The University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted a robust virtual discussion that featured Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), as part of its series of online panel discussions, LeadUP: In Conversation with the VC.
The virtual series features a panel of alumni that deliberate on topical issues of public interest. This event also included Dr Sithembile Mbete, Senior Lecturer in UP’s Department of Political Sciences, and Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe, who moderated the conversation on ‘International relations: Strategies for strengthening South Africa’s reputation on the global stage’.
Minister Pandor, who graduated with a PhD in Education from UP in 2019, remarked that the institution provides good quality education in its International Relations programme. “UP is also committed to multidisciplinarity, and that is vital; our diplomats must speak, science, economics, humanity and politics. Diplomats should not be narrowed, but come in with a broad understanding of a wide range of intellectual matters,” she said.
“The worst form of training for a diplomat would be at a university with a hegemonic character, where you do not have a cosmopolitan presence of academics and students. I think UP offers the attributes of this inclusion of academics and students from different backgrounds; it’s important, because we can suffer from insularity at times.”
Turning to whether the idea of international relations and cooperation has been realised in South Africa, Dr Mbete commented that we cannot get away from the global contexts within which South Africa operates, yet, in many ways, decisions are being made in the name of national interest rather than for the global good. “It is immensely difficult for a country like South Africa to pursue that kind of cooperative engagement internationally because international relations are still governed by power dynamics and strategic interests,” she said. “I think that has been the goal that South Africa has pursued, though it is not often successful in its results as the minister and diplomats would like it to be.”
The panellists also took questions from the online audience. One audience member raised the issue of violence against foreign nationals, asking Minister Pandor whether DIRCO gets involved in addressing it and whether awareness programmes are available. The minister replied that her department has been clear that this is a criminal matter. “We also have to educate South Africans to learn to be more accepting of others, and less fearful and angry towards those coming to our country seeking refuge and assistance,” she said. “There should be more outreach in partnership with non-governmental organisations. Using university resources, we need to understand what makes some South African communities so negative.”
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