Political Will Required

Cape Times (South Africa), November 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Political Will Required


BYLINE: Jock Deacon

As SOUTH AFRICANS, we like to consider ourselves a maritime nation. We have a coastline of similar length to our terrestrial borders, are located at the intersect of two great oceans, have offshore island possessions and Cape Town is fondly referred to as the tavern of the seas.

Unfortunately, geography alone does not make us a maritime nation any more than vast tracts of land made us an agricultural nation or a wealth of minerals made us a mining nation. To become a great maritime nation, we must harness the inventiveness of South Africans and grasp the opportunities provided by geography.

A common but misleading view of South Africa's maritime sector is that it has to do with shipping, fishing, ports and activities directly related to them. There is a perception that it is concentrated at the coast and in the main coastal cities, and that the people involved are either seafarers or ex-seafarers.

The fact is that South Africa's coastal status permeates the whole country and has an impact on the economic activity of the inland provinces and the quality of life of all South Africans.

From a geo-political perspective, South Africa's coastal status brings the country into direct contact with the rest of the world. People and goods from anywhere can enter South Africa directly without having to pass through another country - and similarly can leave South Africa directly. Our coastal status allows us to participate in international affairs that would not be the case were the country landlocked.

South Africa's maritime community exists in an international system that is characterised by increasing dialogue, agreements, treaties and conventions to regulate the use of the oceans and exploitation of their resources.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), held in Montego Bay in 1982, is a good point of departure. This process codified what are referred to as maritime zones extending to seaward from the coast of littoral states. Within these zones, states are granted rights and jurisdictions that are superior to other states and hence the right, under international law, to pass and enforce legislation relating to those zones.

Along with these privileges came a range of obligations towards the international community. Though these conventions have national security implications, they are based on civil and not military considerations.

It is important to also note that the implementation agreement on the Montego Bay Convention which brought Unclos into force was signed only 12 years later. South Africa ratified it in 1997.

The need to develop a coherent national policy to guide South Africa into this new maritime environment was proposed by the then Chief of the South African Navy, at the first National Maritime Conference, in 1989.

In 1992, a committee of inquiry into a national maritime policy tabled a comprehensive and well-researched report to government with an extensive list of recommendations, which again included the need for a civilian sea patrol service and national policy.

A number of recommendations were implemented, but no general policy or sea patrol service emerged. The need for a national maritime policy was again recommended by a conference on the development of our exclusive economic zone held in 2002. The most recent high-level identification of the need for maritime policy again came from the navy in February this year, some 18 years after the 1989 proposal.

It remains a riddle why South Africa has not kept pace with international developments in the governance of the sea and is unable to recognise the much greater role the maritime sector could play in the growth and development of our country and the region.

In this regard, the following possible reasons are offered.

South Africa addresses general maritime issues on an ad hoc basis.

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