South Africa takes its sit on the UN Security Council

South Africa has rejoined the United Nations Security Council. The country was elected as a non-permanent member in October last year and took up its seat on Saturday. It will hold the seat until December 31 next year.

"It is a significant honour for South Africa to be elected to serve on the security council for a second time, following its first term in 2007 and 2008," International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in a statement. She added South Africa was committed to contributing to the work of the council “in maintaining international peace and security, especially in Africa, and through this the betterment of the conditions and lives of all.”

To this end South Africa would forge close partnerships with the other members of the council. "South Africa will continue its efforts to promote and enhance the security council’s co-operation with regional organisations, particularly the African Union’s Peace and Security Council of which South Africa is currently a member.

"Closer cooperation between these two bodies will contribute to enhancing the convergence of perspectives and approaches in tackling and responding to peace and security challenges in Africa."

Nkoana-Mashabane said Security Council membership would also provide an opportunity for South Africa to work towards achieving a "representative, legitimate and more effective security council.

In its actions South Africa will be guided by the commitment to upholding international law and universal values and to helping others protect or achieve their inherent and inalienable rights."

South Africa was firmly committed to multilateralism and approached membership of the council from the premise that the UN remained the most appropriate forum for addressing contemporary challenges in maintaining international peace and security. "Building on the experience of our previous membership of this august body, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) has assembled a crack team of diplomats and officials, both at headquarters and in New York for this important internal task.

"DIRCO will endeavour to forge and maintain a close working relationship with all stakeholders, both domestic and external. We will also do our best to ensure that we keep our public informed," she said.

In a written answer to a Parliamentary question tabled last month, Nkoana-Mashabane told Congress of the People MP Smuts Ngonyama “South Africa’s international engagements are anchored on the five priorities of government, namely: job creation, education, health, crime prevention, rural development and land reform.” She added that DIRCO “seeks to ensure that these national priorities find expression in its work at regional, continental and international levels. In this connection, the country’s UN Security Council membership will be used to mutually reinforce what the country does abroad and what the country wants to achieve domestically.” Noteworthy is the addition that South Africa’s “foreign policy is committed, among others, to bringing peace, security and development to Africa.”

Greater clarity on the subject will emerge when a White Paper on South Africa’s Foreign Policy, approved by Cabinet in November for submission to Parliament enters the public domain. The announcement was made in a post-Cabinet meeting briefing on November 24 and added that the national executive had “agreed that the White Paper should reflect South Africa’s interests as they relate to South Africa’s role in the global geopolitics.”

South Africa’s voting record under President Thabo Mbeki and ambassador Dumisani Kumalo during its previous UNSC term earned the country the soubriquet “rogue democracy” in the Washington Post newspaper. Nkoana-Mashabane’s Democratic Alliance shadow, Kenneth Mubu said last October the South African government would “do well to follow a human-rights based approach in its voting patterns, as our last term on the council left a lot to be desired. This period saw the delegation appointed by the national government effectively reduce South Africa’s credibility, with our commitment to universal human rights being brought into question. South Africa’s past voting pattern did not paint a picture of a government that has one of the most liberal and progressive constitutional democracies in the world.”

Mubu reminded that in 2007 the South African government tried to stall debates on Myanmar’s poor human rights record. It also refused to place democratic reform in Zimbabwe on the Council’s agenda, holding on to its “discredited position of ‘quiet diplomacy’.’’ South Africa next supported Iran’s attempts to evade sanctions “over its widely criticized nuclear programme, which is shrouded in secrecy, by calling a 90 day ‘time-out’ on the issue of Iran’s Nuclear activity.”

The DA MP added that this pattern has continued. In early 2009, the South African representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Jerry Matjila, refused to support efforts at the UN to protect homosexuals against discrimination; and was quoted in the media as having argued that to protect gay people, ‘demeans the legitimate plight of the victims of racism’.”