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This week in 1994: Democracy 25
27 November 2019, 4:37 PM


This week we reflect on democratic South Africa’s bold step to become a founding member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), thus opening up the young democracy’s economy to international prices and competition.

Pretoria ratified the Marrakesh Agreement on the 2nd of December 1994 months after other member-states had sealed the deal in Morocco.

The Agreement created a new global framework for liberalising trade, protecting intellectual property rights and easing trade tensions through a new dispute resolution mechanism.

It was hailed as one of the largest treaties ever signed and marked the end of the Uruguay Round of talks, leading to the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in January 1995.

The milestone is said to have been the biggest reform of international trade since after the Second World War.

The WTO replaced General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signed in 1947, which apartheid South Africa had been part of.

The WTO agreements provide the legal ground-rules for international commerce.

The Mandela administration saw the decision to join the global international organisation as a necessary part of integrating post-apartheid South Africa into the global economy.

Read amended Marrakesh agreement:

Purpose of WTO

The organisation has 164 members that represent 98% of world trade.

It is the only international body that deals with the rules of trade among member states.

It strives to ensure that trade flows smoothly between them and acts as a platform for negotiating  agreements.

The WTO also settles disputes between its member-states and supports the maintaining of trade barriers to protect consumers or prevent the spread of disease, whenever necessary.

All WTO agreements are negotiated and signed by governments.

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South Africa’s Trade and Industry Department prepares and implements the country’s negotiation strategy in the World Trade Organisation.

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) and the National Economic Development and Labour Council are among organisations involved in the WTO.

Watch related video:

The WTO is currently hosting the Doha Development Agenda, which was launched in 2001. The talks seek major reform of the international trading system.

Negotiating parties want lower trade barriers introduced and trade rules revised.

While critics have denounced the WTO as a global institution driving neo-liberal economic globalisation, some scholars believe South Africa’s participation in it doesn’t only carry significant implications for the country, but also the rest of the continent.

They also view it as a powerful platform for both the projection of the country’s foreign policy and its international status.



Example of ballot paper
Will changing SA’s electoral system increase accountability?
26 November 2019, 7:32 PM

Calls for a change in South Africa’s electoral system have re-emerged. Corruption and a lack of public accountability by public officials are some of the reasons for this.

South Africa uses a closed-list proportional representation system for its general elections.

Voters vote for parties – not for individuals.

Parties then choose legislators and submit that list to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which oversees elections.

While the lawmakers are in paper wholly accountable to the public, experience for South Africans has been the opposite.

They have sometimes found themselves torn between following a party directive and doing what’s deemed best for South Africans either for fear of being hauled into a disciplinary hearing by their parties or of being taken out of office by those who have deployed them.

Leading to some South Africans feeling like the current electoral system has served its purpose.

Our producer Lindiwe Mabena spoke to the Director of Research at Auwal Socio-Economic Institute, Angelo Fick, on whether these sentiments are valid.

Watch full report below:


Swiss and SA flags
This week in 1994: Democracy 25
20 November 2019, 3:43 PM

This week 25 years ago, the Swiss government signed an agreement with South Africa pledging support for the country’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).

The programme was democratic South Africa’s first macro-economic policy aimed at transforming the economy and improving the lives of the Black majority who were at the receiving end of the country’s cruel policies of racial segregation.

Despite civil society’s previous concerns over its links with apartheid South Africa, the relationship between Switzerland and Pretoria is cordial.

Bern is one of South Africa’s main trading partners, while Pretoria is that country’s most important partner in trade, investment and economic co-operation on the continent.

In 2008, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on expanding cooperation in various spheres, including peace, security, human rights promotion, migration, as well as science and culture.

Political consultations between the countries have been taking place annually since then.

They are aimed at discussing ongoing and future cooperation.

Watch related video:

Supporting democracy

Following the advent of democracy – Bern immediately availed resources to assist Pretoria’s development projects.

Switzerland kicked off a project called Special Programme South Africa, focusing on land reform, education and good governance.

The initiative was scheduled to run from 1994 to 1999 but extended for another five years.

