Head of International and Governance Relations at eThekwini Municipality Mr Eric Apelgren welcomed guests. In his address, Mr Lukhona Mnguni of UKZN’s Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit, who moderated the dialogue, focused on the importance of foreign policy to South African voters and the various political parties’ manifestos on foreign policy. He also presented an overview of key international relations issues for the country.
Mnguni said that the decreasing rate of voter registration suggests that citizens are becoming increasingly alienated from the political landscape and its processes. While the voter registration rate was 80.5% in 2014, following the final registration weekend campaign for the upcoming elections, it stood at 74.5% with about 9.2 million eligible voters not registered. The Independent Electoral Commission indicated that about six million (±61%) of these non-registered voters are youth below the age of 30.
‘Socially, there is a growing visible presence of violence in communities that targets young and old in equal measure, with the scourge of gender-based violence a persistent concern. Communities, institutions of higher education and at times work places continue to experience protests that easily show a penchant for violence,’ said Mnguni.
He noted that these internal challenges shift the focus away from foreign policy. Mnguni added that the challenges faced by ESKOM, compound the problem as the country is less attractive to global investors.
‘Citizens expecting solutions to their immediate domestic challenges can easily view government’s focus on international relations as pursuing unnecessary action. The dictum “charity begins at home” often comes to bear as citizens feel investment in international relations is wasteful expenditure with little to no returns,’ he said. ‘This is further exacerbated by the legitimacy of some forums being questioned. For countries to participate fully in international relations, the institutions and various fora where multilateral affairs are held must enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of those who are onlookers to their proceedings.’
The ANC’s Elections General Manager Mrs Fébé Potgieter-Gqubule raised the need for discussion on ‘the revival of the foreign service cadette system, bringing people from university to see how they can make a career in the Foreign Service and introducing new young new talent.’
DA spokesperson for international relations Ms Sandy Kalyan said South Africa’s image had been tarnished abroad because corruption and mismanagement are rife in embassies. ‘Diplomats seemed to think they have superpowers because of diplomatic immunity, but they are not immune to drinking and driving and sexual harassment,’ she said.