initially, the program was moving very slowly because we had a formal Monday to Friday program. But we realized you’re not going to achieve the numbers with that, so we had to add Saturday, Sunday, and persuade health workers that they would continue to work. Many of them really found it was rather an overload so we had to have a temporary employment of young people that were trained primarily for purposes of vaccination.

With respect to the continent, as I say, it’s very difficult for South Africa sometimes because sometimes we are regarded as a very interfering Big Brother and at other times that you’re not doing enough. And so, really, we are ready to assist should you ask us to do so.

We have created a platform for access to vaccines through the African Union called AVAT, which is a web-based platform that African countries can submit orders to, and any country that wishes to make a donation makes a donation to that AVAT platform and then those countries who signal as being beneficiaries of the donation can access vaccine doses. We’ve done that with South African funding and we are supporting twenty-six poor countries to get a few hundred thousand doses. But we can’t, you know, provide for everyone.

So yes, we are playing a role on the continent. But, really, the help that is needed on the continent is far larger than we’re able to do. We could make our resources available if we had the resource support to do so. We’ve got the professionals. We’ve got the mobile units. We’ve got the community health workers who do the door-to-door work, so we could lend those lessons or even those individuals should we have resources to carry out such a program.

GAVIN: I think we do have a question from one of our virtual attendees.

OPERATOR: We will take our next virtual question from Lee Cullum.

Q: Thank you very much for a very enlightening presentation and conversation.

Could you tell us about China and its presence in South Africa?

GAVIN: It’s a big open-ended question.

PANDOR: Yeah. Well, China—

Q: Very open-ended.

PANDOR: China has fewer companies in South Africa than the United States of America. (Laughter.) China is less of an employer than American companies are in South Africa because USA has been a partner for far longer in business than China has been to South Africa.

Nevertheless, China is a good friend. We are very good friends with China. We are—have not sought the same kind of assistance from China that many other African countries have sought, which has, largely, been in the area of infrastructure. But we have appreciated foreign direct investment by China in our country because we are seeking to create a larger private business sector as well as more jobs for South African people.

China has invested, largely, in the transport sector, primarily manufacturing of buses that are hybrid in character as well as some plants in the car automotive sector, and this is welcome. We have some technology companies present. They all act in terms of the laws of South Africa and, you know, we don’t have problems. All we hope for is that the United States and China will sort out their business because they are so big that when they are in conflict it affects all of us.

So we are hoping the two will sit around the table and come to some form of a solution on how they collaborate because they’re the two biggest economies in the world and we want them to settle their differences fairly speedily. But we are good friends with China and don’t have any difficulties at present.

GAVIN: Here to Camille.

Q: Thank you. Camille Massey with the Sorenson Center for International Peace and Justice.

Minister, it’s so wonderful to have you here at the Council. In our center, we have a poster of the Bill of Rights, actually a copy signed by Albie Sachs next to a photograph of O.R. Tambo, and that has been a big inspiration to our social justice students and lawyers training.

My question is this. As you may know, there are efforts underway to pass a new amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment—28th amendment—in the United States, and you’ve spoken boldly about how international instruments and conventions should be reviewed again, since diversity was not considered in their creation. And at a time when this is a tough struggle on so many levels, some bold vision, both on the implementation side and on the instrument side, I think, would be welcomed to so many of us. Could you share more of what you have in mind? Thank you.

PANDOR: Well, I think our ambassador would be the one who should share some of those thoughts. But what we really—what I was talking about and have made public statements on is the fact that the problems we’re confronted with today of diversity were not present when we first crafted the Universal Declaration and other charters that inform our judicial and other systems, and that given that reality, it is important that we don’t just continue to rely on existing instruments.

We need to look at how they might need to be amended in order to be in accord with the context in which we live today. Many areas of diversity were never spoken of fifty, sixty years ago. Today, they are a reality that all of us must confront in language, in culture, in sexual orientation, and many areas that I think our grandparents whispered about but they’re a reality today. We never thought in South Africa we’d have a civil union piece of legislation, but we do and our society accepts it, and if you don’t, you can’t discriminate against persons of particular sexual orientations.

So the point I was making was that we tend to be reliant on very old conventions and don’t take the time to look at whether they’re appropriate for the moment we’re in and whether we shouldn’t discuss again in the context of our multilateral institution, the United Nations, possible review of what exists. That’s really the point.

But added to it, I do believe we need to consider reform of the United Nations. I think the model of 1948 has outlived its time, and to have five countries being the ones with a veto—the rest of us just don’t matter—it’s not acceptable. So I do think we need genuine discussion about how we reform the United Nations so that it reflects the democratic ethos all of us support so strongly.

GAVIN: Thank you. I think we’ll go to another virtual attendee.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next virtual question from Felicia Appenteng.

Q: Hello, everybody. Good morning. Felicia Appenteng from the IE Africa Center from Madrid, Spain.

My question is also a bit of an open one. Right now here in the U.S., we are in the midst of a really complicated conversation about what American history is and who gets to tell that story. And then when I think about the history of your country, in particular, you have been such amazing leaders in forming a narrative and in telling that story.

