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Mixed reception for Naledi Pandor as international affairs minister

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There are mixed feelings about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment of Naledi Pandor as minister of international relations and cooperation late on Wednesday night. Some believe she has the perfect mix of statesmanship and wisdom for the position. Others feel she is not neutral about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
by TALI FEINBERG AND NICOLA MILTZ | May 30, 2019

Pandor has replaced Lindiwe Sisulu in this role. The latter has been moved to the position of minister of human settlements.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga told the SA Jewish Report that Pandor’s statesmanship could have been what Ramaphosa was looking for in the role.

“If your growth strategy is foreign investment, you need a good diplomat. She is an extremely well-respected minister that has headed up a number of very stable portfolios,” he said. “She has a good reputation in the party. Her placement shows that this portfolio might be becoming more important to the president.”

However, Mathekga is concerned that the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) has two deputy ministers, which he believes is not needed, especially if government is trying to cut costs.

Besides that, he views the new cabinet as having “lots of continuity and no major upsets”. However, he does not think the rand will respond positively as there is still general pessimism about economic growth.

Meanwhile, political analyst Daniel Silke told the SA Jewish Report that the appointment of Pandor was an “important shift” from an international relations point of view.

“Remember, Pandor was a close ally of Cyril Ramaphosa in the run up to Nasrec in December 2017,” he said. “She was effectively his running mate in the contest against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. It is a prestigious appointment for a close supporter and confidant. Therefore, it is more likely she will reflect more of the Ramaphosa worldview than Sisulu did in recent years.”

But, one could only speculate, he said. “One would hope that she would have a more even-handed approach to some of South Africa’s foreign-affairs dilemmas, like dealing with the Venezuela issue, or the ongoing tension between the United States and Iran, and the Israel/Palestine question.

“Her closeness to the president is the key issue here. In her, he has a right-hand person. Her appointment could signal a return to a great role for South Africa on the international stage that has been missing in recent years.”

However, political analyst Sara Gon disagrees, saying that Pandor is vehemently anti-Israel.

Pandor was one of the first members of the African National Congress to officially call for a downgrade of South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv. In February 2018, she stood up during a debate about the State of the Nation address in Parliament, and said, “The majority party has agreed that government must cut diplomatic ties with Israel.” The comment was unexpected, and some MPs expressed their shock at the time.

Pandor was given a standing ovation as she left the podium. Her statement that government would definitely cut diplomatic ties with Israel was reiterated on parliament’s official Twitter account.

The only positive that Gon can see in this move is that “other countries aren’t rushing to do what South Africa has done to its embassy”. So, if Dirco continues on this path, it might be left out in the cold. This is especially so if it is pandering to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) while also trying to support a two-state solution. If others are not on verge of downgrading, South Africa might be an outlier.”

Ultimately, Gon thinks that Sisulu was not replaced because of her actions in downgrading the Israeli embassy, because then, Pandor would not have been chosen to replace her. Rather, she thinks it might have been because she was perceived as not diplomatic enough.

She explains that Pandor is married to a Muslim and converted to Islam, which she takes incredibly seriously.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) remains cautiously optimistic. SAJBD Vice-President Zev Krengel said, “We will have to wait and see. Naledi Pandor has been to our conferences and our functions. We know her well, and we have spent time with her. We just want any minister to be free and fair, and treat Israel like any other state. We hope it will be like this with the new minister. It is a great new cabinet. The president has brought it down, and kept the economic cluster the same. We have to be excited, and we are.”

Said National Director Wendy Kahn, “The SAJBD is encouraged by the announcement of President Ramaphosa’s cabinet, and in particular the consolidation of several of the ministries. We commit ourselves to working with him and his executive towards the creation of our country’s ‘new dawn’.”

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