Diplomacy strategy & functioning of SA Council on International Relations: DIRCO input

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Meeting Summary

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) briefed the Committee on its Public Diplomacy strategy. Public diplomacy entailed communication of South Africa’s foreign policy, its priorities and objectives through direct and indirect communication, using various media platforms, including face-to-face communication, and new social media, in a way that was all-inclusive, transparent and consistent was targeting local and international audiences with a view to shaping debate and understanding of South Africa’s role in international politics and economics. Although a perception study had found that DIRCO had a sound public image, with no current controversies affecting either its own work or foreign policy, there was a risk that some domestic issues highlighted globally could pose a challenge to the overall brand identify. Nonetheless, South Africa remained a respected global player. Foreign policy had become topical again, and formed the key focus of the Public Diplomacy strategy.

The key elements were described, which included internal communications, building ambassadorial knowledge and strength, media liaison, public participation, and the Global Ubuntu Diplomacy Brand. Features of each were expanded and it was noted that a comprehensive communications strategy was being run, including access to online news, encouragement of branches to hold open days, regular media liaison and weekly statements used by missions abroad, as well as regular opinion pieces. The public participation programme comprised regular briefings to help people get a good overview, to highlight the importance of international engagement, and to inspire the public to project a positive image. Diplomacy of Ubuntu was a global platform that increased the reach and accessibility of messaging, with magazines, internal newsletters and website offerings making information instantly available, along with a Mxit application. Ubuntu Radio, which broadcast also in indigenous languages, was primarily targeting those living abroad, although South Africans at home were not excluded, and it was being marketed through the embassies. Multi-media products were distributed to media houses.

Plans for 2015 included the evolution of the current Operational Centre to a proper Early Warning Centre, and proactive 24-hour monitoring of media reports. Other plans outlined included the OR Tambo Month, promoted through three platforms, targeting the diplomatic corps, foreign policy, correspondents, analysts and commentators and think tanks. Ubuntu Diplomacy Awards were introduced to recognise South African industry leaders and eminent persons for their contributions to promoting South African interests and values. The African Union Summit would also be preceded by a celebration of Africa Day, and the Departments of Basic Education and Arts and Culture were promoting the AU anthem, flag and cultures. Build up events would also be included prior to the China Africa Cooperation Summit. South Africa would be donating a symbolic gift of a statue of Nelson Mandela to the UN on 18 July, International Nelson Mandela Day.

Members asked how South African ambassadors were recruited, stressing the importance of excellent representation, asked for the strategy behind OR Tambo Month, requested that weekly briefings should also be sent to the Committee, and asked whether the Public Diplomacy strategy carried a large element of communication. They asked about the cost of the statue and noted that it was a donation from the private sector, and expressed the view that it was an appropriate gift. Members suggested that ways be found to project Public Diplomacy down to grassroots levels. It was suggested that the benefits of the Pan African Parliament to South Africa needed to be explored.

The second presentation set out the history and establishment of the South African Council on International Relations (SACOIR), a concept approved by Cabinet in November 2011, and to be launched shortly once the new members had been approved. SACOIR was set up to give effect to the Foreign Policy priorities as indicated in Chapter 7 of the National Development Plan, specifically to implement practical opportunities for cooperation, to tackle the problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment. It promoted the concept of government engagement with business, labour and other social partners to pursue appropriate solutions and would serve as an avenue and platform for the generation of public debate on foreign policy. It was to operate under the DIRCO umbrella, with a supporting Secretariat and would hold two plenaries, two thematic Working Group meetings and an international symposium annually around foreign policy issues. The Council would comprise up to 25 members from academia, business, civil society and labour, who would serve in their personal capacities for a period of three years.  After the nomination and shortlisting process, a list of 20 names was eventually sent to the Minister for approval. The 2014/15 budget was R1 837 875, to be sourced via DIRCO, under a separate budget item. Remuneration and terms were outlined.

Members asked if gender and age had been considered during the selection process, but heard that the primary consideration had been knowledge and experience on international matters. They asked about the long time lapse between Cabinet approval and appointments, and requested details of the panel and structure, and also suggested that traditional leaders be motivated to perform a stronger public diplomacy function.
 

Meeting report

Chairperson's opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the first meeting, saying that the programme was arduous. He noted the apologies.

Public Diplomacy Strategy, Department of International Relations and Cooperation briefing
Mr Clayson Monyela, Deputy Director General: Public Diplomacy, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, presented the Public Diplomacy strategy. He noted that public diplomacy entailed communication of South Africa’s foreign policy, its priorities and objectives, through direct and indirect communication; using various media platforms, including face-to-face communication and new social media. This was to be done in a way that was all-inclusive, transparent and consistent, targeting local and international audiences, with a view to shaping debate and understanding of South Africa’s role in international politics and economics.

