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"I look upon the United Nations as the only organization that holds out any hope for the future of mankind". These were the words of Kwame Nkrumah in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1960. At that time, our continent was emerging from the dark years of colonialism as one African country after another was gaining its independence.
Nkrumah described that moment in his own way in the same speech, that: "This is a new day in Africa and as I speak now, thirteen new African nations have taken their seats this year in this august Assembly as independent sovereign states.... There are now twenty-two of us in this Assembly and there are yet more to come".
Today, the number of African countries who are members of the United Nations has more than doubled from the twenty-two in September 1960 as Nkrumah had predicted. But one fact that remains unchanged is that as Africans we look upon the United Nations, as Nkrumah did, as the central pillar of our international system - as a multilateral organization that holds out any hope for the future of humanity and our planet.
It is for this reason that we are members of the United Nations. It is this faith that we have in this organisation that gives us every reason to support and promote its work, including serving in its key organs such as the Security Council. Our election to this Council on Tuesday as a non-permanent member is therefore consistent with our national interests and our vision for a better Africa and a better world.
I must therefore thank the University of Pretoria for organising this seminar and extending the invitation to us. We see this seminar as an example of true partnership between our Department, DIRCO, and our research community. By organising this seminar through the Institute for Strategic and Political Affairs and the Department of Political Sciences, this University is sending out a clear message that it wants to assist our country to succeed in its second tenure in the Security Council. It is giving meaning to our belief that "working together we can do more".
South Africa is honoured to have been once again elected by the United Nations General Assembly to serve on the Organisation's Security Council. We would like to express our utmost thanks to the international community for the 182 votes we received. By electing us, the international community has once again acknowledged our ability, capacity and commitment to contribute to the advancement of the cause of international peace and security.
As a country, South Africa is humbled, and at the same time delighted by the overwhelming support it received from the Member States of the United Nations during these elections. We cannot afford to betray the confidence of the UN Member States and the international community at large in our ability to contribute and further advance the cause of international peace and security and international law during our tenure on the Security Council.
We come back into the UNSC emboldened, and sincerely hope we will be able to contribute to peace, security and development.
In making our contribution as UNSC member for 2011/2012, we will build on our achievements and the lessons learnt during our previous tenure in the Security Council in 2007/08. There must be continuity to consolidate our gains, but also change to improve on our work and respond effectively to emerging global issues and challenges.
South Africa is cognizant of the enormous challenges associated with serving on the Council. You will recall that the UNSC bears primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with Article 24 of the Charter of the United Nations. It is the only international body entitled to authorise the use of force in situations not involving individual or collective self-defence, as defined in Article 51 of the Charter. Accordingly, the Council is designed to address threats to international peace and security exclusively and to function continuously.
Therefore the Charter of the United Nations bestows on the Security Council the high responsibility "for the maintenance of international peace and security" and South Africa will, in the execution of these responsibilities, play her part, as a responsible member, in answering this high calling by giving effect to the purpose and principles of the UN Charter.
Also, the UN Charter, in Article 29, establishes subsidiary bodies of the UNSC and also empowers the Council to establish additional subsidiary bodies as it deems necessary. As such, these bodies are designed to enable the Council to explore some issues in greater depth, to monitor and facilitate implementation of some of its decisions, and to oversee the implementation of sanctions. More often than not, work conducted in these bodies is often under-reported.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the membership of the Council brings with it heavy responsibilities and challenges as UNSC members find themselves at the forefront of the international community's efforts to resolve some of the most pressing peace and security issues facing the world.
South Africa is expected to chair at least one subsidiary body and be a lead nation on one of the country-specific agenda items of the UNSC. Thus, the country will need to balance the often divergent expectations of domestic constituencies and international audiences. As such, the country will have to contend with the formidable limitations that exist within the Security Council including a pre-determined agenda, and the reality of power and influence that are unevenly distributed within the Council.
We will be serving on the Council at a time of many challenges, such as the holding of a referendum in Southern Sudan, debates on the Iranian nuclear program, the deteriorating condition in Somalia, the long-standing crisis in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question, and the eminent draw-down or exit of key UN peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad/Central African Republic. Countering terrorism is another priority in the international arena.
