As we celebrate Africa Day today, we must confront the fact that South Africa has ceded its leadership role in the continent. South Africa is now a laggard in measures of accountability, openness, competitiveness and economic growth, where we should be leading the way.
Our reputation on the global stage has suffered great harm over the last decade. We have befriended despots, supported autocrats, and protected murderers. We have turned away from our friends and harmed relationships. We have abandoned the human rights based foreign policy of the Mandela government, and have harmed our national interests in doing so.
There is now an opportunity to put all of this behind us, and to reclaim that role as leader on the continent. We can go from laggard back to leader. To do so, we must stand as an example of democracy and the rule of law for all by doing three things now.
President Ramaphosa could restore South Africa’s leadership role on the continent by doing the following:
1) Abandoning plans to leave the International Criminal Court. Far from leaving the institution, we should be recommitting ourselves to full participation and helping to strengthen it by sending our best jurists. We should be committed to a policy of respect for human rights, and doing everything we can to support justice for the victims of humans rights abuses and crimes against humanity on our continent.
2) Ensuring equality before the law, no matter your position or political power. We can send a message to the continent and the world that if you are corrupt, you will be prosecuted, no matter how powerful you are. President Ramaphosa should abandon the illegitimate deal for the state to fund Former President Zuma’s legal fees. He should appoint a truly independent and professional National Director of Public Prosecutions, with a mandate to go after corrupt senior politicians first.
3) Using our seat in SADC, and as the regional power, to guarantee free and fair elections in Zimbabwe later this year. Our leadership role in the continent began its decline when we allowed the theft of elections in Zimbabwe, and national elections there later this year present an opportunity to put right that injustice and ensure truly open democratic elections.
In 2016, Opposition Parties from across the SADC region formed the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (SAPDC). And I remain very proud to have had the privilege of serving as the Chairperson of the SAPDC since its inception. The All Basotho Convention in Lesotho, Rally for Democracy and Progress in Namibia, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe, Civic United Front in Tanzania, Movement for Multi-Party Democracy in Zambia, Convergencia Ampla de Salvacao de Angola-Coigacao Eleitoral in Angola, United Democratic Movement in Swaziland and Democratic Alliance in South Africa are all members of the SAPDC.
The SAPDC will meet to map out a bold agenda for democratic reform in Southern Africa in the coming weeks. I very much look forward to discussing this agenda with all SAPDC leaders and leaders of other strategic regional partners and arriving at a consensus on our way forward.
This agenda should include but not be limited to:
- showing support in Lusaka for the Leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), Haikainda Hichilema’s recent efforts for the President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, to be impeached;
- meeting with our SAPDC partner and Leader of the MDC, Nelson Chamisa, in Harare in a show of solidarity with the opposition in Zimbabwe ahead of their general election; and
- joining the call by the opposition in Kinshasa for 17-year President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila, to step down ahead of their general election in 2019 and to speak out against atrocities in the Eastern DRC.
If President Ramaphosa does these three things in Africa, South Africa’s leadership role on the continent can be restored and our reputation on the global stage can be revived. And if the SAPDC are able to successfully implement this agenda in the coming months, Southern Africa will be able to stand tall as a region that proudly advances democratic change beyond borders.
Opportunities for enhanced regional trade and economic growth are in abundance. And we should choose to focus on the pursuit of these opportunities and not the perceived risks that stand in the way of this boom.
This change is possible.