A Conversation With Minister Naledi Pandor of South Africa
Minister Naledi Pandor discusses the state of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa, the country’s relationship with the United States, and the future of its role in the region and internationally.
FRAZER: I want to welcome you to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor. I’m Jendayi Frazer, adjunct senior fellow for African studies here at the Council, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion.
The audience today consists of Council members who are joining us here in Washington as well as online, and so it’s really—to get started, it’s my great pleasure to introduce Minister Pandor, who I worked with in 2005 when she was minister of education and I was a U.S. ambassador in South Africa.
Minister Pandor has an impressive record of service and, just briefly, I’ll touch on it but you do have the speaker’s bio in your papers. She has served as a member of South Africa’s cabinet since 2004. She’s a six-time cabinet minister: minister of international relations and cooperation, minister of higher education and training, minister of science and technology twice appointed, minister of home affairs, and minister of education. She’s been a member of parliament since 1994—the end of apartheid—and she’s a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee since 2002. The minister has a Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, MAs in education from University of London, and an MA in general linguistics from the University of Stellenbosch. So I think that you will see that we have a person of tremendous experience in front of us, and I’m really looking forward to our conversation as well as allowing our members to engage with you.
So, Minister, just to get started, I want to talk about three issues: South Africa-U.S. bilateral relationship, global governance in this turbulent time, as well as a question of leadership. So with U.S.-South Africa relations, I would say that some, at least on this side of the ocean, would consider that the U.S. has, you know, had a bit of a rocky relationship with South Africa. While you’re here this week meeting—getting ready to meet with President Biden, President Ramaphosa and President Biden will have their first meeting of the administration—by his administration. You’ve relaunched the South Africa-U.S. Strategic Dialogue. So I’m wondering if you could tell us a bit about what are your goals here and what do you expect from the relationship and, to the degree that it’s rocky or not, how can South Africa-U.S. relations improve?
PANDOR: Well, good afternoon, and afternoon to everybody who’s joining us today, and thank you to the Council for inviting me to have this conversation.
I don’t think the relations between South Africa and the United States are rocky. In fact, they’re very good. The United States is our third largest trading partner worldwide, China being number one, Europe number two, and then the United States, and we have very, very strong links in the business sector with a number of U.S. multinational companies having establishments that are very successful in South Africa, and we really value that relationship.
Politically, we relate very well, I think, probably better with the Democrats than the Republicans but, certainly, very good relations. You’ll all recall how President Trump described Africa and no one has apologized for that as yet. So with United States, the country, I think there are very good established relations which are proceeding extremely well.
One of the most important links between ourselves is the support that the United States provides in the fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa. This was a global AIDS program begun under the leadership of President George Bush and it has really proceeded very, very well, has provided tremendous support in reducing infection levels, in making treatment available, and really works primarily through support to nongovernmental organizations to actively join in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
But as I said, on the international stage we relate very well. We may not have shared perspectives on everything. We do differ. For example, we have a very strong attachment to the struggle of freedom of the people of Palestine. The United States may not share that in all sectors and this is something that concerns us.
We believe human rights should be available to everybody equally and not to some, and that if we say that we’re committed to freedom, human rights, and democracy, it doesn’t mean to a particular country or people. It means all over. So we try to espouse that perspective.
But I’m very glad that President Biden has invited President Ramaphosa to meet him. Our last meeting in the United States was of African presidents—heads of state—meeting President Obama several years ago, and that was the last summit that was held between African heads of state and the head of state of the United States of America.
President Biden has, I think, in his term in office invited different heads of state to meet with him, and I do understand that the end of this year there will be a summit involving several heads of state. So we’re very pleased that our president is invited for this bilateral meeting where, again, we will talk about trade. Economy is very important for us because if we don’t have growth we can’t address the challenges confronting South Africa.
So I believe they will focus on economic matters. They’ll focus on security because the issue of insecurity and instability on the African continent and pockets of it is of great concern to us. And in the matter of health as well related to pandemic preparedness, President Biden has been vocal in supporting our initiatives to help Africa do more in innovation, science, and research in order to have the ability to produce treatments on the continent as well as diagnostic and other tools. So they will discuss health.