Notwithstanding these realities and challenges, we believe that South Africa's continued commitment and track-record on the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the African continent and globally, have prepared us for the task at hand. Internationally, South Africa is among the top twenty contributors to UN police and peacekeeping operations and has deployed personnel to major UN peacekeeping missions in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Our role in the Security Council will be informed by the central thrust of our foreign policy which stands on four pillars - that is:
Promoting and advancing the interests of our continent, including the SADC sub-region;
Working with countries of the South to address challenges of underdevelopment, our marginalisation in the international system, and the promotion of equity and social justice globally;
Work with countries of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world;
Do our part to strengthen the multilateral system, including its transformation, to reflect the diversity of our nations, and ensure its centrality in global governance.
In this regard, we will continue our efforts aimed at bringing greater alignment to the work of the Security Council and that of the African Union, especially the AU Peace and Security Council of which South Africa is currently a member. Concerted and dedicated efforts will be made to achieve stability and security in our Continent and all other regions of the world.
This will be the continuation of our firm resolve to strengthening effective partnerships between the UN and regional organisations in the maintenance of international peace and security. It will also help intensify the work South Africa has already undertaken in conflict prevention and resolution, peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction in many African countries.
Closer cooperation between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council will contribute to enhancing the convergence of perspectives and approaches of the two bodies in tackling and responding to peace and security challenges in Africa - be it in the Sudan or in Somalia.
Our presence in the Security Council should afford us the opportunity to build on the capacity demonstrated by South Africa during its first term in the Council in 2007 and 2008 and further enhance our commitment to being a responsible member of the international community.
We will endeavour to utilise membership of the UNSC in a manner that will add value to the work of the Council. In this context, South Africa will play an active role in the activities of the Security Council committees, working groups, commissions and other structures. We will endeavour to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security by inter alia participating in the Council's conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction agenda.
Our membership of the Council for 2011-2012 will be guided by our commitment to strengthening the multilateral system and our support for a broader multilateral approach to questions of international peace and security.
Guided by our own national experience in transforming peacefully from apartheid and isolation to democracy, South Africa hopes to utilize its own experiences in the prioritisation of diplomacy, broad consultation, transparency, and reconciliation. Bearing in mind that a substantial focus of UNSC activities and agenda items are on the African Continent, South Africa will continue to champion and advance the African Agenda and collaborate with other African member states (Gabon and Nigeria) currently serving on the UNSC in pursuing issues of mutual benefit.
Crucially, the country's strategy will also entail promoting a culture of collective responsibility and collective responses in dealing with challenges of the contemporary world.
The work of the Security Council, important as it is, is but a portion of the mandate that our nations have given to the United Nations. In addition to working for peace and security in the world, the United Nations is a leader in advancing development at the global level, promoting human rights, and protecting our planet and its people.
Indeed, for us, peace and security, development, and good governance, go hand-in-hand. This is a thinking that informs our approach to the integration of our continent for greater unity. This is the thinking that led us to transform the OAU into the African Union. This is the thinking that gave birth to the NEPAD, and its African Peer Review Mechanism.
As South Africa, we are privileged to have been and continue to be an active part of these initiatives aimed at contributing to the global effort to promote peace and security, development, and human rights. We were also given the rare honour by the African Union to host the secretariats of the NEPAD and the APRM as well as the Pan-African Parliament. We will continue to provide whatever support we can to ensure that these institutions succeed in the mandate given to them by the African Union.
South Africa's vision of the African continent is one that is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable.
As you all know, we will be participating, and actively so, at COP 16 to be held in Mexico in December. The success of this conference is critical to the global endeavour to protect our environment, especially against the threat of climate change. When we host COP17 on our shores next year, we will build on the achievements we will work hard for in Mexico.
Furthermore, South African - its Government and people - has not hesitated to join the international community in the global humanitarian effort. For instance, we did our part, and we will continue to do so, be it in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake or in Pakistan in face of the flood. I must also use this opportunity to recognise and thank South Africans who made a contribution to the rescue of the thirty-three miners in Chile. This was a nail-biting rescue effort that kept us clued to our TV screens. This was so because we care for the lives of others. We care for each other... we care for our planet.
