Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, briefed the media on upcoming international engagements and international events that had recently transpired. The Minister said that South African President Jacob Zuma would lead a delegation to Mauritania and Côte d'Ivoire in the coming days, and the Minister would accompany him. The delegation consisted of a panel of five presidents who were appointed by the African Union Peace and Security Council to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the Côte d'Ivoire problem emanating form the inconclusive outcome of the Ivorian election. The Panel would be supported by the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). They would first go to Mauritania to receive the reports of experts and then proceed to the Côte d'Ivoire to have a firsthand look at the situation.
The President will also lead a ministerial delegation on a state visit to France at the Invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy to deepen bilateral, economic and political relation with France. It would be an opportunity to promote the African Agenda, strengthening North-South relations and enhancing the role of Africa and the developing world in matters of global governance. One point of the visit would be to strengthen trade and business ties with France and to address the challenges of the existing trade deficit. The President would also be delivering an opening address at the South Africa – France Business Forum with the participation of significant business delegations from both countries. Several development agreements would also be signed, particularly for the benefit of several South African state owned enterprises.
The Minister concluded by saying that she would be happy to discuss the developments that had occurred over the last few weeks, particularly the events taking place in the Middle East.
Q: With regards to the visit to France, the French have been very interested in participating in the development of South Africa’s nuclear programme. Is this the reason the Minister of Energy is going and does the Minister expect any agreement on the nuclear front?
A: Energy security would be discussed in France by the President. The development of peaceful nuclear energy would be on the agenda.
Q: Could the Minister confirm that her Director General was leaving at the end of March? Does the Minister expect the decision taken by the AU to recognize Mr Ouattara as the winner to be backed by the five-member panel. Does she see the panel taking any other decision and does she expect Mr Gbagbo to accept it?
A: The Minister confirmed that her Director General had sought an early termination of his contract due to pressing family matters. The Minister took the opportunity to thank him for his dedication and hard work and assured everyone that they had parted ways amicably. As for finding a peaceful solution to the Ivorian Coast problem, it was the Ivorian people who had come to President Zuma to ask for a peaceful, political solution to their problem. The President had sent her to consult with the Chair of ECOWAS. President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan and ECOWAS were the first to announce (after the election in the Côte d’Ivoire) that ECOWAS and the AU unanimously agreed that they needed to help the people of Côte d'Ivoire who had requested help to resolve the political crisis. Since Ivory Coast had requested the help, Ivory Coast had committed to accepting the outcome of the high level panel appointed by the AU through the AU Peace and Security Council.
Q: Will the Ivorian Coast situation be brought up on the President’s trip to France. As there are twenty or so elections this year, will the President be involved in potential mop-up exercises in all of them if it becomes necessary? As Liberia is receiving a lot of refugees due to the Ivorian Coast situation, is this something the Minister is looking at?
A: The Minister confirmed the President would discuss the Côte d'Ivoire situation with President Sarkozy. Côte d'Ivoire was a former French colony and the President would appreciate the views of their friends outside the continent. However he hoped they understood that South Africa and all of Africa wanted them to understand that Africans would deal with African problems. Views would be exchanged but the solutions would have to come from within Africa. The Minister confirmed that there will be many African elections this year, and whereever Africa is asked to support such a democratic agenda, they would do exactly that. However, they would not impose their will on other people but South Africa would stand ready to support democracy, peace and development on the continent. What they wished for South Africans, they also wanted for other people of the continent. There was not a separate standard for South Africans and then a sub-standard for other Africans.
Q: Has anyone been identified to take over the DG’s position? Secondly was a vessel sent to the Ivorian region by South Africa. Has the issues of taking sides in the Côte d'Ivoire election been raised? How many people will accompany the President in the business delegation on the trip to France?
Q: With regards to Côte d'Ivoire, how does South Africa view the comment by Mr Ouattara that the five member panel is the last chance to end the conflict peacefully? Is the Drakenberg’s presence in the Gulf of Guinea there as a means to evacuate or as a backup for a possible intervention? Finally, is there any detail the Minister can give on the nature of the release of the South African oil worker set free yesterday in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
A: The post of DG would be advertised and consulted on as normal, but no new DG had been found as the current DG was still sitting in his post. President Zuma had stated that South Africa did not favour any faction in the Côte d'Ivoire conflict. The Minister has consulted with both sides and they have all found comfort in South Africa’s role as an honest broker. Both sides had a belief that South Africa had the interest of ordinary Ivoirians at heart. The SAS Drakensberg was on a regular mission to Argentina and was supposed to refill in Ghana. However, when the crisis escalated, the leadership of South Africa decided that the ship should stay there a few more days in case it was required to evacuate South Africans. The Minister reiterated that the ship had been on a refuelling run to the West Coast and that it stayed most of the time in International Waters. The President had also explained its presence to ECOWAS clarifying the issue. The President was taking a strong business delegation to France, the Minister did not have the exact number as the list was still being finalised but she was sure it would be ready in due course.
