Four Conflict Prevention Opportunities for South Africa’s Foreign Policy

Wracked during Jacob Zuma’s nine-year presidency by corruption, scandal and infighting at the uppermost levels of government, South Africa stepped back from its post-apartheid role as a diplomatic powerhouse on the African continent, with a particular commitment to preventing and mitigating mass violence. But there are signs that this could be changing. Cyril Ramaphosa’s election to the South African presidency in February 2018 has afforded Pretoria an opportunity to chart a new course, and it has taken some steps to do so. One year into a two-year term on the UN Security Council, and just months into service as chair of the African Union (AU), Pretoria has assumed roles that carry both the expectation and the opportunity for it to heighten its focus on peace and security issues. An interim internal report commissioned by Ramaphosa suggests that South Africa has been derelict in its attention to regional stability. South Africa can play an important role in mitigating some of Africa’s seemingly intractable conflicts and crises, especially if it leverages its position at both the UN Security Council and the African Union (AU) to help deliver tangible gains for peace and security. In prioritising its efforts, it should look first to conflicts and crises with which it has long historical involvement and experience. These include the situations in Burundi, the DRC and South Sudan – all countries on which South African diplomats say Pretoria is ready to work and where there is more than enough work to be done. In its own backyard, South Africa should also help steer Zimbabwe onto a more stable and potentially prosperous path. With the AU focused on “silencing the guns” in Africa, the time is right for the Ramaphosa administration to take up these challenges and begin forging a new legacy for South Africa as a leader in preventing and mitigating the region’s conflicts.