So I’m wondering if you have any advice for us about what it means to tell a collective national story.

PANDOR: (Laughter.) Well, I really—I don’t know. I think one of the things we’ve been trying to encourage is for South Africans to get used to writing, to tell their own story. We have a very old political organization, which is my party, the African National Congress, and over time, we’ve become concerned that we are losing the history of the ANC, of its formation, which was very inclusive and of the principles it espoused from the beginning about the unity of the people of South Africa.

So what we did was initiate an oral tradition program, supported by the University of Connecticut, who are very good with archival studies, and we recorded over 220 leaders, including President Mandela. So we have that digital record of the history and we make it available through various libraries and universities in the country.

Many of our people are not literate, particularly the older people in rural communities. But we do encourage NGOs in the literacy sector to work with them so that we do record people and allow them to reflect on their history.

Recently, with the pandemic, some of the older people have been telling us about the Spanish flu and the South African experience of it. So I think it’s really using civil society—that’s another thing I wanted to say when you asked the question about justice and change—that one of the weaknesses of organization is the failure to organize the popular community, and it’s very, very important that civil society always ensures—doesn’t rely on an idea, but that we actually organize people to be supporters of an ideal that we wish to entrench in society.

So I think, Felicia, we need to encourage people to tell their story. We need to encourage people to write. We need to develop our local workshops which gather people together and allow them to share their views and perspectives on society. That’s how I might answer that. You also need to look at different forms of publication and different publishing companies because your established publishing companies are really not interested in the local story. They want one that makes a great deal of money.

So you might have to set up smaller publishing houses, and now that we all have access to digital resources or easier access it is—you know, it’s much easier to allow the ordinary person who would not get to a major publishing company, much easier to get them to be able to tell their story.

GAVIN: Thank you for that. Can we go right here?

Q: Good morning, Minister. Thank you so much for coming. My name is Marcus Mabry. I’m an editor at CNN.

I was lucky enough to be based in Johannesburg and cover President Mandela as a young reporter. At that time, I wrote a story about the TRIPS with regards to HIV drugs in the continent. We are—find ourselves a generation later now talking about TRIPS with regards to coronavirus.

What has been the approach that your government has made to the Biden administration in seeking their assistance, if any, with regards to WTO and TRIPS easement for a while, and what has been their response?

PANDOR: Well, we’ve approached all member states that are in the World Trade Organization, including the delegates of the United States. From the level of the administration and the White House, there has been very firm support, including a strong public statement by President Biden.

But in the context of Geneva, we’re not seeing a similar response in the WTO. So when I’ve had an opportunity to meet my counterpart, I have asked that could the delegation in the Geneva WTO setting reflect the statements made by President Biden because we’re not quite seeing that yet.

So the efforts are to persuade. We’re talking to various countries. The main opponents, as I said, have been EU countries, which have the larger drug—the larger vaccine-producing companies. But I must then also say that some, like France and Germany, are working with the South African vaccine-producing companies to support them to, you know, be able to produce eventually. So we have a joint initiative with BioNTech around the Pfizer vaccine, and that was steered by the German chancellor, and the French president has also been very supportive.

So some countries in EU not in agreement, some supporting a different approach. Many have said that the TRIPS regulations have flexibility incorporated within them. But those flexibilities require particular kinds of legislation. You have to produce a statute in order to utilize and it’s not immediately available, and you wouldn’t have access to the technology transfer to the patents that you need access to.

So this is why we have argued for the waiver rather than the use of the flexibilities because we’re saying we’re in an emergency. We are in a crisis. We need a quicker, a faster response.

GAVIN: Just very quickly to follow up on that, so I know some people have argued that even with a TRIPS waiver it would be difficult, given the complexity of some of these vaccines, difficult to ramp up production in a way that responds to the urgency of the moment.

I completely understand a point of view that says, well, let’s try everything we’ve got. We’re in a terrible crisis. But can you respond to that a little bit?

PANDOR: Well, you know, as a South African, I’m very used to barriers—(laughter)—because, you know, people used to tell us, you’ll never be able to govern, you’re not civilized enough, and so on. So what we have said to our friends is, if you believe we don’t have the capacity, why are you resisting agreeing? Because if we’re so foolish even if you give us that waiver we’re not going to be able to use it, so you would—you know, if you really believe we are so stupid, you’d say, OK, have it, and then see what we do with it. But the resistance is so strong that it means they know we’ve got the capacity, at least in South Africa we do.

GAVIN: Right there on the aisle.

Q: Thank you so much. Akila Radhakrishnan with the Global Justice Center.

And I really appreciated that you mentioned that gender equality was one of the core tenets of your foreign policy, and I recall that South Africa on your time on the Council was a great champion of women, peace, and security and I believe you personally chaired the passage of Resolution 2493.

So I’m wondering what are your current priorities as they relate to gender and has South Africa considered taking on a feminist foreign policy?

PANDOR: Well, on gender, I should begin with the terrible admission that South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, and so combating that is very important in our own country.

But the second important priority for us is attending to the financial exclusion of women. This became imperative in the context of the pandemic because we responded with a very hard lockdown, as you would know, which meant all economic sectors were closed down. Government decided two would remain open, mining and agriculture, but everything else was essentially shut down.

