Address by Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe on the Occasion of the Commemoration of UN Day, 26 October 2009, Burgers Park Hotel, Pretoria

The Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in South Africa, Dr. Agostinho Zacarias;
Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
The Heads of International Organizations in South Africa;
Distinguished guests

Every year, I look forward to joining our friends in the United Nations family in South Africa, as well as friends from the Diplomatic Corps, representing so many countries of the world, to commemorate UN Day. This year’s UN Day, 24 October 2009, fell on a Saturday. We therefore chose to host you today, in order to accord our celebrations the status and high profile that this annual event deserves.

For South Africa, UN Day will always have a special meaning, knowing as we do that the defeat of apartheid is among the significant achievements of the Organisation to date. South Africa consequently feels a special responsibility to carry forward the United Nations mission and focus our efforts on bringing peace and a decent life for all the worlds’ people.

Today, we remember the founding of the United Nations 64 years ago.

The celebration presents an opportunity for us to reflect on what the United Nations means to us, the value of the work that it does and the relevance of the global mission that has been bestowed upon that Organization by its visionary Charter.

In the UN lie the hopes and dreams of all the member states for a better future. The United Nations presents the most viable multilateral platform for all Member States to respond collectively to the new realities and challenges that confront the world.

In 1987, then UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar described multilateralism:

“By multilateralism I mean a common effort by the international community, based on the principles of the United Nations Charter, to address in a pragmatic manner the world’s many needs and problems, so that the entire human family can realize its full potential.”

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Today, the challenges faced by the world are even greater than 22 years ago when Perez de Cuéllar spoke, which makes the need for true multilateralism so much more important. The United Nations should be the embodiment of fully inclusive multilateralism. The Organization must be empowered to respond to the changing international context as it seeks to promote the interests and values of all Member States. UN Day therefore also serves as a reminder of the urgent need for the transformation, and the strengthening of, the United Nations system as a whole.

In South Africa’s wide-ranging engagements in the United Nations system, we have been, and continue to be, guided by our firm belief in the principles which underpin our foreign policy; the promotion of the African Agenda, respect for human rights, the promotion of democracy, peace, justice and international rule of law, as well as regional and international co-operation in an interdependent world.

South Africa aspires to making her contribution within the United Nations system in a number of areas.

We continue to make a contribution in the area of developing international law in the fields of economic, social and cultural rights.  Our country is moving forward the processes of ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the signing of the Optional Protocol to the same instruments (ICESCR).  In addition, we shared our best practice on social security within the Human Right Council system, including during the 2009 Session of the Social Forum held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Food security is a major problem facing the developing world and food supply in Africa is inadequate and erratic. This, combined with rapid population growth, results in Africa being the only region of the world where per capita food production has fallen over the past 45 years. Food security is not only an African problem, however. It is a global challenge, caused by climatic and economic factors, as well as the inability of people to gain access to food, due to poverty. South Africa looks forward to the World Food Summit which is scheduled to take place in Rome from 16 to 18 November 2009, where Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe will lead our delegation, demonstrating South Africa’s committment to address global challenges with regard to food security.

South Africa remains concerned about the challenges faced by United Nations specialised agencies and funds and programmes to address the needs of the vulnerable. Within our means, South Africa has regularly contributed to the various appeals of the United Nations institutions such as the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), as well as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). We recognise, however, that more could be done. Better coordination between United Nations entities, donors and host governments remain critically important to ensure that addressing the needs of the vulnerable would be in line with the needs expressed by host governments. In this regard South Africa is happy to note the important role that the Regional Inter Agency Coordination Support Office (RIACSO) is playing through its Head Office in Sandton. We trust that coordination efforts of this nature will continue to improve, to the benefit of all concerned.

South Africa has advanced its views on the reform of the Security Council. We realise that we cannot realistically achieve our common objectives when the current configuration of the Security Council of the United Nations is informed by the geopolitics and security concerns of the 1940’s and 1950s, an era when almost all of Africa was under colonial rule. 