And, thirdly, we will discuss our belief in multilateralism. We strongly believe that a global multilateral institution that all of us should support and uphold is the United Nations and no other. We don’t think there should be another multilateral body espoused by anyone and we’d like to see a strengthening of the U.N. to play the role that it should play in ensuring world security and global development.
We’re disappointed with what has happened with respect to Ukraine and Russia, particularly given that Russia is a member of the U.N. Security Council, and this has pointed to attention needing to be given to what we’ve called for over many years, that is, reform of the U.N. to make it more suited to a very different world circumstance.
Very long answer to your brief question, but that’s—
FRAZER: No. No. No. It’s great. Now I’m going to I’m going to follow up on a couple of the points. I think probably most important it’s very reassuring that you, as a minister of international affairs and cooperation, view the U.S.-South Africa relationship as a constructive and positive one.
I guess the perception is even, you know, across different administrations, whether President Mbeki, President Zuma, President Ramaphosa, President Clinton, President Bush, Obama, et cetera—and we all know that President Trump was a bit of an outlier in terms of his approach to Africa—but there does seem to be, yeah, we disagree on issues. We tremendously cooperate, particularly within the framework of the U.S. or South Africa-U.S. Strategic Dialogue, which South Africa has always assisted on with each administration and it has been an extremely useful mechanism.
But there is a degree to which the tone of South Africa’s rebuke of the United States is very different than the tone that we hear even with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The principle may be the same but the tone of when the U.S. went into Iraq, for instance, was extremely sharp and clear from South Africa, where it seems to be more muted with Ukraine-Russia.
Even the tone of, say, you know, United States is putting draconian sanctions against the little island of Cuba where, you know, our people have struggled for freedom but, you know, as if America didn’t also struggle for freedom.
And so there seems to be a real sharpness in—and, I guess, that that—as diplomats that sometimes reflects when you’re with your friends, even when you know that they’re not quite where you think they should be, you—it’s a soft tone or a private tone, versus when it’s not really friends then it’s a very public—you know, a statement.
And so that, I think, is probably where the sense, I believe, in Washington is that we are not as close friends as we should be based on the extent of the cooperation that we have with each other across so many sectors, as you just mentioned.
PANDOR: Well, I think relationships take place in different categories and between different sectors. So, for me, what is really important is to ensure that the business-to-business relationship is strong because that is the biggest contributor to the kind of development we wish to achieve.
As to whether I should make a secretary of state happy or like me, that’s less important than the trade issues. That’s my approach.
PANDOR: And I do think there is a distinction between the support we enjoyed from Cuba during the struggle against apartheid compared to support that was given to UNITA by America, for example—UNITA, which murdered our—(inaudible). So there are reasons for the perspectives that exist and one should never, I think, try to pretend that there aren’t histories.
FRAZER: Yes. Sure.
PANDOR: So, you know, Russia under—as Russia—the Soviet Union—was prepared to provide support to the liberation movements when many governments were working very closely with the apartheid state and even murdering our leaders. So we can’t suddenly, you know, forget that history and behave in a different way.
But I think we’ve been fairly clear in our view that war doesn’t assist anyone and that we believe the inhumane actions we have seen against the people of Ukraine can’t be defended by anybody and we’ve not defended them nor have we been neutral about it. We’ve been clear.
But what we have said is that a lot of the public statements that are made by leading politicians are not assisting in ameliorating the situation because the first prize must be to achieve peace. We’ve got to have a cessation of hostilities, and name calling of one or the other, being very robust and vocal, doesn’t assist us in achieving at a cessation of hostilities.
This is why we’ve said we have to make greater effort at diplomacy, greater effort at drawing the parties together. We even proposed something that was done with us when we were fighting apartheid. Many leaders said, let us put together an eminent persons group of leading personalities who enjoy global respect, who will draw the liberation movements to a table, draw the apartheid leaders to a table, and support them in negotiating an outcome that leads to democracy. This was done with us.
We’ve said we’ve totally marginalized the United Nations. The secretary general is not playing the role that he should, and we’ve said, let us have this notion of an eminent persons group. Find a group of eminent persons, former presidents or whatever, who enjoy world respect and who would be able to have Mr. Putin and Mr. Zelensky around the table and say to them, let’s sit down and negotiate a settlement here.
FRAZER: Sure. Thank you. Thank you.
Let me pick up on the economic relationship. I think that’s so very important.