Setting out the situational analysis,he said that the success or failure of any programme was measured by its impact, based on original objectives. A perception survey was conducted that found that the image of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO or the Department) was well-polished, and there was no single current controversy that affected either the Department or South Africa’s foreign policy. The Department’s work received regular, and largely positive, coverage. Certain domestic issues that attracted global attention did pose a challenge for the country's overall brand image but South Africa remained a respected global player. Foreign policy had become topical again and that was a key focus of Public Diplomacy (PD) over the last three years.

The key elements of the PD strategy  included:
- Internal Communications (building DIRCO Ambassadors)
- Media Liaison
- Public Participation Programme
- Global Ubuntu Diplomacy Brand.

In regard to internal communication, Mr Monyela said that a comprehensive internal communication strategy had been developed. Implementation had included DGF News (in partnership with Office of the Director-General); Instant messages via SMS (a database of all official cellphone numbers was compiled).More recently, Branch Open Days had been implemented to create DIRCO brand ambassadors and encourage information-sharing.

Media liaison involved regular interaction with the media via briefings every Tuesday at the DIRCO Headquarters. Missions used these weekly statements to interact with their stakeholders and media abroad. Regular opinion pieces were written. DIRCO partnered Brand SA, through country managers abroad, to write Op-eds for international publications.

Public participation programmes were held regularly, both domestically and internationally, that helped "connect the dots" for the citizens by taking foreign policies to the people. This programme demonstrated the practical benefits of South Africa's international engagements and inspired South Africans to conduct themselves at home and abroad in ways that would portray the country positively at all times.

The Global Ubuntu Diplomacy was a global platform that developed and maintained DIRCO's new media platforms and that had increased the reach and accessibility of messaging. Ubuntu Magazine and the internal newsletter, ‘The Diplomat’, were also available in a digital format from the DIRCO website, so that they were immediately available to missions and stakeholders, in addition to a weekly electronic newsletter

DIRCO’s public diplomacy strategy had over the years ensured that South African (SA) foreign policy was known across all sectors of the society locally as well as globally. The establishment of government’s first online radio station, Ubuntu Radio, had taken the public diplomacy to a higher level. The station was rapidly being recognised as an authority in telling the Africa story from an African perspective. The station was primarily targeting the international audience, although South Africans were not excluded from the debates, as DIRCO was trying to reach people who could not be reached through domestic platforms. Missions were encouraged to play the station at South African embassies, as part of marketing the station and to have banners at mission receptions. There was an hour long show syndicated to all community radio stations in South Africa. The show included the use of indigenous languages. A Mxit mobile application had been developed (with access to 80million users worldwide) and it was now available on DSTV Audio.

Mr Monyela said that, overall, there had been a proactive distribution of multi-media products to media houses on DIRCO’s work, a supply of audio-visual material to missions and stakeholders, and archiving. In addition, recording of events-video, audio and photographs; production of radio and TV programming were other platforms.

Plans for 2015 involved the evolution of the current Operations Centre to a proper Early Warning Centre and proactive monitoring of media reports in a 24-hours service.

Mr Monyela noted that the DIRCO also annually hosted an "OR Tambo month", when a series of events and activities were held in celebration and commemoration of the liberation struggle hero and diplomat, the late Oliver Tambo, which aimed to highlight the values of patriotism, integrity, humility and passion which he espoused, as also to educate employees about the man and his contribution to the world of diplomacy. This was done through the Diplomatic Fair, OR Tambo Lecture, and OR Tambo Run.

In 2014, the Public Diplomacy campaign had introduced networking sessions called Diplomatic Chat and Ambassadors Forum. These stakeholder sessions operated under Chatham House rules. In 2015 these interactions would be built into regular engagements. Target audiences included the diplomatic corps, foreign policy correspondents, analysts and commentators, and think tanks.

The Ubuntu Diplomacy Awards was introduced by DIRCO in order to recognize South African industry leaders and eminent persons for their contribution in promoting South Africa’s national interest and values across the world. Awards were presented to organisations or individuals who had, through excellence, innovation, creativity, social responsibility and patriotism, distinguished themselves as true South African ambassadors. These were several such people and organisations that "flew the South African flag high" on the global stage.

Mr Monyela turned to a description of the African Union (AU) Summit, saying the build up to the AU Summit would incorporate an elaborate celebration of Africa Day. DIRCO, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) were working on a campaign to get schools to sing the AU anthem, and also to ensure the AU flag was flown at all government buildings and public spaces. There was a plan to have an opening ceremony on the evening prior to the first day of summit. This would include opening speeches to ensure the first day of the AU Summit started with official business discussions. The ceremony would have a cultural diplomacy dimension. There was a proposal to have an exhibition of culture, music and cuisine by all African countries - similar to a Diplomatic Fair concept.

