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South Africa’s Foreign Policy – Strengthened Political Dialogue

Revised Priorities in South Africa’s Foreign Policy

South Africa’s foreign policy is first and foremost focused on southern Africa, the African continent and its relations to other countries in the southern hemisphere. In particular, large emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China are seen as strategic partners for South Africa. Further down the list are South Africa’s relations to countries in the north, including the EU countries, Denmark and the other Nordic countries.

Historically Denmark has enjoyed a close relationship with South Africa – along with the other Nordic countries – formed during the struggle against apartheid and expanded in the succeeding years with large development assistance cooperation. However, a new reality presents itself today, where new areas of cooperation need to be identified. Today, the historical relationship plays a less important role and Denmark no longer enjoys automatic access to dialogue with South African partners.

In 2009 a declaration focusing on strengthening the regular political dialogue was signed at Ministerial level. The declaration has resulted in a number of meetings at Ministerial and senior official level. Parliamentary delegations from both countries have also conducted visits.

South Africa is a member of G20 and was a non-permanent member of the UN’s Security Council in 2007-2008 (and is a candidate for 2011-2012). Together with Brazil, India and China, South Africa forms the “BASIC countries”, which play an important role in the negotiations for a new climate change agreement. The UN’s Climate Conference in 2011 (COP17) will take place in South Africa.

South Africa has taken the lead in developing the vision of “African Renaissance”, and was one of the primary initiators in the establishment of the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Furthermore, South Africa is one of the major players within the Southern African Development Community (SADC). South Africa is thus playing a key role in establishing an African architecture for politics and security that reaches beyond national borders and which can contribute to solving the continent’s conflicts and problems as well as promoting economic integration. South Africa assumes an important role as a mediator in conflicts on the continent, such as in Burundi, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. South Africa is also in the midst of establishing its own development assistance agency, which is expected to focus on assistance to other African countries.

South Africa’s key role on the African continent bilaterally and regionally makes the country an important partner for Denmark. Denmark has provided development assistance to African countries for many years. With increasing engagement in weak states and an objective to contribute to conflict resolution and to promote regional cooperation in Africa, it is of importance for Denmark to have close political dialogue with South Africa. Cooperation with South Africa on global challenges will be given high priority, for example the cooperation within the UN.

With its many years of experience in development assistance in Africa, Denmark can be a valuable resource for South Africa in its efforts to build a development assistance organisation.

The Increasing Importance of the EU Cooperation

The EU is an important platform for Denmark’s relations with South Africa. The EU and South Africa share common values such as democracy, human rights, respect for law and order, good governance, equal opportunities, the fight against poverty and the promotion of sustainable development. The EU is South Africa’s largest trade partner and remains an important player with regard to development cooperation with South Africa.

On this basis, the EU established a strategic political partnership with South Africa in 2006 focusing on global, continental and regional issues of common interest. One of the main areas of this strategic partnership is joint engagement in promoting peace, freedom and security and stability in the world. The partnership strategy was accompanied by a joint plan of action covering a wide variety of issues such as the environment, climate, education, transport, ICT and the fight against terrorism. The EU-Africa Strategy from 2008 provides another general framework for the cooperation and partnership between the EU and South Africa.

The strategic partnership includes high-level consultations twice a year and the formation of a number of working groups on issues defined in the plan of action, and the Lisbon Treaty establishes a common EU Foreign Service, which will take on a more central role in the dialogue between the EU and South Africa. In the future it will be the EU’s High Representative that spearheads the EU delegation at the high-level consultations and representatives from member states will no longer participate. It will be through participation in the preparation for the high-level consultations and the continuous cooperation between the member states’ missions in Pretoria that Denmark will be able to influence the dialogue between the EU and South Africa. Furthermore, the cooperation between the EU and AU, as well as the implementation of the EU-Africa Strategy, will be areas through which Denmark can exercise influence.

In 1999, South Africa signed an agreement with the EU on trade, development and cooperation which establishes the framework for cooperation between South Africa and the EU. South Africa also participates in certain parts of the Cotonou Agreement between developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (the ACP countries) and the EU, but the country is not covered by the Cotonou Agreement’s aid and development cooperation. South Africa participates in the negotiations on the regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between ACP countries and the EU as a member of the group on southern Africa (the SADC group). So far, no final results have been obtained. Denmark supports the establishment of developmental-friendly economic partnership agreements.

Nordic Cooperation with South Africa

The Nordic cooperation with South Africa constitutes an important platform for Denmark, partly in relation to the general political dialogue with South African government partners and civil society and partly in relation to thematic issues such as climate change.

In 2008, as an integrated part of the Nordic cooperation, the Nordic countries signed an agreement with South Africa establishing the basis for trilateral cooperation with other African countries, for example in terms of support for elections or transfer of successful South African experience in other areas.

A series of dialogues takes place at Ministerial level between the Nordic countries and a number of African countries. This group of Foreign Ministers was formed in 2000 and consists of the five Nordic countries and ten African countries, namely Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania – as well as South Africa. The group’s strategic focus is to ensure broad dialogue between the Nordic countries and a group of progressive African countries in a relatively informal forum. The eighth meeting was held in Copenhagen in 2009 and the ninth was held in Senegal in 2010.

Cooperation on the political level includes:
  • Regular high-level political consultations focused on promoting mutual Danish and South African interests, including national, regional and international interests
  • Increased exchange visits between Denmark and South Africa, including Ministerial visits and parliamentary delegations
  • Strengthened joint Nordic dialogue with South Africa regarding the trilateral agreement with South Africa on implementing development projects such as promoting democracy, good governance and social sectors in other countries in Africa
  • An active Danish role in the EU on joint policies relating to South Africa which, among other things, seek to increase South Africa’s work in areas of peace and security, specifically in solving political crises and conflicts in Africa and strengthening the cooperation between the EU and South Africa in this particular area and in other areas of strategic importance
  • Intensified cooperation with South Africa in multilateral forums, including the UN
  • Regular dialogue with South Africa regarding current affairs in the AU and SADC, both bilaterally and within the context of the EU
  • Increased cooperation with think-tanks and civil society organisations based in South Africa with the objective of promoting peace, security and democracy as well as economic integration in southern Africa
  • Exchange of experience of Danish development initiatives in Africa, bilaterally and regionally.

This page forms part of the publication 'Denmark - South Africa' as chapter 3 of 7
Version 1.0. 04-10-2010
Publication may be found at the address


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