Address by the Hon. NN Mapisa-Nqakula, RSA Minister of Home Affairs, at the Opening Ceremony of the department’s Conference on Foreign Offices operations, 05 February 2006, Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg
I must welcome all our foreign office representatives and to thank you for making the time to come back home for this conference. I am aware that this visit also doubles up as an opportunity to visit your loved ones and to spend some time at home. Nevertheless, I must emphasise that the business for which we have invited you here is a serious one.
I would also like to extend a special welcome to the representatives from our sister departments who have joined us as part of this conference, and I am sure that your input will be most valuable to the overall success of the conference.
The Deputy President of the Republic, the Hon Phumzile Mlambo-Nqcuka, has requested me to convey her apology that due to other pressing engagements, she is unable to address this opening ceremony as initially planned. She has however made an undertaking to come and address the conference tomorrow evening.
Tomorrow we start with our conference aimed at strengthening and ensuring cohesion within our work in the foreign missions. We do this because we feel that the success of our foreign policy imperatives can be best served, in part, by the proper organisation and execution of the mandate of the Department of Home Affairs in these missions.
The task of strengthening South Africa’s contribution towards building a better world, is one that has always enjoyed great prominence within the agenda of this government. It has not been surprising therefore that, at the helm of this crusade, has been the passionate involvement and capable leadership of our President. Through this leadership, South Africa has now moved to occupy its rightful place as a major player in global politics.
Accordingly, therefore, we should also use this conference to celebrate the many highlights of our foreign policy engagement. I am sure that many of you might have been confronted from time to time, by a school of thought that seeks to suggests that, by paying greater attention to this work, our government, and particularly the President, has neglected his responsibilities towards our own people here at home.
There have been others who have sought to create this impression that work that we do in support of the objectives of our foreign policy, has got nothing to do with our programme of rebuilding our country for the better, and that our continued engagement in this regard can only be to our nation’s detriment. That our genuine concern for a just and peaceful world, is in fact in direct contradiction to the aspirations of our people.
I had thought that we need to spend some time interrogating this issue as we start the conference tomorrow, because it is right at the centre of our understanding of the role and place of the work that we do on a day to day basis whilst posted to foreign missions.
Perhaps it will help, in dealing with this question, for us to look back at where we have come from with our foreign policy engagements.
I am sure that if you were to discuss with these colleagues, they will tell you that the agenda of our country in the execution of our foreign relations has had a paradigm shift from the time of the Apartheid government.
As with every other apparatus of state, the previous government had utilized its presence on foreign soil to perpetuate the goals of Apartheid, of course, to the detriment of both our people here at home and those of our host nations abroad.
We have a responsibility, as a people, to ensure that the key tenants of our foreign relations should be to make a contribution towards this vision of building a better world, while at the same time ensuring that our own interests as a country are never in conflict with such vision. We should vow that never again, shall members of our foreign service be used to destabilise other countries or facilitate the massacre of their people.
The world today faces a number of challenges that need to be addressed. As part of the diplomatic set up in our country, everyone gathered here, has a role to play in our efforts to address these challenges.
The sight of malnourished children who yearn for small pieces of food can be seen in electronic images everyday. The human and infrastructure devastation caused by war has left created many socio economic hardships for the people of the world. The numbers of those who live in abject poverty continues to grow.
For us, the vision of building a better world should be about our ability as humanity to address these challenges. Globalisation has necessitated the need for nations of the world to work in greater cooperation as opposed to working in isolation. The solutions to the individual and common challenges of the world, can therefore be dealt with through engagement at the stage of international relations.
How do we fit in all this? The question will be, “how can my work as a civil servant doing consular work have a direct impact in assisting the world to deal with these and many other challenges?”
It is important that when we are in the missions, we should never understand our work as being narrowly limited to the issuance of visas. We are South Africa’s foreign representatives as part of government as whole, under the leadership of the head of the mission. We have shared objectives, and these give rise to shared responsibilities.
Last week we had an opportunity to bid farewell to nine of officials who have now joined our foreign offices contingent. I had said at the time of my address to this group that, we need to increase our efficiency levels at our stations. We are tasked with the most important aspects of advancing the objectives of our new Immigration Act. Our work must facilitate the boosting of tourism; make it possible for the increase in foreign investment and the convenient movement of people who visit our country for one reason or another.
I am sure that when the Hon. Deputy President does address this conference later in our programme, she will share with you some of the initiatives that government is taking to ensure the acquisition of skills in order to support our growth initiatives. Our work as a department will always be key in this regard.
This year, South Africa will start its term as chairperson of the G77 countries and to drive its political programme, with immigration as part of the core issues. We need to be ready to provide this leadership as a country and specifically as a department. I am sure you will be equal to the task, because this work shall benefit greatly from your input.
This conference will allow us an opportunity to deal with many of the issues confronting us in foreign offices, both at an operational and strategic level. I need you to engage with these issues robustly and to use the opportunity to advise us on the support you require from us.
We should be able to address all the issues ranging from the services we offer South African citizens abroad, to the work we do in immigration. As consular secretaries in a foreign land, you have great responsibility for the entire management of our work outside the country. The mission as well as the department depends on your judgment in determining the status of people who visit our country. You need to take this responsibility seriously and to ensure that it is never abused.
We have engaged on serious campaign to root our department of the cancer of corruption amongst our officials. You might have received the many reports of our success in this regard, I urge you not to become a statistic in the good work that we are doing.
The act of betraying the integrity of ones country is a crime even worse than that committed by those who oppressed us, and will be dealt with as such.
Lastly, I also urge you to use the conference to share best practices and to find the best ways in which you can support each other whilst out of the country. Some of you are new and I am sure you will benefit from the experience of others. Allow me to once more thank you for the amount of work you are doing outside the country, sometimes with very little support and a lack of basic tools you require to do a good job. Well done.
Remember that, at times, your work can be likened to that which was done by many South Africans who went into exile and made many valuable friends for our country while they were pursuing the goals of building a better future for our people. Their example should be tough to emulate, but there is a lot of honour in walking on their footsteps. These heroes of our people do not expect us to fail.