Mr Monyela then noted the activities around the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit. The build up to this summit would include several events which reflected the benefits of South Africa’s relation with the Continent and China. There was a proposal to have a televised opening ceremony the evening prior to the first day of the summit. The ceremony would have a cultural diplomacy dimension.

Mr Monyela noted that the democratic South Africa had not donated any symbolic gift to the UN over the last twenty years, but in this year the idea was posed of targeting 18 July, International Nelson Mandela Day, to unveil the statue of Madiba, and the negotiations to be led by South Africa’s mission in New York.

Mr Monyela concluded that despite the challenge of limited resources, the Public Diplomacy strategy would continue to make positive impacts globally, and asked the Committee to note that strategy and its activities.

Discussion

Mr M Khawula (IFP-Kwazulu Natal) asked how South African Ambassadors were recruited in order to ensure that the country was well represented. He commented that some politicians that had made no impact locally were appointed as ambassadors of South Africa. He also asked how DIRCO ensured that South African delegations going outside the country from provinces, municipalities and national levels represented the country adequately, which he feared was not always happening currently. He required details on the public participation programmes from South Africans abroad.

Mr Monyela replied that, constitutionally, all ambassadors were appointed by the President. He added that after ambassadors were nominated, they were put through the diplomatic academy of DIRCO, which was one of the best in the world as the nominees were also empowered on economic diplomacy in order for them to represent South Africa well. He added that the South African diplomats were in fact "doing a fantastic job", as China was currently South Africa’s largest trading partner. DIRCO's responsibility was to train nominated ambassadors.

He added that DIRCO had a programme, called ROSA (Registration of South Africans Abroad) which was a programme to confidentially collate information of South Africans abroad in order for South African embassies to respond in cases of emergency. However, given that most people did not stop at embassies to give their information, that made it difficult for messaging to be done.

Ms E Van Lingen (DA-Eastern Cape) apologised that she would have to leave the meeting early. She commented that the weekly briefings of DIRCO should be sent to the Committee. She asked for the profile programme for OR Tambo Month and the strategy behind the programme. She added that DIRCO seemed to have focused more on Public Diplomacy strategy rather than on the communication strategy. She asked if South Africa’s 20 years of democracy anniversary was part of the motivation for the intended presentation of Mr Mandela’s statue at the UN anniversary in New York. She requested to be told of the cost implications of that statue.

Mr Monyela replied that the Public Diplomacy strategy was in fact also a communication strategy. He added that funds would be raised for Mandela’s statue. DIRCO had knowledge of some companies that were willing to sponsor the project, so no government funds would be spent on the project. He added that it was considered important to present the statue to the UN, as South Africa had not presented anything to the UN since 199, while other countries had given. The UN was considered appropriate as it was a centre where all nations met.

The Chairperson added that the motivation should be about the 60th anniversary of the UN, not about the 20 years of democracy of South Africa.

Mr W Faber (DA-Northern Cape) asked how ambassadors were appointed in South Africa, how many were career ambassadors, and how many were appointed by the President.

Mr Monyela replied that DIRCO had a difficult task in balancing the ratio between career ambassadors and those with diplomatic calls.

Mr L Mokoena(EFF- Free State) commented that he preferred the term "People’s Diplomacy" rather than "Public Diplomacy". He pointed out that currently, communication of government to the people tended not to reach the poorest of the poor, which then became a problem as these people did not understand what government was doing and this affected how they behaved. He added that the Public Diplomacy sector should be at the core of enlightening the people on the identity of South Africa, not only the foreigners. Xenophobia was informed by the lack of knowledge of local people on the advantages of foreign public diplomacy, and he urged DIRCO to do more in the direction of reaching the grassroots levels. He said ways should be found to take the message to the people in ways that they could easily access.

Mr Monyela agreed that foreign policies should be taken to the people through the community engagement programmes. The shows on Ubuntu Radio station were syndicated to local stations between 9amand 10am every morning, in different languages, as part of the effort to reach the sectors of the society that could not otherwise be reached on foreign policies. He said deliberate efforts would be made to reach the grassroots.

Mr B Nthebe (ANC-North West) commended DIRCO on the ROSA programme as some countries were now learning from what South Africa was doing. He added that he felt the UN anniversary would be an opportunity to tell South Africa's story to the world, by presenting Mandela’s statue.

