Keynote address by Deputy Minister Ebrahim I Ebrahim on the occasion of the joint commemoration of UN Day and the legacy of OR TAMBO: Department of International Relations and Cooperation, 28 October 2011

The Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in South Africa, Dr Agostinho Zacarias;
The CEO of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, Mr. Mavuso Msimang;
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Heads of International Organisations in South Africa;
Ladies and Gentlemen

Today we pause to reflect on and celebrate two remarkable legacies: We commemorate UN Day, in recognition of the work achievements of the UN system. UN Day is traditionally celebrated internationally every year on 24 October. UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter and is an opportunity to reflect on the importance and the achievements of the UN and its continued relevance for us all. The global mission that was bestowed upon the UN by its Charter remains a crucial one if we are to deal successfully with the many challenges facing humankind today. Today, we also pay tribute to the legacy of a remarkable man, Oliver Reginald Tambo, who was born on 27 October 1917, in Nkantolo, Mbizana. Yesterday would have been OR Tambo’s 94th birthday. It is therefore fitting that we remember the legacy of a man who had such an influence over, and helped shape, the history of our beloved South Africa. His was a life that was lived in the service of humanity.

For South Africa, UN Day has special meaning. When the achievements of the UN are tallied up, the defeat of apartheid will be among the major achievements of the Organisation. South Africa’s historic transition to democracy was due in large part to the collective efforts of Member States working with the UN.
In 1962, the United Nations Special Committee on Apartheid was set up by the General Assembly under resolution 1761 (XVll). The committee was entrusted with the responsibilities to monitor and promote a comprehensive programme of action against apartheid in South Africa. OR Tambo addressed the Special Political Committee of the General Assembly in New York on 8 October 1963, which also happened to be the beginning of the Rivonia trial in South Africa.  In his address he said:


The readiness with which my request was granted by your Committee, Mr. Chairman, confirms and is consistent with the declared desire of the nations and peoples of the world to see the end of apartheid and white domination, and the emergence of a South Africa loyal to the United Nations and to the high principles set forth in the Charter - a South Africa governed by its people as fellow citizens of equal worth whatever the colour, race or creed of any one of them. This kind of South Africa is the precise goal of our political struggle.


These words still resonate with us today and it is an appropriate tribute to the memory of OR Tambo that we are now able to celebrate UN Day in this wonderful Building of which we at DIRCO are proud, once again, a Building which also bears his name. I would like to take this opportunity to extend the sincere thanks of the Government and peoples of South Africa to the UN and its Member States for the invaluable contribution they made in bringing democracy to our country.  South Africa’s victory belongs as much to us as it does to the nations of the world. Together, we have a special responsibility to carry forward the vision and the mandate of the UN, for future generations.

For South Africa, a strong and effective UN remains central to our vision of securing a better quality of life for all. Our understanding of South Africa’s national interest embodies a people-centred approach that places a legitimate, credible and cohesive developmental State driving our overarching objective of seeking for the people of this continent and of the world which we seek for our own citizens, in constructing a better South Africa, Africa and a better world for all. A strong and an effective UN is central to our vision – a UN that is able to adapt and provide a framework for collective responses by the international community, based on the values that underpin an equitable, democratic and just international order.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

On the 8th of January 2012, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will be a hundred years old.  This is a big achievement for our country as very few political movements live long enough to celebrate a centenary.  This is something that, I believe, all of us, across all political spectrums in our country, should celebrate.  We should, therefore, use this celebration to show the world that it is possible to build peace and a new nation when we work together with our differences aside.

Some of you may be aware that the President and our Minister see the centenary of the ANC as something that belongs to all South Africans, irrespective of political affiliation - the ANC has been part of our collective history as a nation. The endorsement of the centenary celebrations by both the African Union and the SADC, is a clear indication that the ANC belongs to the whole continent – it is part of our rich heritage of struggle against colonialism.  It is part of the family of Pan-African liberation movements.

At its Sixteenth Ordinary Session held on 30-31 January 2011, Addis Ababa, the African Union Assembly took note of the proposal made by the Republic of South Africa on the 100th Centenary celebrations of the African National Congress (ANC), and the party on the achievement of this historic milestone since its formation in 1912. The Assembly used this opportunity to endorse the proposal for the ownership and celebration by the African Union of all African liberation movements and the recognition of their achievements and paid homage to Africa’s founding fathers for their role and the sacrifices they made in their dedication to the mission of uniting the African people in the struggle against colonialism, imperialism and apartheid.

