South African diplomat to ST: We are concerned with the continuous occupation of the Syrian Golan

The year 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Syrian-South African relation and the freedom of South Africa which has sided with Syria in its ongoing war against terrorism [started in 2011].

Only three months after South Africa gained its freedom, diplomatic relations with Syria started.

"South Africa's support for Syria is based on a historic reason as Syrian people strongly supported the anti- apartheid movement in South Africa," Mr. Barry Philip Gilder, the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of  South Africa to the Syrian Arab Republic told the Syriatimes e-newspaper.

The diplomat made it clear that a lot of his country's international relations is based on the history of the African National Congress (ANC) party.

"South Africa is very concerned with the situation in Syria. It is concerned with the interventions of other states, mainly the United States and Turkey. It is concerned with the effects of war on the Syrian people and casualties and with the continuity of the occupation of the Syrian Golan by Israel," Mr. Gilder asserted.

The ambassador was in Syria when the Zionist entity [Israel] carried out a missile attack on the vicinity of Damascus where several civilians were martyred and wounded and several houses were damaged.

"We condemn the Israeli attack and the Turkish attack on Syria. We also condemn the Israeli attack on Gaza in occupied Palestine," Mr. Gilder stated, expressing his country's concern over the US and Israel's rejection of international attempts to negotiate peace.

He, in addition, reiterated that his country backs the talks of the Syrian constitutional committees in the United Nations besides Syria's right to preserve its territorial integrity and to restore control over all areas in it.

The situation in Syria over the past 8 years has not been suitable for implementing the agreements signed between Syria and South Africa in 2010 in the fields of economy, education and political cooperation due to the war that erupted in 2011.

However now and after the liberation of most areas from terrorist groups, South Africa will work on reviving the agreements signed with Syria and it will play role in the demining and reconstruction process, said the ambassador, who pointed out that the sanctions that are being imposed on Syria are the only obstacle that face trade between the two countries.

"South Africa plans to play role in the fields of agricultural trade[ i.e. cross season crops], demining activities, technology, medicine, and process of reconstruction," Mr. Gilder stressed.

About Palestine..

Two years ago, South Africa’s ruling ANC decided to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office over a U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Minister LindiweSisulu declared then that South Africa will not replace its ambassador to Israel and that its office in Tel Aviv has no political, trade or economic development co-operation mandates.

This move was described as an unprecedented step in support of the Palestinian people at a global, political level.

"South Africa recognizes the state of Palestine and it encourages a peaceful two-state solution," the ambassador said, affirming that the same oomph to Palestine will continue as it was before.

"Diplomacy requires calmness," he added.

BRICS is an important opportunity

The republic of South Africa has occupied the position of the leader in the African continent and It has enjoyed wide international relations since the 1990s.

On 24 December 2010, South Africa officially became a member nation of BRICS, after being formally invited by China to join and was subsequently accepted by other BRIC countries. The group was renamed BRICS – with the "S" standing for South Africa – to reflect the group's expanded membership.

"South Africa is very strong on strengthening third world or the non-west world and on improving the balance on the global stage after the end of the so-called cold war and the development of the unipolar world... Since 1994 foreign policy has focused to a large extent on creating a better egalitarian international government system in terms of balancing against the powers of the west," Mr. Gilder clarified.

He believes that BRICS is an important opportunity because it brings together countries of two geographical sides. "BRICS is an important opportunity to ally with the up and coming economic and political powers, namely:  Russia and China and of course India."

The former president of South Africa Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki was strong in strengthening the African continent.

As for South Africa…

Of course the main party is the ANC. However in the past few years we saw the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and former ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu.

The EFFs, who like to present themselves as left-wing , receive a lot of support from youth. "It is difficult to say what they stand” for.’ They just stand’ against’. For example, they stand against education fees rising which is a legitimate right," the ambassador said.

Concerning S.A. media, Mr. Gilder indicated that their media is more homebound and more focused. However, he stressed that he will work on involving his country's media in conveying the reality of events in Syria. 

Mr. Gilder was born in South Africa in 1950. He went into exile in 1976, where he was part of the ANC in exile. He composed and sang struggle songs. He underwent military and intelligence training with the ANC, and served in the ANC’s intelligence structures until his return to South Africa in 1991. After 1994 he served as deputy head of the South African Secret Service, as deputy head of the National Intelligence Agency, as director-general of the Department of Home Affairs and as South Africa’s coordinator of intelligence until his retirement in 2007. He was Director Operations at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA).

He follows the quote from Victor Jara, (Chilean communist and activist who was tortured and killed by Pinochet) “If the guitar is to be a weapon in the struggle, then the person behind it must be a genuine revolutionary.”

Interviewed by:

Reem Haddad

Basma Qaddour