Address by Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe on the occasion of the Commemoration of UN Day, 24 October 2008, Lombardy Estate, Pretoria

The Acting Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in South Africa, Mr. George Nsiah;
Acting Regional Director for Africa for the UNDP, Mr Soumare
The Dean and other distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
The Heads and representatives of International Organizations in South Africa;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.


I always enjoy being here on 24th October to commemorate UN Day with our friends in the UN family and friends representing so many countries of the world.

First I would like to take a moment to reflect on the importance and the achievements of the United Nations and its relevance to us all. Despite the long list of new challenges faced by humankind, the global mission that was bestowed upon that Organization by its Charter remains a crucial one.

For South Africa UN Day has special meaning  as we believe that when the achievements of the UN are tallied up, the defeat of apartheid will be among the major significant achievements of the Organisation. We, who have benefited directly from the collective efforts of Member States working with the UN, acknowledge that we have a particular responsibility. A responsibility to carry forward the UN mission and focus our efforts on bringing peace to the world and a decent life to all its people.

The meaning of UN Day

It was on 24 October 1945 that the United Nations was formally established, after a majority of its founding members ratified a treaty setting up the world body. The anniversary of the entry into force of the UN has been celebrated as UN Day since 1948. Today, we gather to remember the founding of the UN 63 years ago.

So UN Day is a special day – the birthday of the UN!  South Africa embraces the principles and values on which the founders of the United Nations based its Charter. For South Africa, a strong and effective UN remains central to our vision of a better quality of life for all – a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world. A strong and effective UN is one which builds on past achievements and is based on the values that underpin an equitable, democratic and just international order that is conducive to that which we as a country hold dear. Our resolve to see this vision come to fruition becomes stronger in the face of the new and demanding challenges to the capacities of the current world economic system and governance structures.

The African agenda as you all know is a central pillar of South Africa’s foreign policy. So, while we deal with the significant challenges inherent in our own transformation, we also acknowledge the urgent need to play a role in the development of the rest of the continent. In this context, we are committed to the UN, to the African Union and to its development program, NEPAD, which is the vehicle for furthering the development goals of Africa and addressing the challenges associated with the marginalization of our continent.

Responding to new challenges

President Kgalema Motlanthe addressed the South African Nation on 28 September 2008. Acknowledging how much work still has to be done to achieve Government’s development objectives, he said:

“Our country faces many challenges, and our people still endure many hardships. Yet by working together – by building on what we have achieved, by acknowledging our shortcomings, by learning from experience – we will be able to make even further progress in improving the lives of our people.”

He went on to say:

“The crisis in the global economy and the rise in prices of basic goods across the world have been felt in this country, particularly by the poor. It is therefore critical that we dedicate attention to the implementation of government's War on Poverty, ensuring that we bring much-needed relief to the poorest households.  We will continue to meet our international obligations, and to play a positive role within international institutions and forums. We will continue to provide whatever assistance we can in the pursuit of peace, security, democracy and development in Africa.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, South Africa considers itself to be a partner with other countries of the continent and the world in the drive to strengthen the UN and develop its capacity to respond to the challenges facing humankind today. We do so on the understanding that the struggle against poverty and underdevelopment is one in which all nations share responsibility.

Today, we live in an age of unprecedented opportunity on the one hand, and extraordinary problems and challenges on the other. We are all keenly aware of the fact that our world is a very different one from that of 1945. While some of the challenges facing humankind are not new, others, like the current global financial crisis, and its consequences, in escalating food prices and the energy crises, seem to herald unprecedented changes in the nature of the global society of nations for many years to come. Nonetheless, the purpose and principles of the UN remain as important, as relevant and as urgent today as when they were first formulated.

We should all regard the UN is our organization. Indeed, it is our premier International Organization, dedicated to the service of all of the people of this world, especially wherever the needs are the greatest. Today, the UN presents the most viable platform for Member States to respond collectively to the new challenges and realities that confront us.

