Naledi Pandor: “The most progressive thing to do is unite and [take] action”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa spoke in the first day of the III International Dilemmas of Humanity Conference and called for progressive organizations to unite and intensify international solidarity

October 15, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa. Photo: Rafael Stedile

International solidarity was crucial in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and played an important role in isolating the country as it upheld a racist and violent regime. With the situation in Palestine escalating to an unprecedented level of violence, how can progressive and left forces scale up their international solidarity efforts to put an end to Israel’s crimes?

During the opening panel discussion of the III International Dilemmas of Humanity Conference, Naledi Pandor, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, called on progressive forces across the world to build united and effective international solidarity campaigns as well as the need to strengthen spaces of multilateral cooperation.

I begin by saying the world is a very troubled place and I don’t want us to pretend that it is easy, it’s not. We are faced with a very challenged world.

I realized this when in 2021 I was sitting in the summit of the Executive Council of the African Union, and it was whispered to me that the African Union Commission chairperson had issued an invitation to Israel to become an observer at the African Union. Imagine my horror. I decided at that moment that I would raise my arm and would propose that this decision be rescinded.

I walked around the room seeking supporters of the 54 nations, I got three, and I include SADC in that. But I said nevertheless, this is not going to happen.

I therefore lifted my arm and said I wish to table a matter. I have learned of this, and as South Africa, we object to it and it must not be implemented, we want our leaders to discuss it and we will never accept it as South Africa. And while we appreciate the role that the Organization of African Unity played in us achieving our freedom, as South Africa, this decision of the EU Commission chairperson will make us consider whether we can be present in the African Union.

I thought I would get support from many of the countries gathered in the room, but what I discovered is that countries that are oppressors that continue to be colonial occupiers are using financial muscle to provide grant in aid to African countries and secure the depoliticized support of African countries for these oppressive nations. Among them, Israel and Morocco. They are playing a very negative role in Africa.

And comrades, I’m being frank here because you in this room, you are supposed to be trade union leaders, many of you, or you lead progressive organizations, and you are failing in your duty to convince governments in Africa and all of the countries of the South that they cannot tolerate such situations. It can’t be left to us, as members of government, to be the ones that take up these issues, with no word from progressive organizations. This is intolerable and cannot continue.

I’m hoping out of this conference that you are going to decide to rise up, rise up, rise up. Don’t say what’s Comrade Naledi doing? That decision on Israel hasn’t been implemented, and it won’t be while I’m still there.

But what are you going to do? You should be talking to all progressive unions worldwide. The unions in the United States of America, weak or strong, should be making it clear to President Biden they don’t appreciate this statement which has led to the slaughter we are seeing today. The union movement in the United Kingdom should be doing the same, if we know our work.

I have no idea what has happened to our organizational capability because as South African leadership, our trade union movement was able to marshal under the worst oppressive chains. We were able to marshal international solidarity of a kind that has not been seen since the struggle against apartheid.

Where have all these progressive leaders gone and why? Why are we not able to organize? Why are we only sitting in a room as 300? There should be 3000 here. There’s something wrong and that’s why I’m saying we’re in a troubled world. And we need to recognize that the world has shifted, because what has happened is, in a determined fashion, progressive values and principles have been hacked and hacked and hacked and it is now difficult to find the voice of the left. And we need to revive. We need to organize. We need to be smart. We need to be strategic.

And one thing I’ve realized is making good speeches does not assist. I may feel good that I had the right record rhetoric at that platform, but if the next day my rhetoric has not led to action, my speech was useless.

So I hope out of this, NUMSA is going to lead a process where Comrade Irvin Jim and Comrade Chirwa will meet with their counterparts in all unions, whatever they are and say, as the South African Trade Union movement, let us lead, let us lead, let us agree. For one month, none of our unions are going to lift any Israeli goods out of any transport, just one thing. And let us see. Let us see whether our leadership has convening power or not.

This coming week, a number of proposed resolutions are going to come before the United Nations. We must keep our eye on that process. We must ensure it’s the right kind of resolutions. Today, the people of Palestine are in need of help. They need medical supplies, they are unable to bandage wounds, they cannot provide help. Médecins sans frontières is doing a good job, they are absolutely there, but they are also being decimated. What are we going to do about that?

Let’s ask every South African. There are 62 million of us…all of us must donate one thing, food or medical goods, and let us persuade an airline to take them all to the Egyptian border with Palestine and deliver those goods.