How do you see governments—our U.S. government, South Africa’s government—facilitating private sector investment? You said—mentioned 17 percent investment of South Africans into the American economy, that the United States is the third largest trading partner with South Africa.
How do we build on that strength? Because, as you say, that is extremely important, particularly to your three goals of unemployment—dealing with unemployment—poverty and inequality at home.
PANDOR: Well, one of the matters that we have to address is increased Black ownership of the broader economy in South Africa. Blacks tend to still be a minority within the robust areas of the economy. They don’t own land. They don’t own shares in businesses. So we’ve got to change that because we cannot really live with a history where the majority are poor forever.
So that has to change, and so this is why we’re trying to introduce Black economic empowerment. However, its introduction has gone wrong in some cases and gone well in others. So we’ve got to get better at it. But addressing inequality and unequal access to the resources of South Africa is something that we cannot rest at attempting to do.
So that is one is to broaden ownership and have an inclusive economy where many more participate and have a real stake.
Second, I think one of the things we have to address are fairer trade rules. We do find, for example, that it seems our scrap metal is more attractive, it’s value added in other parts of the world, and so we get a lower price for scrap metal and pay a great deal for steel. So we’re trying to change that dynamic, and when we try and change it nontariff barriers are imposed on us.
And so we have to engage with the trade secretary in the U.S., who, I must say, is a very good trade secretary because she listens, and we do find that even where it is claimed that trade practices are very fair, actually, there’s a great deal of unfairness. So attending to fairer trade rules that allow for value added production and increased industrialization and manufacturing capacity, both in South Africa but, broadly, on the African continent, is a very big endeavor that all of us have to do much more on.
Finally, we have AGOA—the African Growth Opportunities Act—which has been in existence for several years and has really been of great benefit to many participating African countries because it’s allowed them to have goods come into the United States without very heavy tariffs. So that’s been excellent.
AGOA is up for review next year and we’re thrilled South Africa will be hosting a forum—AGOA forum—and we’re hoping President Biden and, broadly, Congress will agree that AGOA is extended further because we think it’s been really incredible.
FRAZER: Wonderful. We do have American—a lot of American companies that are investing in South Africa now and contributing.
Is there anything that they could do better in terms of their entry into the market or is there any other ways in which South Africa could do better in attracting them into the market on both sides?
PANDOR: Well, I think one of the issues on which there have been quite a few complaints is a law that used to exist on what was called investment protection and what it did was it imposed a legal requirement on South Africa that it bears responsibility, so it guarantees in case of failure of some kind or in a force majeure.
Now, we felt that was a very unfair agreement to have and a law which had been in existence under apartheid. So we decided to revise that particular law, and I see many companies, particularly in the United States, have complained because they liked it. But we cannot bear that guarantee. It’s just something that is unaffordable for us. We think we must be fair. We must have, you know, proper security for investors in South Africa. But when
we become almost an insurance company then it’s just overburdening, and that is an aspect that has been raised as a concern.
Some American companies and, really, from many years ago, even those that invested under apartheid, did attempt economic empowerment of Black people. So your Pepsi, Coca-Cola, one or two others. You remember the Sullivan code and, you know, those affirmative action initiatives which did make a difference.
So, generally, when companies come in to South Africa they do understand Black economic empowerment probably from the history as well of the United States, and so do who tend to fall in in a positive way—not all—but, you know, fall in quite well with our laws and our policy.
Our labor laws are quite tight and so we’ve had to look at them. I think they’re particularly implementable for huge multinationals but for smaller businesses they’re very difficult. So we’ve tried to look at how we change the laws without disadvantaging workers or having them exploited in order to not compel smaller companies to become party to bargaining chamber decisions that are taken with really big companies in mind.
So these are some of the sticky points that you have from time to time. But we’ve been absolutely thrilled. President Ramaphosa, in 2019 following his election, set himself a target of U.S. $100 million—billion attracted into South Africa as foreign direct investment in his five-year term. We’ve reached 95 percent of that in three and a half years.
We continue to aim at the hundred billion (dollars) but we’re very pleased at the progress and many companies from the United States have participated in new initiatives, new investments, increasing their plant presence, and so on.
So there’s been, you know, good progress but we need much more.
FRAZER: Yeah. Well, we’ve got Ambassador Brigety there and he’s—we know he’s going to do the job for us. (Laughter.)
