Category: News, On Campus

Title: Reshaping Global Cooperation: A Conversation with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor

Author: Marwa Katir
Date Published: October 18, 2023

On September 26, 2023, SFS welcomed Dr. Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation to Georgetown. The event was co-sponsored by the African Studies Program and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. In a thought-provoking discussion, Pandor provided invaluable insights into South Africa’s evolving role in the Global South amid rapid transformation and growth in the region. Pandor’s remarks painted a vivid picture of South Africa’s aspirations, both in its own development and as a vital participant in the international community.

Transformation: A Focus on the Greater Good

In her address, Pandor emphasized the imperative of transforming institutions in South Africa to ensure they serve the greater good. Pandor stressed that South Africa’s journey towards transformation includes shifting institutions, both public and private, away from the narrow interests that once defined them, particularly under apartheid. This legacy has been an important guiding force in South Africa’s international relations strategy—when asked by a student about the impact of apartheid, Pandor noted that the overwhelming international support for anti-apartheid activism has predisposed the country to cooperation. “We were really fortunate that the world joined in this fight and accepted that apartheid was a crime against humanity,” she said. “I think it is the experience of the struggle for freedom, which has laid a basis for the friendships that we have with many, many countries.”

However, this emphasis on collaboration doesn’t mean that South Africa is uncritical of multilateral institutions; instead, it encourages them to reach their full potential. Pandor challenged the subjective use of international rules and emphasized the importance of equal respect for international law, regardless of a country’s identity or location. 

Redefining Industrialization in Africa

Historically, industrialization was marked by phases that included agrarian economies, followed by the slow transformation into industrialized nations. However, Africa’s journey to industrialization is not bound by historical precedents. Pandor strongly emphasized this point saying: “Given the development of digital technologies, we can move much faster.” 

However, this shift is not without its challenges. Industrialization in Africa requires more than just the adoption of technology. Pandor emphasized the need for investments in infrastructure, quality education, skills development and a conducive business environment. She explained that collaboration, knowledge exchange and leveraging the global community’s expertise will be crucial in this transformative process. 

UN Meetings: Mere Dialogues or Catalysts for Change?

Pandor praised the United Nations for focusing on critical topics like climate change, food security, pandemic preparedness, women’s equality and financial inclusion for women. While discussions on these subjects are crucial, Pandor suggested that the lengthy declarations produced at these meetings need to be mined for actionable implementation strategies. “I’m worried that we may talk a lot, but we might not be acting to change a lot,” she added.

In part, Pandor passed the baton to academia in envisioning a more productive future for the UN. “We do believe that the UN is in need of reform. And we think you, in the academic spaces, can assist in generating debate as to the nature of change we should be seeing,” she said. “After all, knowledge production happens here, not in parliaments, right?”

Global Trade and the U.S.-China Dynamic

The global trade landscape, as Pandor highlighted, remains one of the most intricate and consequential arenas of international diplomacy. The relationship between the U.S. and China, in particular, has been highly influential on international trade dynamics. Pandor expressed the importance of finding resolutions to trade disputes between these two economic superpowers. Their relationship, often marked by tariffs, counter-tariffs and intellectual property rights conflicts, has sent shockwaves throughout the world. 

She astutely summarized the consequences by noting, “when giants clash, we all feel the tremors.” For South Africa, which is part of BRICS, an economic bloc that includes China and collaborates with both the U.S. and China on various fronts, navigating this terrain is particularly crucial. In her role, Pandor sees the need to strike a balance between supporting South Africa’s own interests and promoting a peaceful resolution to trade tensions.

Pandor believes forums like BRICS can help ease these tensions by focusing on consensus and open discussion. In response to a question from Dean Hellman about the implications of the recent expansion of BRICS, Pandor said, “I’ve been surprised at the interest in becoming part of BRICS, and what it has suggested is the world is thirsting for a forum where ideas can be exchanged without threat.”

The Climate Change Threat

As the world grapples with the escalating challenges posed by climate change, Africa stands on the front lines, experiencing the impacts of this global crisis firsthand. When a student asked Pandor about cooperation within Africa on climate change, she touted the declaration of the recent Nairobi Conference, which focused on the agricultural issues impacting the continent as a result of climate change. 

Pandor also emphasized the crucial need for international collaboration and tangible measures to confront climate change, but she called for an equitable approach to distributing responsibilities for climate action. “We don’t have equal responsibility, nor are we equal in development status,” she said, highlighting the inequalities in both the historical responsibility for emissions and the capacity to combat this worldwide threat.

Cooperation for Tomorrow

In her remarks at SFS, Pandor delivered a call to action for South Africa, as well as the international community. Her emphasis on transformation for the greater good, the urgency of industrialization in Africa and the need for tangible results from international dialogues created a clear outline for South Africa’s future. Her message serves as a reminder that in this evolving international relations landscape, meaningful action is essential for reshaping global cooperation to be more inclusive and productive.