Various other agreements between the two countries were also entered into.

They included the Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative, which supported projects by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to improve employment opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups.

The bilateral relations between the two countries first received a major boost in 1998 when Switzerland’s Former President Flavio Cotti embarked on a state visit to Pretoria.

The move led to the establishment of South Africa and Swiss Working Group, which sought to give practical effect to issues of interest to both countries.

The group is hailed as having enhanced the quality and content of South Africa and Switzerland’s bilateral relations.

Watch related video:

Apartheid legacy

Despite the strides made – concerns over Switzerland’s links with apartheid South Africa remain.

Although Bern adhered to UN arms and oil embargoes; claims to have limited capital investments and enforced punitive debt repayment schedules on apartheid South Africa – business with the regime continued to flourish between some within the Swiss political circles and the government.

Nine Swiss companies were among 23 international firms sued by apartheid victims for aiding and abetting the oppressive rule.

The lawsuit was launched in 2002 in the US under a 1789 law, which permitted foreigners to seek damages on American soil for human rights abuses committed overseas.

In 2008, the number of respondents was reduced to five and the law used to launch the class action was later changed.

The new legislation only makes provision for violations that happened in the US.

Watch related video:

Despite the cases having fallen through, General Motors clinched an out of court deal with the complainants in 2012.

The company agreed to give the victims R11,2 million worth of shares, saying the settlement was not an admission of guilt.

Government had initially opposed the lawsuit over fears it would discourage investment.

It, however, changed its stance after Jacob Zuma became South Africa’s Commander-In-Chief in 2009.



Bill of Rights image
Chapter 9 Institutions under scrutiny
19 November 2019, 7:51 PM

According to the Bill of Rights, government has a duty to ensure that every South African is treated fairly and has access to clean water, adequate housing and education.

Citizens also should never need to fear the leaders they elect to serve them.

Yet because of the corrupting nature of power, we certainly have enough examples from our past to show us that they often do.

Chapter 9 Institutions were established to protect the rights of South Africans under the Constitution.

Duplication of functions, limited budgets, questions of independence and access to ordinary citizens – are some of the challenges that have bedeviled these institutions.

The 2007 Asmal report wanted some of them, including the South African Human Rights Commission, merged to make them more effective.

However, 12 years later nothing has happened.

Parliament’s Office of the Institutions Supporting Democracy has been probing the feasibility of this and progress on the matter remains unclear.

“There has been debates on whether that’s good or not but I think the debate must involve the public as well. But that will depend on what direction they take,” says Executive Director for the Human Rights Foundation, Hanif Vally.

Our producer Lindiwe Mabena spoke to Vally and Corruption Watch’s David Lewis on the effectiveness of these institutions.

Watch the report below:

SA flag and SAHRC logo
This week in 1994: Democracy 25
13 November 2019, 4:05 PM

This week we reflect on one of the milestones reached by South Africa’s new Government of National Unity in its bid to ensure that the country’s hard won democracy is protected and its values of human dignity, equality and freedom are respected and upheld.

Parliament’s Justice Select Committee approved the Human Rights Commission Bill on the 10th of November 1994. It was signed into law on the 23rd of the same month.

The Bill sought to regulate the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the appointment of commissioners and the conferring of powers and duties.

The Act has since been repealed and replaced with the South African Human Rights Act 40 of 2013.

Read document below:

SAHRC’s Mandate

The South African Human Rights Commission promotes; documents and monitors human and socioeconomic rights.

It also handles individual complaints and initiates probes into claims of human rights abuses.

The commission has dealt with various human rights violation complaints like the water crisis in Hammanskraal and the Vaal as well racism cases, including those against South Africa’s first convicted racist Former Estate Agent, Vicki Momberg and Springbok rugby player, Eben Etzebeth.

It has cited 2016/2017 as a period where it received most complaints about racism and infringements of socioeconomic rights.

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The SAHRC also promotes collaboration between all spheres of government, civil society, academic community and regional and international bodies that support democracy.

Since its inception, the institution says it has contributed to more than 40 major legislation with wider implications for the dignity, rights and well-being of South Africans.



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