Let’s do something comrades. Let’s stop talking. Because the world is in a terrible place and all it needs are a few good men and women, our organizers, strategists and not to organize because you are Numsa only, but to organize everybody. What we have to put aside, if you want to change the world, are divisions between us because it doesn’t make any sense to believe that I must be the most progressive, the most left, the most radical, and the world is suffering.

The most progressive thing to do is unite and [take] action. And that’s what I hope you are going to begin to do.

So anyway, on my story on the presence of Israel as an observer in the African Union, I have managed to pause it for now with the support of my president, but it’s not off the table in the EU. So again, I’m asking you to pay attention. Having said that, because I prepared very hard, I’m going to present my speech.

I begin by saying one of the things we must realize is the developing South is caught in the middle of rising global tensions. I know it is not correct to speak of the South as though it’s a homogenous entity, but from my experience, I can say to you, it is the region that most hopefully has the basis and foundation for the kind of radical shift we need. So I look to countries of the South, not the north, and I think it’s important that we do that.

What we are seeing in the world is an increasing pushback against the forces that seek to promote collective action, international solidarity, and global cooperation. We see the reemergence of tendencies toward right-wing nationalism, unilateralism, and populism as an ongoing trend.

Comrades, another assignment: engage the media. Why is it alright for a Palestinian journalist to be murdered, but it’s not okay for a journalist from Canada to be murdered? What kind of value system is that?

We’ve been silent about Shereen Abu, actually. She was murdered, murdered before our eyes.

Media today, since the period of the embeddedness of Iraq, totally without objectivity, except Al Jazeera. That’s the only one. The rest, I’m sorry. But you need to be active proponents of an objective media that informs, that is balance, and that tells the truth. Not a media that lies and tells you a quarter of the story. We’ve got to address all these things.

What we see in the globe today is widening inequality. And we know that the economy of the globe continues to deliver inequitable and unjust outcomes. Developed countries have selectively opted out of the observance of international law, while they continue to insist that rules must be implemented by developing countries, even at the cost of providing services to their people.

Just last year, Ghana was facing an incredible financial meltdown. They approached the IMF, and this year, the IMF suddenly reported that Ghana is going to see amazing growth after they received loans from the IMF. But nobody’s examining: do the children of Ghana have classrooms? Do they have teachers in those classrooms? Are they able to go to hospital and get treatment? Are the people of Ghana getting housing? Because the first target of IMF loans is public services.

It’s important that we look not just at what support is provided, but the quid pro quos that governments have to make in order to have access to that funding.

Developed countries have certainly not met their commitments to the developing world and are consistently shifting responsibility to us in the Global South. “You must address climate change. You must stop using coal. You must reduce emissions. You must do A, B, and C”.

We’ve developed, they’ve had thousands of years to develop. And in a short space of time, we must arrest our development and respond to their demands. I’m not saying coal is what we should use. I’m not saying we shouldn’t reduce emissions, don’t misunderstand me, but I’m saying the kinds of demands being made on developing countries without appropriate resource responses are actually demands that are unconscionable.

What this has led to is it’s become increasingly difficult to pursue sustainable development goals. We saw this year that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has indicated to it that far from moving in a positive fashion, the world is actually going backwards.

We now have more poverty, more inequity, more joblessness. So the fundamental crises of our time call for international responses in our view. We accept that the world is increasingly more fragmented. It provides an opportunity for those concerned with economic justice yourselves to work toward creating a genuinely progressive alternative. Progressive forces around the world need to push for multipolarity and a strengthened, fairer, and more inclusive multilateralism by exerting more influence on global debates.

We should not be silent. We should be having loud views. We need to make our economies work for the common good. And we need to take all the measures necessary to protect our planet. We believe that what is needed is a different kind of multilateral architecture, which is more suited to today’s challenges of the world.

In our own view…despite its inadequacies, it is our belief that the United Nations must remain the primary locus for political, security, and development decision making, as it remains the most representative global body, despite its shortcomings. We believe a complete overhaul of the UN system is needed so that the UN Security Council is democratized and reflects the current balance of forces in the global system. It’s unacceptable, eight decades nearly after its creation, five nations still wield disproportionate decision making power in the Security Council. Those five, number among the most problematic countries in the world, the causes of many of the problems I referred to today.

