The pandemic has had a strong impact on the diplomatic landscape. Photo by Aotearoa

By Bobby J Moroe

Following the appointment of Zane Dangor as the new Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), a Heads of Mission Conference (HOM22) was hosted from 7 to 11 April. Inaugurated by President Cyril Ramaphosa, this significant conference of South African ambassadors, high commissioners, and consuls-general presented an opportunity for the President to interact with his chief representatives abroad. This is the apex interface between the president and his chief representatives abroad.
Chief representatives obtained briefings from Ramaphosa and his executive on progress made in advancing the country’s domestic priorities and how these can be reinforced by South African missions abroad, working together with nations of the world to advance South Africa’s foreign policy agenda.
Representatives also used the session to reflect and share their thoughts about successes, prospects and challenges they face in the execution of the country’s foreign policy. Heads of Mission carry with them the hopes and aspirations of millions of men and women of our country. As the first line of defence in foreign land, they shine the country’s light among nation states. “As Heads of Mission, you are tasked with leading the drive to promote our country abroad,” said Ramaphosa in his address.
It is through their work that South Africa can be positioned as a preferred destination for trade, investment and tourism, among many other key strategic sectors geared toward building our economy.
The growth of our country’s economy depends on the extent to which Heads of Mission and their teams can translate national priorities into pragmatic action.
“We will pursue our national interest as we pursue the common interests of our global humanity. As we look to recovery and reconstruction, I call on you, as Heads of Mission, to use all the diplomatic tools at your disposal to advance the political, economic and social interests of South Africa and the rest of the continent,” he said.
“Our missions must be at the forefront of building networks and being part of activities to strengthen the African Continental Free Trade Area.” This, therefore, requires collective effort by missions to work together with key government stakeholders from other government departments at home and sing from the same hymn book.

New Diplomacy
In his famous “Fourteen Points” speech of 1918, US President Woodrow Wilson said: “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understanding of any kind but diplomacy, shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”
This heralded what became known as the “new diplomacy”. This was primarily associated with exposing diplomacy to the media and public opinion.
“Diplomacy, as a method that governments use to influence the actions of foreign governments through peaceful tactics such as negotiation and dialogue,” a modern diplomat must be suitably equipped with skills, knowledge and understanding that would enable them to perform their tasks with ease.
Modern diplomats must be creative, agile and catalytic in order to be responsive to the challenge of modern-day diplomacy.
A diplomat’s ability to foster sound bilateral and multilateral cooperation with other nations is drawn from good grounding on the fundamentals of diplomacy.
Such fundamentals include, but not limited to, research and analysis of global developments and how these may affect the home country, advice on the home governments’ response to prevailing global situations, engage foreign diplomats and the host country, handle public diplomacy events and convene trade and investment seminars and road shows.
Dirco, has been intentional in instilling a common understanding on South African diplomats the objectives of South Africa’s foreign policy and how these can be juxtaposed to domestic priorities. Efforts have also been made to ensure that the academy imparts knowledge about the functions of South African missions abroad and the expectations from the country’s diplomats.
“Diplomats need to be more innovative and find new ways of practicing their craft. We need to adapt to digital diplomacy and host targeted seminars to sell South Africa,” Ramaphosa said.