PANDOR: Yes. He—(inaudible)—5 percent—(inaudible). (Laughter.)
FRAZER: There’s no question that things will get done.
I’ve got about five or ten minutes left with you before we open it up to the members. So let me just push again hard—because I like the discussion and I like debate—on global governance.
Right now—you know, in 1945 when the Bretton Woods institutions started coming into formation most of Africa was colonized so didn’t really have a say in the design and the setup of those institutions and, of course, those who won the war took the power.
Now, today, we’re in a very turbulent time. Pandemic recovery and preparedness. We have the Ukraine-Russia war in Europe. We have geostrategic competition between the United States and China.
Things are moving, and you had said in a—one of—a speech that you gave asking for more resources for South Africa’s diplomacy in this time. You said transformation of the global system of governance must move from based on power to one based on rules.
And we all talk about a rule-based international system and we need to adhere to a rule-based international system. But, truthfully, in state relations, power and rules guide these decisions.
So how does South Africa leverage its participation in many forums—the G-20, the G-7, the BRICS, the African Union, SADC—to try to have influence on the establishment of what the new rules of the game will be
and how the power dynamics will come out in favor of the African continent, not just South Africa, having more say and more influence on those very things that you just talked about?
PANDOR: Well, I think it can’t just be South Africa. It has to be South Africa along with SADC, for example, or South Africa with the entire African Union, all of us in the G-20. What we’ve been able to do in the G-20 and as an invited participant in the G-7 is to place Africa on the agenda of those formations.
So it’s important that South Africa is there but it must always realize it’s there on behalf of Africa and not on behalf of South Africa only. So that’s very, very important.
Second, you know, I think this notion of international rules is very comfortable for some people to use when it suits them but they don’t believe in international rules when it doesn’t suit them because they don’t apply international rules or law equally in all circumstances.
So you can’t say because Ukraine has been invaded that suddenly sovereignty is important, but it was never important for Palestine. It’s very peculiar. If you believe in international law, truly, then wherever sovereignty is infringed it must apply and this is the point we’ve been making, that we use the framework of international law unequally depending on who is affected, and we are arguing that that must change.
And one of the interesting changes that has occurred is the sudden movement, because Russia has invaded Ukraine, that we say, OK, let’s not allow the Security Council to just have the veto and let it pass. We take it to the General Assembly. When some of us have been calling for the General Assembly to have a greater say we never enjoyed support.
But suddenly, today—see, that’s where international law begins to mean nothing because for some we see it as a cheating and for others we see it as a benefit. So our argument is let’s revise the international multilateral system to ensure that we observe that post-1948 has arrived.
FRAZER: What is the revision that you’re looking for?
PANDOR: Well, it should be more representative, more democratic. If we retain the Security Council, regions that are not represented there must have a space, and I think the move for the General Assembly to have a greater say is an important one and it should be for everybody, not one country.
So already the signs are there. Let’s really ensure that we make these changes, which several countries have been calling for for many, many years. We’re now fifty-four independent African countries that are members of the African Union. We have three rotating nonpermanent members that are elected every few years to the Security Council. I mean, what is that?
So I really think we’ve got to rethink the multilateral system, ensure it’s more fair, more open, transparent, and democratic.
FRAZER: Yes. Yeah, I hear you. But, you know, that sort of rules-based and normative part of it does help keep things within some guardrails, to a degree.
PANDOR: Absolutely. I mean, one wouldn’t deny that there should be rules.
FRAZER: Right. No. No. No.
PANDOR: But it can’t be that when it’s this referee that rule is OK and then if it’s a different referee that rule—that’s what we would like. Yeah.
FRAZER: Except for when it’s countries with power.
PANDOR: Yeah. Well, power—power—
FRAZER: I mean, that’s the geostrategic—
PANDOR: Your power must lie in the degree to which everybody feels represented.
PANDOR: If your power lies in you having authority over everybody and bullying you’re not really powerful. You’re a bully.
FRAZER: Yeah. But, Minister, you’re not because what you’re doing is building alliance around interests, right, and there’s very few countries that strike out alone. They strike out with many others with them, who may disagree with another set of alliance partners. That is sort of also one of the rules of the international system that has always been there.