In the course of deliberations about what we do, because companies, obviously, were suffering loss of income, et cetera, the government put together a package of support to businesses. Now, what was invisible to the government in framing solutions were those millions of women on the pavement who eke out a livelihood from a so-called informal business.

None of us thought about giving them support. We were looking at the big corporations, the medium-sized businesses, the leisure sector, so all the formal established businesses, many of which are not women led. So, you know, this hit us very, very hard as government and we recognized that one of the things we must attend to is how we actually provide support to those women and that sector and bring them into the formal frame without seeking to regulate them as we do large businesses.

So the financial inclusion of women has become a big not just South African agenda but an African one which we are discussing in the continent and looking at solutions for. That would be an important part.

Then, of course, lastly, is we want women to take over politics. You know, we wish to see women in all legislatures. We want to see them occupying positions of leadership. We also believe that given, you know, the existence of insecurity and conflict on the continent, women should be on the negotiating table and should be part of post-conflict reconstruction.

And the contribution we’re making is we run a very large program training negotiators—women negotiators—from all over Africa, including from our own community, and what was intriguing in the recent uprising that you referred to where we had massive looting and violence, women that we had trained in the communities in South Africa played a very important role in securing peace.

So these would be some of the priorities that we give attention to.

Q: Thank you, Minister Pandor, and I very much appreciate your beginning with issues like health and climate that actually affect real people’s lives.

But I’m going to ask about mere politics and, specifically, the political pandemic that we have seen this year of coups d’état. In fact, we narrowly averted a coup in the United States back at the start of the year. But you look at Mali. You look at Guinea with a classic military coup, Tunisia’s health coup, and Ethiopia now breaking into civil war.

How effective is either the African Union or subregional organizations at addressing these through simply talk shop—the phrase that you would use—means? What kinds of pressures is the African community able to bring to bear through those talk shop diplomatic endeavors? And when societies require some kind of external intervention to hold together, specifically, the peacekeeping that Michelle had alluded to as her would-have-been additional question, how effectively can Africa provide those kinds of inputs given the resource limitations on so many of its countries? And when you have a hybrid operation with the United Nations, do those who think they’re paying the bill in some way or other try to exert too much political control or do they kind of lay off and say, no, let Africans figure this out and we’re happy to write the check for African peacekeeping?

PANDOR: I think one of the things we should not neglect to focus upon is the extensive continued interference in African affairs. Africa has a very rich resource of minerals and many countries are interested in that resource, and they will go to all ends. Actually, it’s quite shocking. They will inculcate conflict. They support different groups. This is well known but not spoken of very much. And often you find that Africa becomes a theater of conflict between two powers that are not African at all and have, really, no development interest in Africa.

So this is a complication that does need attention because those powers are very wealthy and they use their money to arm different groups and to then cause this situation of ever—never ending conflict. And if you examine several countries where there is conflict you’ll find this feature. But we don’t give it the study that we should.

Now, what is the standing of our institutions? Maybe I was a bit nasty to say they’re all talk shops because we do have committees and commissions whose focus is peace and security. We have been able in the African Union to create a peace and security fund through, you know, contributions from all member states, which are mandatory contributions, and should the need arise we could deploy an African force.

But we rely as well on the subsidiary notion of regional bodies having to respond and you’d have seen ECOWAS has been very firm in its attitude—immediate sanctioning, suspension of membership, and various sanctions in terms of movement in goods and so on.

So I think the ECOWAS region is a very strong one and does respond. So we don’t just sit there and say, there’s a coup, you know, we leave it as it is. We do attempt to respond. But in the end, you know, countries must stand up and do the right thing and the populace must indicate its displeasure, you know, with actions that have been undertaken. We shouldn’t and won’t recognize any government that comes about through a coup. We only recognize democratically-elected governments.

But should there be a need to intervene utilizing the army or other forces, we can do so as we’ve done in Mozambique. We’ve deployed our maritime—our navy maritime resource support for Mozambique. We have our army on the ground, some of our forces, Special Forces, as do four other countries from SADC.

So those with the means can assist and do so, and we—you know, it is disappointing that we’ve had two coups, that there’s been an attempted coup we hear—I heard this week while I was here, in Sudan. Particularly disappointed because we’re working with them to write a new constitution and to bring all the parties and the Transitional Council together.

But, you know, one of the things I’ve become aware of is those who lose power don’t give up the attempt to get that power back. We’re seeing it in our country. President Ramaphosa has, in a very determined fashion, decided he will fight corruption in the public sector. You’re getting a very big negative response against that because the beneficiaries don’t want to lose, you know, those resources that they were stealing.

So I think what is very important where countries are doing the right thing we should provide support to ensure that they’re able to sustain their progress, and when you’re not doing the right thing, we should continue to encourage you to do so. Any forces necessary it must be brought to bear, but it should be brought to bear by Africans themselves.

GAVIN: Well, unfortunately, we are at the end of our time. But I want to thank everyone for attending, and please join me in a heartfelt thank you to the minister for her candor and her very insightful remarks today.

Thank you so very much. (Applause.)



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