When President Jacob Zuma addressed the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September 2009, he said:

“In a world that is increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent, international problems can only be effectively resolved through multilateral cooperation. The UN must continue to be at the centre of multilateralism. But it needs to be reformed if it is to carry out its mandate effectively, efficiently and transparently.

We remain committed to the view that no reform of the United Nations can be complete without the fundamental reform of the Security Council. It must be representative of the international community and must reflect the geopolitical realities of today. If the UN Security Council is not reformed, and does not have permanent representation for Africa, the legitimacy of the Council’s decisions will continuously be questioned. As South Africa, we continue to advocate for an expansion in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, the reform of the United Nations lies at the heart of the vision for the transformation of the international system This reform cannot be limited merely to making the Organization more effective and efficient in discharging its role and mandate, but must include the democratization of the Organization and ensuring equitable representation of all nations and regions of the world in its various organs, starting with the Security Council.

Delivering a public lecture at the University of Limpopo on 6 October 2009, The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, expanded further by saying:

“… we continue to call for the transformation of the international system for a better world and Africa. Such transformation will be about making organisations such as the United Nations more effective and efficient in discharging their role and responsibilities.

The UN has to be relevant – it must address pressing challenges of the world; it must tackle the world’s development challenges as well as peace and security issues.  It must also take the lead in making sure that the international system is governed democratically to rid our world of the North-South divide in global power relations and wealth distribution.

As friends of the United Nations, we all share a responsibility to ensure that the Organization remains relevant in addressing some of the most serious challenges ever to confront the world. South Africa will continue to work with other Member States, in achieving appropriate and optimal reform which will strengthen and improve the overall capacity of the Organization.

Here in South Africa, at the country level, we have together taken innovative steps to ensure that the UN system is relevant and empowered to add value to the priorities and programmes of Government. Between September 2008 and March 2009, Government, together with the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG), conducted a joint evaluation on the role and contribution of the United Nations system for South Africa. The evaluation was forward-looking and focused on what the “ideal” model for future strategic engagement between South Africa and the United Nations system should be, and why. The scope of the evaluation went beyond the traditional development assistance to South Africa and used as its conceptual framework the three tiers of strategic foreign policy priorities of South Africa, namely working for a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world.

South Africa is proud to have been able to work with the United Nations to break new ground and participate as a full partner in what effectively represents a brand new approach to evaluations, one which is founded on the recognition of the need for national ownership and leadership.

The team that conducted the evaluation was scrupulously independent and are to be commended for carrying out their mandate objectively. As such, the team was able to critically address some very sensitive issues concerning the relationship between Government and the United Nations system. Now that the evaluation is completed, the focus is on what should be done about the findings and recommendations contained in the report. That report is now a public document.

In order to draw from the evaluation process and maximise the benefits of the relationship between South Africa and the United Nations system, and align these benefits with our national agenda, we have initiated a Government-wide consultative process to discuss the findings and recommendations contained in the joint evaluation report. We will be engaging all national Government Departments, as well as the Offices of the Premiers of all nine Provinces, in our assessment of the implications of the recommendations made by the joint evaluation team. The consolidated Government positions that will come out of this process will form the basis of our discussions with the United Nations system on implementation. We intend to work together to ensure that we do not miss opportunities for closer collaboration and mutual benefit.

For South Africa, the joint evaluation represents a significant step in engaging with the United Nations system in a policy dialogue to help strengthen multilateralism and enhance the role and contribution of the United Nations to support South African policies and strategies.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

On 23 September 2009, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly in his report entitled “Now Is Our Time”. He said:

“If we are to offer genuine hope to the hopeless, if we are to truly turn the corner to economic recovery, then we must do so for all nations and for all people. So much is possible if we work together. Together, we are here to take risks, to assume the burden of responsibility, to rise to an exceptional moment, to make history. This year, of all years, asks no less. Because we are the United Nations. We are the best hope for humankind. And now is our time.”

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

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to invite you to join me in raising your glasses to pay special tribute to the work and achievements of the United Nations.

Thank you.


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