PANDOR: Well, Ambassador, I think the courage we must have and, hopefully, the Council would lead on it is we must change the philosophy. The philosophical orientation has to change toward the greater good—
FRAZER: Yes, but—
PANDOR: —you know, because otherwise, I’m powerful because people are starving in Lesotho—
PANDOR: —which is crazy.
FRAZER: Understood. But when we look at South Africa’s engagement on the continent of Africa it uses and leverages its power not always according to the norms of the continent.
For example, taking over the chairpersonship of the African Union, which always was held by a small country until South Africa wanted it under Zuma, which created a lot of consternation because it was a norm there that actually the small countries do.
But South Africa used its power and its interest, presumably, because it thought it had something to contribute. But it broke a norm. So this is what powerful states do.
PANDOR: Yeah. But, you know—
FRAZER: Not always, and we don’t want that.
PANDOR: —we broke that norm, which I think was good. We got a very good chair—
FRAZER: Yes, indeed.
PANDOR: —at the time, who did a lot of the reforms that were necessary. So you had a country that could drive reforms. Didn’t take the AU backwards, which would have been a real problem.
FRAZER: Yes, I would agree.
PANDOR: And I think a very new organization, hasn’t had one chairperson. Really, we can’t, you know—because the AU was new. They’d only been the first, the former premier of Gabon. She was the second.
So I’m not sure that we broke a particular mold. There may have been a particular mold under the old Organization of African Unity. But now you had a very different organization, and South Africa didn’t impose itself. It was elected by everybody in a proper assembly.
FRAZER: OK. Minister—(laughs)—
PANDOR: But it’s my time. But there is an election. I’ve been in elections in the AU since becoming minister in this department and you have to achieve a two-thirds majority.
FRAZER: Yeah. Minister, I’m going to do something that I learned in South Africa when I was ambassador there, which was agree to disagree. (Laughs.)
This is what I learned in South Africa, and we’ll come back to the topic, the topic being—where the disagreement is partly is that the rules of the international system are there as guardrails but power is also a huge factor that even subregional states, the powerful one that’s in that subregion, will use their power in the interest of their interests and—
PANDOR: Well, I don’t know. It depends, doesn’t it? And I would want to do case studies—
FRAZER: Yes, we can do that.
PANDOR: —to, you know, examine whether, indeed, the exercise, as you call it, of power is totally negative in all cases.
FRAZER: No, not negative—
PANDOR: There may be instances where it might be. But let me give you an illustration.
We’ve, over many years, have had a very, very difficult political environment in Lesotho. So five years ago, SADC appointed President Ramaphosa as the facilitator in what, essentially, was an impossible job because Basotho just liked to somehow be in conflict with each other, and the difficulty for us is whenever they have a political eruption their people come into South Africa as refugees.
So President Ramaphosa devoted a lot of time to drawing the different political parties together—the various stakeholders, traditional leaders, women, all groups—to converse about what form of political system they wished to see in place in order to end constant coups by the military, to stop the politicians fighting, and so on, and so it’s been five years of very difficult work.
Now, if South Africa hadn’t had the resources to pay for those stakeholder consultations, to have experts drafting constitutional documents and putting them before the Basotho to decide and, in the end, it’s their decision. But you need to give that support.
So that kind of use of power, I think, is good.
PANDOR: But when you use your power to come in and support an opposition group that is unpopular in a country and you, essentially, want to eliminate a popular one because it doesn’t agree with you ideologically, for me, that’s an abuse of power.
So I don’t know, you know, which aspect we’re speaking of.
FRAZER: We’re just talking about the use of power, which is—can be positive and also be negative.
PANDOR: It can be both, yeah. Absolutely.
FRAZER: But it’s also a key element. But I’m going to—we’re going to come—before we end, we’re going to come back to leadership.
PANDOR: All right.
FRAZER: I want to come back to leadership. But I can’t abuse the members. I know that they’re anxious to get in.
So at this point, I’d like to ask any of the members if they would like to ask a question. I want to remind you, though, that this conversation is on the record and, indeed, it will be taped and the video will be available. So when you ask your question keep that in mind.
I see a person here asking. Please.
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Lesley Warner. I work for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations office here in Washington, D.C.