As for the United Nations, it is an organisation that has always rallied behind South Africans for their right to self determination - this is an aspect that has been recognised in UN charter. The United Nation’s fight for social justice and human rights, and against all forms of discrimination is what the ANC has fought against for many years. Apartheid constituted a threat to global peace and security, especially through destabilisation of frontline states.

Programme Director;

Many of you who have been following the work of the UN will know that the fight against apartheid was for decades on its agenda. A peaceful democratic transition has also been on the UN agenda for many years. Accordingly, the Centenary Celebrations should also been seen as the ANC contributions to the achievements of the UN in support of the struggle for liberation.

In response to the contributions of the UN to our liberation struggle, and the Assembly’s call for the observance of these celebrations, DIRCO deems it fit to make a meaningful contribution in order to add impetus to this celebration. 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, South Africa is strongly committed to multilateralism. 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. South Africa considers itself to be a partner with other countries on this continent and the world in the drive to strengthen the UN and strengthen its capacity to respond to the challenges facing humankind today. The UN is our premier International Organization, dedicated to the service of all of the people of this world, especially wherever the needs are the greatest.

Thanks to the legacy of OR Tambo and others, South Africa has the experience of having emerged from conflict to become a peaceful and stable democracy. We always stand ready to share that experience and work for peace in the continent of Africa and the rest of the world. The challenges facing humanity cannot be solved unilaterally. In this regard, a strong and effective UN must remain relevant in a changing global context and be able to respond appropriately and effectively to new challenges facing us all. Perhaps nowhere in the UN system is this more important than in the Security Council. In his address at Pretoria University on 13 October 2011, President Zuma said:


One of our major accomplishments which enable us to participate more in peacemaking, is the re-election of South Africa to a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for the 2011-12 term.  We believe we are playing a constructive role, pursuing the interests of our country and the continent.

Our pressing priority currently is the reform of international institutions, including the United Nations Security Council. Africa and Latin America are not represented as permanent members on the Council. This is a serious anomaly which reflects negatively on the UN system.

As South Africa, we believe we can play a critical role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, advancing the interests of the continent. The time has come for Africa to be represented at that level in this world body.


Most of the interventions of the UN Country Team in South Africa are in the areas of high-end technical support and provision of policy advisory services and the focus is on contributing to Government’s 12 National Outcomes, as defined in the Medium-Term Strategic Framework.  In this regard, the UN Country Team is making a difference in improving lives and helping South Africa to achieve our development inspirations, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Indeed, the UN Country Team has been doing much to ensure that the MDGs are owned by ordinary citizens in our country and to address those areas where we have seen worrying trends, for example the indicators for MDG 4 (Reduction of Infant Mortality) and MDG5 (Improving Maternal Health), respectively. The UN Country Team is active in a wide range of areas, ranging from combating HIV/AIDS, to the promotion of employment and decent work, promoting energy efficiency and working to empower women and mainstream gender issues, to name but a few. Many components of the UN Country Team, working with other components of the UN system, also have a regional mandate and are actively working in other countries in the region to assist in the achievement of their own development objectives, through operational activities in these - and many other - areas.

Ladies and Gentlemen, today we pay special tribute to the work and achievements of the UN. On behalf of the South African Government, my sincere congratulations to the UN Country Team – thank you for your commitment and your ongoing contribution to South Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen, today we pay tribute to Oliver Tambo, a father, a comrade, a leader, a servant of humanity and an internationalist. His ideas live forth in our Constitution, in the democratic and cooperative values of the African National Congress and in its vision for a just, inclusive and equitable society.  Oliver Tambo was one of the most highly respected leaders on the African continent and his achievements have been honoured worldwide. He addressed the UN many times, convinced that the Organization had a critical role to play in bringing democracy to South Africa.

To the family and to the representatives of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, we remember with you one of South Africa’s premier diplomats, in whose footsteps we at DIRCO are proud to follow. Oliver Tambo helped to shape the South Africa of our dreams.  Together, we will build on this legacy, through the UN, to help shape the world of our dreams.

I thank you.
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