The advent of Covid-19 had a big impact on the world and South Africa’s diplomatic missions abroad, in a way that required innovate, pragmatic and sustainable interventions to neutralise the long-term effects of on our country’s foreign policy engagements.
In his address at the conference, Ramaphosa further stated: “Not only has the pandemic upended national economies, health systems and societal relations, it has also changed the diplomatic landscape.
“Over the past two years, and at differing points, we have been swept up by both undesirable and unfavourable currents.”
The overall prevailing changes in the diplomatic landscape will therefore necessitate a great deal of effort to equally recalibrate and restore South Africa’s ‘diplomatic charm’ in order to revive the gains of previous years.
In South Africa, the government has already done exceptionally well in reviving the country’s economy after almost two years of a frightening pause.
According to the World Bank’s South Africa Economic Update, “the reason for low growth and high unemployment do not lie in the government’s crisis response. Instead, the pandemic has exposed long-standing structural weaknesses that have progressively worsened since the global financial crisis of 2008-09”.
For 2021, the World Bank projected a gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 4%, followed by 2.1% in 2022 and 1.5% in 2023.
Ramaphosa said: “Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) aims to build a new economy and unleash South Africa’s true potential and give impetus to the positive signs of economic growth. The overarching goal of the ERRP is to create sustainable, resilient and inclusive economy. It will focus on priorities such as food security, energy security and green economy, amongst others.
“The ERRP is our roadmap, and each of you has an essential role to play in its implementation.”
The South African missions abroad are facing a great, but exciting task of ensuring that these national efforts find resonance with their diplomatic engagements in their respective countries of accreditation.
Following the conference there is sharper focus on the implementation of strong, achievable and targeted Mission Annual Plans (MAP) the heads of missions’ contribution toward reviving the economy in line with the ERRP.
It is through the work of our missions abroad that investor confidence can be restored in the midst of the prevailing global challenges.
Our government has already developed mechanisms that are able to quantify the value that our missions bring into the country’s trade and investment landscape. What remains is to create a framework to monitor and track the extent to which each of our missions are able to contribute to the national efforts.
This approach will assist government in determining strengths and weaknesses of missions and leverage on their capabilities.
“So, we want you to be ambassadors not just for our flag, but for our economy. You need to seek out new ways to grow trade and attract investment into South Africa. You need to pave the way for outbound investment into existing and new markets.
“We count on you to market abroad the immense opportunities that exist in the South African economy,” said Ramaphosa.
Missions can approach their post-Covid-19 agenda by identifying quick wins which reside within the ambit of our national interest.
These can be drawn into the Missions Annual Plans for implementation. It is also important to introduce a unique implementation framework of operation in order to forestall potential deviations. This framework should be flexible and responsive. With rigidity, there is little room for real innovation. Efforts must be made to avoid it in our recovery strategy.
The approach should recognise changes that arose as a result of the pandemic. The following three areas, which are well-known, could be considered as low-hanging fruits or quick wins:

Tourism, Trade and Investment
To promote and position South Africa as a preferred destination for tourism, trade and investment in host countries, working together with key strategic partners in such sectors.
For our country to achieve the figures we have set ourselves to achieve in the tourism, trade and investment sectors there is a need to introduce responsive immigration policies capable of addressing the country’s intentions.
Similarly, in order to increase foreign direct investment, our visa regime must be accommodative to investors. Real innovation is required post the pandemic.
It is important to change gear and liberate some of our approaches to doing business, without compromising the laws of the land.

People-to-people Relations
We must strengthen and encourage people to people relations through engagement in activities of common interest and mutual benefit. Citizens of nation states are key in determining the success of diplomatic relations between any two nations.
It is therefore important to create platforms and conducive environments through which people can interact at various levels. These will cultivate tolerance, and promote cultural understanding and appreciation. Therefore, diplomats in missions have a great task of assisting the Heads of Mission to identify relevant platforms and structures, working together with local communities (business, youth, NGOs, etc.) in the countries of accreditation.

Public Diplomacy
Missions should establish strong public diplomacy machineries as primary currency to strategically position South Africa’s foreign policy in host countries.
It is the task of missions abroad to showcase South Africa’s tapestry of culture, diversity and other key aspect of the country through social media platforms and appropriate events.
Traditionally, National Days have always been used as powerful public diplomacy tools through which host countries can be exposed to South Africa’s culture, trade, investment and other areas.
As diplomats, we must support all efforts toward building a capable state through our work in missions. It is our duty to “possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations”.
We must remain true patriots, with the national flag always on our sleeves. In support of the Heads of Mission to achieve the Post-Covid-19 agenda, we must come up with innovations that are responsive to the prevailing developments.

Dr Bobby J Moroe is the Deputy High Commissioner of South Africa to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He holds a PhD in Political Science and writes in his personal capacity.

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