Looking at—I think you can see a through line in U.S. engagement with South Africa in recent weeks and months. So looking at Secretary Blinken’s trip to South Africa where he announced the U.S.-Africa strategy, we have the meeting with President Ramaphosa and President Biden, and then we have the Africa Leaders Summit in December, and looking at that through line I’m wondering what would you like to see as an outcome of the Africa Leaders Summit and what would you like to see on the back end of that so that we can ensure that we have sustained high-level engagement with—between the U.S. and South Africa?
PANDOR: Well, I’m hoping that what’s going to emerge is a refreshed partnership between the United States of America and Africa because it has been in the doldrums for several years. Linked to that would be that at the center of the deliberations should be some of what we’ve discussed here, which is multilateral institutional reform but also a focus on Africa’s common agenda, which is Agenda 206, and how we make that work.
The third, for me, would be giving attention to the African continental free trade area where the African continent is working hard at increasing intra-African trade, which is one of the lowest levels of trade within a continent that exists worldwide.
So support for the necessary foundation to make the free trade area work would be very important. That would be in the range of infrastructure, development of appropriate payment systems, ensuring the customs regulators have the adequate administration capability in place to make a free trade area agreement work.
So those, I hope, would be some of the areas and, of course, we must ensure that we have greater skills development on the continent in critical skills areas. I don’t think, you know, we want more arts trainers. Sorry to the arts people. (Laughter.) But I think science is very important—technology, engineering—because those are skills we desperately need. I think as well in the finance and economic sectors we need highly-trained people in information and communication technology.
So skills would be critical. And we’ve had, as South Africa, very good relations in the science and technology domain, very strong research partnerships between the United States and South Africa. I would like to see more centers of excellence on the African continent focused on research and innovation because this is sorely needed.
We’ve got to get Africa to be an independent actor in the world and in order to arrive at that point it needs support. So that would be—those are the notes I’m giving President Ramaphosa. (Laughter.) I don’t know which one of them he’ll raise but—
FRAZER: (Laughs.) Thank you. We have a question online.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Lucy Dunderdale Cate.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much for this fascinating discussion.
I wanted to ask you just on this issue of building international norms and rules that are consistent, what countries or leaders do you see as kind of allies in this endeavor, either on the African continent or globally? Kind of who are you working with and partnering in this?
PANDOR: I think the key leaders are the ones who lead the largest economies in the world. So, for me, if we don’t see President Biden, President Xi Jinping, and Prime Minister Modi standing together, it makes the kind of agenda I’m talking about very, very difficult.
But if the world sees them trying to have a rapprochement and really giving a leadership of building the world community, I think the sort of agenda I’m referring to has a modicum of opportunity to succeed.
But without those significant players—because, you know, you can’t marginalize such huge countries. You have to find a way of working together, and I think if we are to discuss leadership later, it’s developing the ability, even in difficult circumstances, to work together for the greater global good and we need those leaders to realize that it is them who must lead.
And then on the African continent, I think there are key African countries that we need to see working much more closely together. I think we’ve improved relations between South Africa and Nigeria, for example, and we’d have to really have a good effort to develop strong links with Kenya, which is the largest economy in east Africa.
So there’s certain countries that, I think, need to form a sort of Africa-15 or Africa-20, work together to get the continent moving.
FRAZER: Thank you.
Washington? Back here.
Q: Hi. I’m Annie Medaglia with Bain & Company.
Thanks for joining us here today. I just wanted to say it’s been super refreshing to hear such an active debate onstage. So thank you to both of you for doing that.
I wanted to ask about South Africa’s position on the upcoming COP-27 that will be held in Egypt. It would be great to hear what you’re hoping to get out of it, South Africa’s position, and additional considerations, particularly given the need to give developing countries kind of more of a platform in this discussion and debate. Thanks.
PANDOR: Well, the South African position is that all of us have a responsibility to respond to climate change. But we also argue that while there’s a shared responsibility, it must be understood that it will be executed in a differentiated fashion because not all of us caused the problem that we’re experiencing today with equal active economic responsibility.
So we’re seeing shared but differentiated responsibilities, common but differentiated responsibility, and in order for us to ensure that developing countries are able to respond to the impact of climate change and to reduce the emissions, of which South Africa is a real guilty party, they have to be supported financially to take those steps
and this is why in COP after COP after COP after COP we’ve been arguing for finance to be made available to developing countries.
And at last in Glasgow—COP-26—we had the first signs that there is going to be some attempt at making resources available because four countries plus South Africa signed up to this just energy transition program, which involves South Africa converting from coal to renewable energy resources and support being provided to South Africa by France, Germany, U.K., and, I think, the U.S. were the four that committed.
