Panel Discussion Remarks by HE Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, on the occasion of DIRCO-UN Webinar United Nations Day commemoration: “The importance of multilateralism in building back better for a post-COVID-19 world”, 30 October 2020

On 24 October, South Africa joined the international community in observing United Nations (UN) Day, which marks the anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Charter in 1945.

Countries sought to re-imagine a world where nations choose cooperation over conflict, and where friendly relations would lead to social progress and development, human rights and a better life for all. These noble ideals found expression in the initial actions of the UN.

The UN’s role in dismantling apartheid

 The UN’s fight against the system of Apartheid started as early as 1948. Member States such as India warned that "if the belief that there is to be one standard of treatment for the White races and another for the non-White continues to gain strength among the latter, the future for solidarity among the Members of the United Nations and, consequently, for world peace, will indeed be dark."

From 1950, the UN General Assembly adopted several resolutions against apartheid South Africa.

In 1963, the UN established a Special Committee against Apartheid, which played an important role in mobilising international solidarity against South Africa and its eventual suspension from the UN in 1974.

The story of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy illustrates humanity’s great capacity for justice, courage and hope, which are the values on which the UN was founded.

The UN continues to be a platform for other struggles against oppression, war and global injustice.

In this regard, we must strengthen our efforts to ensure complete global decolonisation including the achievement of the right to self-determination of the people of Palestine and Western Sahara.

South Africa’s role in the UN since 1994

Since 1994, South Africa has eagerly pursued its new international role, and taken up its responsibilities as an active member of the UN. We have sought to participate in all aspects of the UN, including by serving in its principal organs.

The principles that motivate our action derive from a firm belief in multilateralism – especially a global governance system that is fair, equitable and representative; the promotion of peace and security through global disarmament; the peaceful settlement of disputes and the promotion of good governance; the promotion of human rights; and the fight against poverty through the promotion of sustainable development.

Importance of multilateralism in building back better

The 75th anniversary comes at a crucial moment when multilateralism and the rules-based international order are challenged.

The UN remains the foundation of a multilateral system of governance that, despite some flaws, has ensured that countries are able to convene to discuss and promote of international peace and security, human rights and development.

The pandemic has proven that no country can be isolated and act alone to address these cross-cutting and cross-border challenges. The UN and its Member States should seek practical ways of building back better.

A UN that is responsive, adaptable and able to deal with contemporary challenges is required to fulfil its mandate guided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, which is the cornerstone of international law.

The UN should not succumb to the political interests of a few, it is only by drawing strength of the collective, through multilateral cooperation, that complex challenges can be resolved.

We should also work at ensuring digital inclusion as our digital inequality has been exposed by the resort to virtual communication over the last few months.

Our roadmap to recovery must include the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our roadmap for eradicating poverty and ensuring a better life for all of the world’s population and its implementation is a necessity for our survival.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls should also be at the centre of all our post-COVID recovery programmes. Women and girls must be full and equal participants in the workplace, in political life and decision-making, in the economy, in obtaining an education and in society as a whole.

Africa’s coordinated response to Coronavirus has been swift and effective, including establishing a COVID-19 Response Fund and launching a ground-breaking African Medical Supplies Platform to ensure all countries have access to the necessary equipment and supplies. Nonetheless, the pandemic will inevitably set back our developmental aspirations. As such, we wish to reiterate our call for the following, amongst others:

  • A comprehensive economic stimulus package for Africa;
  • Suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external and public debt; and
  • Lifting of all economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and Sudan to allow them to adequately respond to the pandemic and save lives.  

As chair of the African Union South Africa has also taken on the challenging goal of silencing the guns in Africa. The Charter makes provision for closer cooperation between the UN and regional organisations. We must continue our efforts at strengthening cooperation and coordination with regional arrangements such as the African Union, to ensure that our efforts are complimentary and mutually reinforcing.

Africa still has no permanent representation in the permanent category of the Security Council, and only three (3) non-permanent seats are allocated to Africa.

The current composition of the Security Council does not reflect the world in which we live.

The 75th anniversary of the United Nations presents us with a unique opportunity to embrace Africa’s recurrent call for long overdue reform of the Security Council. The Common African Position which is the ‘Ezulwini Consensus’ is clear on the demands of Africa with regard to Security Council reform, which amongst others call for a minimum of two seats in the permanent category to be given to Africa, and further calls for Africa to occupy five seats in the non-permanent category.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of this irreplaceable organisation, South Africa reaffirms its commitment to the ideals and spirit of the UN Charter in pursuit of a more just and equitable world, founded on multilateralism and international cooperation. The United Nations remains the most effective means to meet our collective goal and to broaden the frontiers of human endeavour.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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