Our membership of the Security Council will not take our attention away from our pressing domestic challenges. Nor is it wastage of our limited fiscal resources. No! Global peace and security has direct impact on us. It can affect the price of our strategic imports such as oil. It can destabilise our neighbours, and engender a humanitarian crisis with a bearing on our national security. It can trigger global economic collapse. The biggest expense to the South African taxpayers, in our view, is the lack of peace and continued conflict.
Our presence within the Council, we believe, will help the country in building up institutional and substantive knowledge of the Council, and the entire UN system.
We remain committed to the five priorities determined by our Government of job creation, education, health, crime prevention, rural and land reform. Our responsibility is to constantly ensure that these national priorities find expression in our work at the regional, continental and international level. In this context our membership of international organisations, including that of the United Nations Security Council, should mutually reinforce what we want to achieve in our country.
Accordingly, in anticipation of our election to the Security Council, we have taken necessary measures as a country to ensure that we indeed learn from our 2007/08 experience. We are going to need a strong coordination effort on the part of Government to enable us to improve on our capacity to respond rapidly and effectively when required to do so.
We will be communicating more, better and faster with our people, every step of the way, especially regarding positions we will take on debates within the Security Council. We will not trade our constitutional values and the rich tradition of struggle against injustice for political point-scoring. South Africans have to trust our judgment and never doubt our loyalty to our Constitution.
Effective coordination with the five permanent members of the Security Council is key to constructive participation in the Security Council, and we are giving this some attention.
Additionally, the fact that we will be in the Council at the same time with the IBSA and BRIC countries should help benefit the work of the Council in advancing the broad agenda of the United Nations and the enhancement of a rules based international system.
Our membership of the Council will also benefit enormously from good coordination with African countries on the Council as well as the continental peace and security architecture of the AU, including those at sub-regional level such as the SADC Organ.
All in all, South Africa recognizes the importance of continuing to work together with all members of the AU and the UN in pursuit of an effective system of global governance. We will forge partnerships with Security Council and non-Council members from across the spectrum on important socio-economic developmental matters, as well as on areas such as security sector reform, and disarmament and non-proliferation issues.
When Nkrumah addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September 1960, Africa was rising out of the shackles of colonialism. Nkrumah captured that moment well when he told the General Assembly that: "Those days [of colonialism] are gone and gone forever, and now I, an African, stand before this august Assembly of the United Nations and speak with a voice of peace and freedom, proclaiming to the world the dawn of a new era...".
Today we are standing at the crossroad of the dawn of another era for Africa. African countries that were taking their seats at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960 when Nkrumah made his address, this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of their independence. Today, Africa is finding her way out of the predicament that set us back in the past fifty years which entailed our failure to address challenges of peace and security, development, and democratic governance.
The United Nations is an important partner for Africa in working with us to overcome these central challenges. As Nkrumah said, we look upon the United Nations as the only multilateral organization in our global system that holds out any hope for the future of our planet and its people.
But the United Nations itself is also at the dawn of a new era. Negotiations for its reform, including the expansion of its Security Council, are at an advanced stage - there should be no turning back.
Our world is in need of a Security Council of the United Nations that has been expanded in both the permanent and non-permanent categories, and with improved working methods. This will make the Security Council more legitimate, representative and effective as a body - so that it can become more transparent and accountable.
The successful conclusion of these negotiations and the consequent implementation of the reforms will ensure that indeed the United Nations is well and better positioned to play its role as a multilateral organization that holds out any hope for the future of our planet and its people.
As Government, we will not achieve the objectives of our Security Council membership on our own. We can only do well and better when we work together with our people. We will need to forge and consolidate a common understanding with various stakeholders in our country. We will therefore be in constant contact with you as academics, students, media and the people of South Africa for feedback and advice on how we could enhance our participation in the Security Council. It is our fervent hope that we will collectively work together to make our two-year tenure in the Security Council a success.
Remember that the opening lines of the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations speak of "We the Peoples of the United Nations" - not "We the States or Governments of the United Nations".
The United Nations belongs to the people... to all of us!