The overhaul of the UN system should include enforcement of decisions taken by what we hope will be a democratized UN Security Council.

We also believe we should no longer accept a situation where countless UN resolutions are passed by the vast majority in the UN General Assembly, but are merely ignored. We’ve had repeated calls, as comrade Leila said, from UN Member States, for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territory as to the 1967 borders. These decisions have been ignored and instead we have witnessed the burgeoning expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, growing oppression of the Palestinian people, gross violations of their human rights, and the Gaza Strip being turned into an open air prison and regularly denied electricity, water and fuel.

But current denial is not new. It’s been happening time and time and time again.

For 16 years. Gaza has been under siege with its people struggling to survive the ongoing land, air, and sea blockade imposed by Israel, with Palestinians denied exit and entry into the strip.

I was horrified when one of our former leaders comrade, I don’t know if I should call him comrade any more, comrade Terror Lekota said that Israel is not an apartheid state. Well, the Palestinians are denied free exit and entry into their own land. They do not have free movement. We didn’t have free movement under apartheid. Palestinian people use separate entrances when they go through the border, we had to use separate entrances under apartheid. Palestinian children do not have free access to education, it was the same for us. So I don’t know what more Israel should do for Comrade Lekota to recognize that it is an apartheid state.

We’ve seen today increased Israeli aggression under the most far right Israeli government we’ve ever seen. And we’ve seen the inaction by the Security Council, the very body whose mandate is to maintain international peace and security.

Despite the fact that the root cause of this conflict is illegal occupation, we have heard a tirade of criticism of Palestinians from Western powers and unflinching support for the occupying power. Despite the fact that I have been called all kinds of names, because I refused to call Russia an occupying power of Ukraine. I have always objected to double standards, these type of double standards are the result of a global system which is skewed in favor of the powerful, to the detriment of those fighting for their rights and self-determination.

I repeat, it is imperative that social movements raise their voices in solidarity with the Palestinian people, particularly given the notably biased media coverage of the current violence.

Within the United Nations, we have seen almost unanimous support among member states for ending the illegal economic blockade of Cuba, which is now entering its 61st year. Yet the Cuban people continue to be denied access to lifesaving medicines, essential goods and the right to trade as any other sovereign nation.

These are injustices that once more need to be taken up by the Global South and progressive forces worldwide to create a groundswell of popular support for the Cuban people, as well as the people of Palestine and all oppressed people, all over the world.

In South Africa, as the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, we wanted to provide support to the people of Cuba, after they sent an appeal to us. When our opposition parties got hold of our intention, they, through an organization called Afriforum, took us to court, and the court ruled that I must use that money for poor people in South Africa and not provide anything to the people of Cuba. Of course I’m appealing that decision.

But here’s my troubling point. The progressive forces of South Africa have never spoken up in support of my fight in court, and Afriforum is decimating all the progressive gains we have made in South Africa, including affirmative action, and we are allowing it to happen while we live.

We are also articulating calls that we should overhaul the current global financial and trade architecture. And much of the world is joining us in this call. We believe we need a fundamental reset of the Bretton Woods institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. Multilateral development finance institutions need to be redesigned to respond to the challenges we are confronted with and to assist countries to meet the sustainable Development Goals. They must help us respond effectively to public health emergencies and to mitigate climate change.

The IMF needs to be repurposed and should provide counter-cyclical lending in times of debt distress, enable debt restructuring and relief, and provide liquidity to all countries that require it.

I’m raising all these things…because I believe while we should have the debates you will have in this meeting, we also must look at the real situation of the globe and determine how we interface with these challenges and address them.

We are fortunate to South Africa to be part of the BRICS partnership and in BRICS as the BRICS countries, we’ve been working toward developing a more equitable, balanced and representative global governance system. This includes the restructuring of the global financial architecture.

We have built up an institution such as the New Development Bank, which we own as BRICS, and it has given us as emerging economies greater control over lending and greater autonomy over the progress and course of our development.

As we discussed in the most recent BRICS summit, which we hosted as South Africa, the concept of countries opting to conduct trade in their own currencies is, to us, a welcome development, and we are now investigating how we can multiply such practice and have it available to all of us. Emerging economies are key to reforming global governance. The fact that we have had the emerging economies holding the G20 presidency for the last four years is an opportunity that we should not waste as countries of the south.