Discussions have begun on the financing with those four. We’re still trying to get detail as to exactly what it means and we’re hearing a lot of talk about loans, you know, which means more debt. But the discussions are ongoing.
So that responsibility to provide support is absolutely imperative but we’re committed to making a change. We’ve already begun to shift to renewables. Our big challenge is we’ve got some of the largest coal deposits in the world and we have communities that rely on coal mining for their livelihood.
So the key issue for us is as we convert, as we act on what was agreed at COP-26, how do we ensure that communities are not left behind, and this is why we speak of a just transition because it must be just to those communities. We can’t just shift away from coal and leave them unemployed, poor, and without any form of income.
So what we have agreed with two of the countries is that the funds they make available we’re going to direct to repurposing coal-fired power stations that are near the end of life and we’re going to convert them either to liquid gas or other forms of less-emitting energy resources.
So that is our response. But there will be a presentation by South Africa—the general assembly summit—on this matter. We have—we think there’s movement now. But we’re not yet seeing that hundred billion (dollars). But at least there are early signs of commitment. We’ll be able to tell by COP-28 whether the undertakings of COP-26 were real.
FRAZER: Wonderful. Let’s go to the online question again.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Zoe Liu.
Q: I am Zoe Liu and I am a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Minister Pandor and Ambassador Frazer, thank you very much for a great conversation. I actually enjoyed the conversation about the rules and the power in the international system.
So, Minister, my question is actually about the BRICS, and so could you share your opinion with us where do you see the role of South Africa in the BRICS grouping? And I ask this question, you know, in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and all that. And since Ukraine, especially in the context of sanctions, Russia has been pushing de-dollarization within the BRICS framework and, to a lesser extent, China and India as well. So do you see South Africa may have a shared interest with the rest of the BRICS along this line? Thank you very much.
PANDOR: Well, I think BRICS has been a very useful formation for us. We have felt for some time that we need a formation that would focus on key development priorities and on having a perspective on world issues that might be considered more progressive than in other organizations.
So BRICS—we’re not anti anything as that group of five countries; we are pro-development initiatives that are led by the BRICS countries. So we’ve shared views on how we develop, for example, responses on the matter of cybersecurity, how we share in the higher education domain and have think tanks working together.
We also have looked at the issue of the BRICS bank and now have a bank that is functional, enjoys a AAA rating, which all BRICS countries have invested in. We have over a hundred and eighty different subcommittees and working groups that are extremely active in the BRICS formation. So I see it as a very good people-to-people and political engagement forum.
Where, I think, we need to do more is really look at what are the core values and principles that bring us together, and if we are to do what some are calling for, which is expanding BRICS, what criteria will be utilized. So who should come into this formation, and if it grows large what would it actually be doing.
Because as I said, South Africa’s view is that the United Nations is the premier global body and we wouldn’t want to form any body that believes it has some kind of equal or competitive status to the U.N. That is not something South Africa would be interested in.
So we have had approaches from a number of countries but we’ve urged a pause to the other BRICS members to say let’s just think about this a little more carefully exactly what is it that would allow us to expand and draw in other members and what would be the framework governing our relationship with all of them.
So it’s a discussion that we’re having, and once we’ve concluded and developed a concrete view on the approaches that have been made to us we will then make our stance public. South Africa is the unfortunate country that will be chairing as these discussions are ongoing because we assume the chair from January next year. So we’ll see where we take them.
FRAZER: Thank you. There was a question. Yes?
Q: Thank you very much. Thank you for this discussion. My name is James Patton. I run an organization called the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.
I’m going to take a little bit of a turn here. We, in the United States, I think, we’re experiencing undeniably a deepening of identity divisions within our country that’s trending in troubling directions.
There seems to be a(n) almost dramatically increasing likelihood of civil violence here in the United States, and I’m curious after decades of working on reconciliation—social reconciliation—what are your recommendations for us that we can learn from your experience to avoid collapsing into what looks like the possibly intractable identity conflicts here in the United States that becomes social violence?
FRAZER: Thank you.
PANDOR: Well, I think in South Africa we’re still learning to manage social relations. We haven’t gone as far as we had hoped with achieving levels of social cohesion that would make us believe, you know, that we’ve reached the pinnacle of what we’d like to see as social relations between different groups in our country.
