Madam Speaker

A review of the half–century of the Organisation of African Unity and its successor, the African Union, gives us an idea of progress made by the continent, as we mark Africa Day. Other speakers have addressed the problem of South Africa’s relationship with our fellow Africans fully and eloquently and I don’t want to revisit that important debate ; but I will say, based on my own experience in the international community, that we have strayed a long way from our original commitment to human rights in diplomacy. Minister Alfred Nzo told me human rights were the bedrock of South African foreign policy; right on our doorstep are two examples of undemocratic and despotic regimes and South Africa has managed to look past them for decades. I would have thought this would be a good starting point for the nation that was widely seen as a beacon for Africa in 1994 and from which much was expected.

How have we done in 50 years? Despite many steps sideways and as many back – there have been over 60 coups and attempted coups on the continent in this time – I think there is some reason for optimism. In 1990, there were only 3 sub-Saharan countries with multi-party political systems and now there are over 20. Factors working in favour of wider political freedoms and democracy are the growing organisational ability and power of opposition parties and the communications explosion, which allows much better organisation of elections.

What caught my attention was a three-year survey by Afrobarometer in 34 African countries, including North Africa; if we credit these survey results, there is indeed hope for the future: the conclusion is that over 70% of Africans want democratic government and that the demand for democratic institutions has risen by 15% in 10 years, described as a “growing attachment to democracy”. The underlying message is that, in countries where institutions around democracy, such as electoral commissions, are seen to be working, support for those processes rises. If the quality of elections is seen to be high, people interpret this as the best sign of a democratic government and failed processes discourage the search for democracy. Incidentally, South Africa scored the average among African countries, 70% to the top scorer, Zambia with 90%. Four out of 10 South Africans said they are not satisfied with democracy and three out of ten said they were in a democracy with major problems. There is a strong disillusionment with our institutions and I see red lights.

A brief anecdote, which could sum up our dilemma as a member of the African community; almost 10 years ago, an observant African visitor said to me “You South Africans speak of Africa, but you always add “…and South Africa”. You don’t really see yourselves as part of the continent”. In the light of subsequent developments, this is something to think about, Madam Speaker.

South Africa’s peacekeeping operations and conflict resolution efforts have, with one notable exception, had positive outcomes, but we should by this time have used our resources to take the lead in this area.

These are hopeful signs, but there is also a warning: a recent economist survey gave only one country in Africa, Mauritius, a rating of “full democracy” and rated virtually the whole of Southern Africa, including South Africa as “flawed democracies”. Our 1994 reputation has taken a big knock.

Madam Speaker: South Africa needs a new approach to Africa, as our government has not yet taken on board the complexities of tackling open governance on the continent. We have been passive observers of developments, particularly in the sub-continent and have missed the opportunities to be play-maker without being domineering.