The Chairperson commented that no mention had been made of the Pan African Parliament and made the point that South Africa could utilise the presence of those parliamentarians in South Africa by exposing them more to South Africa itself and by exposing South African citizens to them. He asked if there were things happening in the other departments that needed to be emulated. He added that more staff with economic insights were needed at the embassies, which were in themselves very important for economic development, and expressed concern that DIRCO indicated that it had insufficient funds.

Mr Monyela replied that it was true that the mandate of DIRCO kept increasing while the resources kept decreasing. Allocations had decreased significantly in the last three financial years.

He added that DIRCO worked closely with the Pan African Parliament as there was a Chief Directorate at the Department dedicated to supporting the work of the Pan African Parliament. There was an ongoing project, yet to be finished, to identify an area to build a Pan African House, to house all the agencies of AU, UN and Pan African Parliament.

Establishment of South African Council on International Relations(SACOIR): DIRCO briefing

Mr Andre Van de Venter, Deputy Director General: Policy Research, DIRCO, briefed the Committee on the establishment of the South African Council on International Relations(SACOIR). SACOIR was approved by Cabinet on 9 November 2011, when it also noted and approved that the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation appoint the members of SACOIR.

Objectives for the establishment of SACOIR included that it should give effect to the Foreign Policy priorities as indicated in Chapter 7 of the National Development Plan (NDP) for the implementation of practical opportunities for cooperation, to tackle the problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment. It was further required to take into account the President’s statement in a previous State of the Nation Address that, “Government would engage business, labour and other social partners in pursuit of solutions”, and to serve as avenue and platform for the generation of public debate on foreign policy.

SACOIR would operate under the DIRCO umbrella, with a supporting Secretariat. It would host two annual plenary meetings and two thematic Working Group meetings, as well as hosting an international symposium (the Johnny Makhathini Dialogue Forum) to discuss key foreign policy issues with internal and external interlocutors.

SACOIR would comprise of up to 25 members from academia, business, civil society and labour, who would serve in their personal capacities. These members would be appointed for a three-year period and sign a contract in compliance with the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act.

Mr Van de Venter described the selection of members of SACOIR. DIRCO followed an open process by inviting academia, business, civil society and labour to serve on SACOIR, and in November 2011 advertisements were placed in five national newspapers, which resulted in the receipt of 275 applications. DIRCO's Executive Management Committee meeting (EMC) considered a shortlist of twenty five candidates for appointment as members of SACOIR. Subsequently, five candidates were removed from the list, due to a change in their portfolios and hence in the categories in which they were nominated. A Cabinet Memorandum was sent to the Minister to approve twenty candidates.

When the membership was approved, the new SACOIR members would receive letters of appointment with their three year contract attached. Operations would be guided by SACOIR’s Terms of Reference. SACOIR would be officially launched during 2015, at a gala event, whereafter the first plenary meeting would take place.

Mr Van de Venter noted that the total budget for SACOIR in 2014/15 was R1 837 875. DIRCO would source funding under a separate budget item. Members of SACOIR were to be remunerated on an hourly basis in line with the National Treasury guidelines. The Chairperson would receive R3 584 per day or R448 per hour, and other members R2 176 per day or R 272 per hour. There was a special research stipend outside official meetings for all members of R1 000 per hour, with a maximum of eight hours per annum.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked for comment on the gender spread of the nominated Council members and the distribution of young people on the Council.

Mr Van de Venter replied that there was a stringent process to identify the nominees. He repeated that an initial advertisement was placed in 2011, and, based on the CVs received selection was done. Primarily, people with knowledge on international relations and foreign policies were required, with only a secondary focus on gender and age. It took a long process to arrive at the 25 nominees (eventually reduced to 20) as a lot of internal discussions went on before decisions were made. The status at this stage was that the Minister must take the names to the Cabinet for approval.

Mr W Faber commented that SACOIR was approved in 2011 by the Cabinet, and wondered why only now, four years later, interviews were about to be conducted. He asked if the long time frame for the interviews was due to budget constraints, and asked who was on the interview panel.

Mr M Khawula asked how the structure of SACOIR would operate. It would appear to be housed within DIRCO. He asked if SACOIR would have its own staff members, separate from DIRCO. He also asked about the role of traditional leaders in public diplomacy.

Mr Van de Venter replied that there would be a dedicated structure in DIRCO. The Council would only meet twice a year and budget would be from DIRCO. A CEO had promised to find funds for the launching.

The Chairperson commented that the traditional leaders should be motivated to perform the role of public diplomacy too.

Closing remarks
The Chairperson thanked the delegates from DIRCO. He added that the State of Provinces address would be held by the next week and added that the Department of Trade and Industry would be presenting to the Committee, instead of the Department of Tourism, as scheduled in the programme.

Adoption of minutes
Members unanimously approved the minutes of the last meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

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