So we’ve had outbreaks of really horrible incidents of xenophobia against other Africans who have come to South Africa either as refugees or economic migrants. But the second is we did have a civil uprising in July 2021 when we had the instance of the former president, Zuma, who has been accused, you know, of various acts of corruption.
He was to stand trial and appear before a judicial commission. He refused to appear on more than one occasion. The judicial commission approached the courts and the constitutional court found him in contempt and sentenced to a period in prison. He enjoys support in particular areas of the country, and there was then, you know, great momentum and protest about him, you know, being sent to prison.
Eventually, he did actually go and was imprisoned, and there was this huge riot—outbreak of a riot in the province in which he resides, which is KwaZulu-Natal, but also in Gauteng, which is our largest economic center in South Africa.
So, you know, that taught us quite a lesson. We were totally unprepared for the violence that accompanied that riot. They burned buildings and, particularly, economic businesses were targets.
So I don’t know if we’re as good as we think we are. We’ve realized that we need to do much more. Our biggest, I think, weakness is the ongoing poverty in South Africa. We’ve got to give more people a stake and the belief that they have a stake in South Africa.
We have to have more job creation. People must believe that being in South Africa, living in South Africa, means you matter. But if people don’t believe that they matter, I think they’ll always act against their country in all sorts of ways.
So we’re lucky that we embraced religious diversity at the inception of our democracy and so we’ve not had in the religious sphere any conflicts against particular religious formations in South Africa. But, certainly, with respect to immigrants—and it’s only African immigrants, not European or other—there have been awful incidents.
But a part of it is that those who come into South Africa we don’t have encampments. Some African countries have many refugees but they have camps. We don’t. People freely live wherever they choose and they tend to live in the poor township areas and then establish micro businesses, which appear as competition to the citizen community, and this causes a great deal of hostile attitude toward enterprising, you know, African refugees, and it’s a most disturbing situation that we’re having to constantly address, along with nongovernmental organizations.
What we’ve found is that sometimes politicians don’t have the courage to speak up in a positive fashion and to encourage their people to move away from such attitudes. So, at times, this hostility is used as a political organizing tool and there’s a lot of populism associated with some of the sentiments against our fellow African brothers and sisters.
So you need maturity. I was surprised one meeting even in the ANC President Ramaphosa was booed when he called on people to respect everyone and we’re a welcoming people, et cetera. And the—(makes sound)—was sort of were actually not bad. But he persisted, and I think that’s what you’ve got to do.
But if you have many other political leaders who believe you can draw popular attention if you express a sentiment that an ordinary citizen would express, I think you then have a real problem brewing.
FRAZER: Well, Madam Minister, we have five minutes left and so I think that this conversation just now touches on exactly that question about leadership.
Can you just share with us, particularly our younger members and our mid-careers, what core principles of leadership have sustained you through all of these impressive positions—difficult positions—both on the political side as an ANC member as well as on the public service side as a government official?
PANDOR: Well, let me say I learned a lot of my lessons outside South Africa because I lived outside our country many years due to my family—my parents—being exiles, and one of the sites where I learned a great deal was when I had the privilege of being selected to study at Bryn Mawr, and a group of South African women in the higher education sector were invited to participate in a fellows program.
And in that program I learned about mentorship, about how you manage power, and about how it’s important to always learn. So learning is important. I think leaders who don’t read are really dangerous. So learning is very, very vital.
Two, the word public service was not chosen loosely. It really does mean you are there to serve the public, not yourself, and where many leaders fail us is that they believe they’re there for themselves. They don’t believe in public service. They believe in public serving me. So I think public service must be a real meaning for you.
And then, finally, just working with integrity and honesty, hopefully, because, you know, there’s nothing worse than a corrupt leader.
So those would be, I think, some of the things. Just really read, learn, form relationships across the world. Don’t be isolated and insular because insularity is also dangerous. And then also, you know, be honest.
FRAZER: Well, we know that you do all of those things. Thank you so very much. Thank you so very much for this very frank and wise conversation.
We really do appreciate it and we’re so grateful that you are the minister of international relations and cooperation in South Africa at this critical time we’re forging these relationships globally and especially with the United States.
So please join me in thanking the minister. (Applause.)