Indonesia held the presidency last year and brought back development issues into G20. India held it this year and sustained that focus, Brazil is assuming the G20 chair next year and we must ensure it holds the ground, and in 2025 South Africa will be chair of G20. And again, we must strengthen the progressive ground.

With leading countries of the Global South able to set the world agenda, this is an opportunity for all of us to push for real change. Let’s not waste it.

The demands that were made over 50 years ago by the Global South when it met as NAM [Non-Aligned Movement], that we should overhaul the rules of international trade, reform the international financial system, and recognize the sovereignty of each state over its natural resources. All of these, articulated over 50 years ago, are gaining momentum today.

The Global South is calling for cancellation of historical debt. There must be content to our progressive agenda. Content. The issuance of new IMF special drawing rights is something South Africa has been insisting upon the expansion of concessional development, financing, and technology transfer. All of these are based on the concept of the right to development, which many of us have forgotten.

Ironically, all of these principles form part of a declaration that the UN adopted in 1974, but this was largely disregarded by multilateral bodies that instead imposed neoliberal policies on developing countries to ensure they implement extreme trade liberalization to their people’s cost.

Today, developing countries, which include the Africa group, India, and Cuba, have tabled a proposal on the reform of the WTO, a proposal called “Strengthening the WTO to promote development and inclusivity”.

The proposals cites World Bank data to show that the gap in per capita GDP between the developed and developing world has widened since WTO was created, and calling for special and differential treatment to be upheld in future agreements. The proposal calls for respect for the right of countries to adopt different economic models and supports diversification and development.

We also require multilateral security arrangements. We need to reject military alliances that divide the world into blocs, but do not offer answers to the challenges we confront. We are seeing now, the weaponization of the ocean, the Indo-Pacific alliance and so on. All of this is meant to take unipolar control of the oceans and deny us the right to peace and development which the oceans offer the world.

What we need today more than ever before, and that’s why this conference is, to me, vitally important, we need international solidarity. There is an urgent need for this in responding to the crises confronting us.

During our struggle in South Africa. The principle of international solidarity was one of the key pillars of our struggle. It was through this pillar that civil society, political parties, academia, and other sectors all over the world were mobilized to isolate the apartheid regime.

This pillar of international solidarity made an immense contribution to our victory against apartheid to the extent that some analysts have even tried to elevate it above other very important pillars, such as the underground, the armed struggle which comrade has referred to, and the mass struggle which we must never forget. These four pillars of the struggle complemented and reinforced each other to deliver the depth of the apartheid regime.

So again, we need to revive international solidarity as a pillar. We need to revive underground as a pillar. We need to revive armed struggle as a pillar. And we need to ensure mass struggle as a pillar.

The international struggle against apartheid, embodied humanity’s struggle against discrimination and social exclusion. Our post-apartheid South Africa has attempted to continue this tradition of active internationalism on the continent and globally.

We’ve tried to play our part in the renewal of Africa, promoting South-South cooperation, engaging countries of the North in the interests of Africa, and striving for the transformation of the global system of governance. We know we benefited and we are trying to use our benefit in the interest of others. We believe that today internationalism is going to be decisive in crystallizing new forms of organizing political forces for meaningful transformation.

But as I said earlier, we need a strategic approach to the search for a better international order, one that is equitable, just, humane, inclusive, and democratic. So while I agree with BDS and the focus it has, I think we need to discuss how do we activate this in a manner that allows us to achieve the outcomes we desire and not as an illustration of our ability to organize. And I haven’t yet had that strategic advice.

With the BDS intervention at the ANC conference in 2017, we did indeed remove an ambassador from Israel. But I haven’t seen it advance the peace agenda. So how do we act together to make gains in the struggle rather than to have illustrations of action? This is the kind of strategic discussion I hope we could have at some time.

I believe we need to continue as South Africa to contribute to the building of a global progressive movement for a better Africa and a better world.

People need to be shaken out of complacency and distraction. Progressive forces of the left need to step in, need to provide hope and vision, and to offer up concrete pathways to political action.

Across the Global South, the progressive community has begun to rally. We look forward to the expansion of brave, united, vibrant social movements. As the great revolutionary leader of Cuba, President Fidel Castro said, “We need to unite today to build the tomorrow we yearn for, to vindicate the always excluded and to rescue faith in humanity.”

I hope we can do this, and I thank you for listening to me.