South Africa’s membership of the United Nations Security Council

South Africa’s two-year term as a non-Permanent member of the UN Security Council will come to an end on 31 December 2008. This membership has been a ‘first’ for South Africa. We have learnt much from the experience.

We will be doing a comprehensive review of those experiences during the coming months, but we believe that we fulfilled our objectives to the best of our ability with relatively modest resources and limited institutional knowledge. We engaged on all the substantive issues on the UNSC agenda, while our primary focus was Africa, as over 60% of the Council’s agenda involves conflicts and threats to international peace and security on this continent. In this regard, our work in the Council on country situations such as Sudan, Côte d’ Ivoire, Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC has been directly in accordance with our foreign policy objectives.

Our intention was to play a constructive role on in the important work of the council.  Among the issues were we took a special interest were:

  1. In the Co-leadership of a Security Council Mission to Africa with the United Kingdom, including a visit to the African Union;
  2. Raising the visibility of the role of women in peace and security;
  3. Securing the adoption of a Presidential Statement on the non-proliferation of small arms and light weapons, thereby reviving the discussion of small arms in the Council; and
  4. Active engagement in subsidiary bodies of the Council, for example the 1267 Counter-terrorism Committee and the 1540 Committee on the Weapons of Mass Destruction on non-State actors as well as the Committee on Children in Armed Conflict.

South Africa held the position of President of the Security Council in both March 2007 and April 2008. During these periods and indeed throughout our term on the Council, we advocated for a closer relationship between the UN and regional organizations – and in particular the African Union in terms of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. One of our specific objectives was to help forge closer cooperation between the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council. We have been pro-active in seeking to develop stronger partnerships between the UN and other structures and organizations and, in so doing, enhanced the integrated role and capacity of the Organization to respond to new challenges in a way that complements and reinforces existing initiatives on the continent.

Two special events related to our initiative took place during our Presidency in April 2008, namely the Summit on 16 April and the joint meeting between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council on 17 April, respectively.  Following the Summit, UNSC resolution 1809 (2008) was unanimously adopted. The resolution endorses recommendations of the Secretary-General in his reports on the cooperation between the UN and regional organizations, in particular the AU, and on conflict situations in Africa. Further, a High-Level panel was set-up in terms of the resolution to consider the modalities of how to support peacekeeping operations in Africa and to consider in-depth lessons from past and current AU peacekeeping efforts. South Africa welcomes the formation of the Panel, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and looks forward to its recommendations, which we are confident will make a positive and enduring contribution to peacekeeping missions on the African continent.  

I am please to say that Mr Prodi and his team will be visiting us in South Africa next week to take forward this work.      
Candidature for the position of Director-General of the IAEA

I would now like to turn to the IAEA as the leading international organisation seeking to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of nuclear energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world, in accordance with its statutory mandate.

South Africa is deeply aware of the importance and potential that nuclear energy provides us with. However, we are vehemently opposed to the use of nuclear technology for weapons of war.  In this regard, the Agency’s safeguards system plays an essential role in verifying that civil nuclear programmes remain peaceful. This system needs to be strengthened even further. South Africa benefited from the role the Agency played in verifying the termination of this country’s former nuclear weapons programme, a process that we believe also provided the Agency with valuable experience.

It is against this background that the South African Government has decided to propose the candidature of Ambassador Abdul Minty for the position of Director-General of the IAEA.  We are pleased to note that the African Union Heads of State Summit in July 2008 endorsed the candidature of Ambassador Minty. It is South Africa’s firm belief that Ambassador Minty will continue to promote the critical role the Agency must play in promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and that he has the managerial and technical knowledge and experience to guide the IAEA towards finding creative solutions to deal with new questions and challenges arising from the dynamic environment in which the Agency operates.

The CCA/UNDAF Case study

I am pleased to be able to briefly highlight today two initiatives that bear testimony to the ongoing strategic partnership between the UN and South Africa. The first of these concerns the operational activities of the UN Country Team.