Q: What is the ‘Official’ view of South Africa with regards to the Côte d'Ivoire election? With regard to Egypt what kind of government would South Africa like to see coming in to restore the country?
Q: Is there any fear from South Africa that the Egyptian military might dig in and institute a military dictatorship?
A: The Minister reaffirmed South Africa’s role as an honest broker, as viewed by both sides of the Côte d'Ivoire conflict. With regards to Egypt, South Africa congratulated the people of Egypt, but frowns upon the military entering the political space. They preferred civilian rule however it is ultimately up to the people of Egypt. However the signs seemed positive though South Africa hopes the military would not get to comfortable in its position. Full democracy was long overdue in Egypt and South Africa would provide whatever assistance the people of Egypt required of it. Given the temperament of the Egyptian people, there was no fear of entrenchment by the military.
Q: Could the Minister specify what kind of support the people of Côte d'Ivoire have requested from South Africa, and could South Africa envision a similar situation to the Egyptian one arising in Zimbabwe. In such a case what kind of intervention could South Africa offer?
A: The Minister could not see any similarities between Egypt and Zimbabwe. The trouble of Zimbabwe came from an election that did not provide an outright majority. She hoped that the people of Zimbabwe would work with their road map and bring their draft constitution to parliament and to a referendum in order to prepare for democratic elections.
Q: [In Audible question from Pretoria]
A: The Minister reconfirmed that the DG would be leaving the Department at the end of March. She could not confirm when discussions started as she could not recall. With regards to President Aristide, she confirmed he had requested to be allowed to leave and the South African government was working with all parties to facilitate his return back home at an appropriate time. On Madagascar, the Minister confirmed they had received a briefing from the facilitator, former President Chissano, and that there had been attempts to scupper the agreements of Maputo One and Maputo Two but they were resisted. There were discussions about keeping the de-facto leader, Andry Rajoelina, as an interim President until the country was returned to democratic order. She reiterated again that both sides had asked for help to get out of their political troubles, and the Minister would not wish to take the situation backwards by taking sides but rather help them out of the stagnation to move forward.
Q: Could the Minister confirm if a South African frigate had been sent to the Mozambique Channel to counter piracy spreading southwards.
A: The full details of how South Africa deals with piracy would be given at the briefing coming up on Tuesday, 22 February 2011.
Q: Is there a view from the Minister about the conflicting reports from Zimbabwe about whether they will have elections this year or not?
A: The Minister encouraged them to stay with the road map and to continue the referendum on the constitution.
Q: Could the Minister clarify when the five “wise men” panel will hand over their report to the AU. What exactly is the procedure of the Peace and Security organ within the AU? As the AU has already made an announcement in relation to the Côte d'Ivoire election, were does it go from there? How does South Africa see a win – win situation emerging from the Côte d'Ivoire election?
A: The Minister commented that the highest organ of the AU was the summit of heads of state; but in-between summits it was the AU Commission that ran the administration of the AU. The AU facilitated observer missions when elections take place in member countries.
Q: Can the Minister comment on her position as a negotiator in Zimbabwe after the Wikileaks revelation that she had called President Mugabe a ‘crazy old man’. Has South Africa withdrawn its original statement of support for Mr Ouattara as the winner of the election as she was now saying the election was inconclusive. This had not been the statement of the Government at all in the immediate aftermath. Does South Africa still recognise Mr Ouattara as the winner of the election?
A: The Minister claimed that the early reviews of the election that had come out from regional bodies like ECOWAS claimed the election as free and fair. But as time passed facts on the ground changed and the Ivorian people themselves requested the help from South Africa. She admitted that she was avoiding going deeper so as not to undermine the current process. The Minister stated that South Africa supported ECOWAS and the AU summit’s decision. As for the Wikileaks question, the Minister said that she had engaged with that three months ago and would not comment further on it.
Q: Given the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, would the Minister consider that Peer Review on the continent is failing?
A: South Africa supported a people’s right to assert their own legitimate rights to freedom and democracy. It welcomes anyone wishing to join the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), but South Africa would not judge other country’s brands of democracy; it could not impose itself on other countries. South Africa would support those who asked for its support, just as our nation had been supported in its own struggle against apartheid.
Q: Would the Minister answer the earlier question about the release of the oil worker in the DRC?
A: South Africa welcomed the release of the oil worker, details would be given about this at a later point, but South Africa had not paid any ransom.
The media briefing was concluded.