Those who were able to join us in 2006 when we commemorated UN Day may recall that we held a brief signing ceremony for the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), which directs the activities of the UN agencies in South Africa for the period 2007 to 2010. Ms. Scholastica Sylvan Kimaryo, who was the UN Resident Coordinator at the time, and I were proud to put our signatures to the document, as it represented a unique partnership between Government and the UN Country Team – one in which the capacities of both Government and the Country Team to respond to new challenges was strengthened. Such are the benefits of a dynamic partnership.

The new UNDAF has been widely welcomed in the UN system as a positive example of developing an UNDAF through strong national ownership and partnership between the UN Country Team and Government.  Several senior UN officials suggested that the process of how the UNDAF was developed should be documented, so that other countries might consider this experience in developing their own systems.  Although the circumstances in other countries are unique, it was suggested that elements of the South African experience could prove useful for their own purposes. Various UN agencies are in agreement and have committed funding towards the project.

We look forward in anticipation to receiving the final report, which will document the background and context in which the UNDAF process took place and the UN principles on which this partnership was based.

A Joint Evaluation of the UN in South Africa

The second initiative that concerns the ongoing strategic partnership between the UN and South Africa is much wider in scope and relates to the consolidation of the relationship between the UN system and South Africa.

Currently, a country-level evaluation of the contribution made by the UN system in South Africa is being conducted jointly by Government and the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG). The joint evaluation team, which is composed of both South African and international evaluation experts, has operated completely independently under the oversight of a Joint Management Group of evaluation experts from the UN and the South Africa Government, who helped to conceptualize the evaluation and are overseeing the conduct thereof.

The leader of the joint evaluation team is the former Auditor-General of South Africa, Mr. Shauket Fakie, and I am pleased to say that some of the evaluation specialists in the team are here today. We are pleased that you could join us and we wish you every success with the complex task you have before you. Members of the South African side of the Joint Management Group are also here with us today – we thank you for your commitment to help build the most optimal partnership between South Africa and the UN.

The evaluation represents a ‘first’ for both Government and for the UN. For the UN, it is the first time that a country-level evaluation will be conducted jointly with the host Government of the engagement of all components of the UN system with a host country. Government is participating in the evaluation as a full and equal partner – also a ‘first’ for us. From the perspective of Government, the evaluation is forward-looking and represents a unique opportunity to ensure that the future relationship between South Africa and the UN system is an optimal one. It is expected that the evaluation will help to ensure that the UN programmes and projects in South Africa are clearly focussed on, and aligned with, South African Government priorities.

It is expected that the final report will be available by the end of January or early February next year.

Our Government is tremendously excited about this joint evaluation, which we expect will help ensure that the operations of the UN system in South Africa and the region will remain relevant and effective and that the UN Country Team and Regional Directors Team will be all the better equipped to respond to new challenges in the future.

A toast to the United Nations

On 23 September 2008, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly on the need for the UN to be able to respond appropriately and effectively to new challenges facing us all. He said:

“If ever there were a call to collective action – a call for global leadership – it is now ... We need to restore order to the international financial markets. We need a new understanding on business ethics and governance, with more compassion and less uncritical faith in the ‘magic’ of markets. And we must think about how the world economic system should evolve to more fully reflect the changing realities of our time.”

Friends of the UN, I am proud to invite you to join me in raising your glasses to pay special tribute to the work and achievements of the UN, in the knowledge that through our collective action – building on past achievements and working together with the Organization - to make this world a better place to live in, we are all making a contribution to a better future for ourselves and, more importantly, a better future for our children. We are also helping to strengthen the capacity of the Organization to respond appropriately, as it should, to the pressing issues and challenges of the day.

On behalf of the South African Government, I wish to congratulate the UN Country Team and the UN Regional Directors Team on their contribution to South Africa and to the region. In commemorating UN Day today, we join once more with many nations around the world in recognizing the achievements of the Organization and the international civil servants who serve in it.  I give you our premier International Organization, the United Nations!

Thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
P/Bag X152

24 October 2008



Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 24 October, 2008 4:11 PM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa