Statement by Dr Naledi Pandor on the occasion of the General Debate of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations, New York, 28 September 2019
South Africa wishes to congratulate you, and we are pleased to have a leader from our sister country, Nigeria, presiding over the Assembly for its 74th Session. I assure you of South Africa’s full support in the implementation of your priorities and responsibilities during this term.
We welcome the theme that you have chosen. It is indeed timely and relevant, especially given the complex challenges facing the world today.
Far too many of the world’s population remain poor jobless and hopeless we need to intensify the efforts directed at fundamentally changing their lives.
This debate holds special significance for South Africa as it coincides with the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s freedom and democracy. Our anniversary is due in large measure to the solidarity we enjoyed from most UN member states and it is because of this history that South Africa is also vested in the ideal of a robust and coherent UN as it is this organization that has the ability to ensure that all who yearn for freedom achieve it. We know from our experience and history that it will only be through the determined efforts of the UN family that freedom for the people of Palestine can be achieved and only through the UN that the people of Saharawi can enjoy freedom.
As early as 1946, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, the issue of Apartheid South Africa’s discriminatory policies was included as an agenda item in the first session of the UN General Assembly. It was therefore with no great surprise that a democratic South Africa eagerly pursued its new international role, and enthusiastically took 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 pacific 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. We strongly believe that a purposive system of multilateralism is necessary to deal with the global challenges we face. We are all inter-dependent in an ever globalising world, and can ill afford the pursuit of narrow self-interests.
Today South Africa is able to partner with the UN in addressing the injustice and imbalances that are a legacy of our past. As government and civil society in SA we respect and act on the decisions of the UN. This includes actions in response to the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which are a transformative global development agenda. South Africa’s National Development Plan is the policy we have adopted to execute our commitment to achieve the SDGs. Our plan complements our efforts to support peace development and security on our continent and the aspirations of our African Union’s Agenda 2063.
We believe that in order to achieve these goals, all member states should establish partnerships, primarily with the private sector and civil society organizations, to ensure a joint commitment aimed at realizing a world free of poverty and underdevelopment.
One of the biggest obstacles to building a world free from poverty and inequality is intolerance. This includes intolerance of other nations, intolerance of our fellow human beings as well as inadequate care for the natural environment that’s sustains us all.
Intolerance is exhibited most gruesomely by the evidence of gender based violence and exclusion of women from many sectors in society. South Africa is taking urgent steps to address the scar of gender bed violence. All of us need to act urgently to ensure that we all enjoy full access to human rights and bodily security. We also face an existential threat due to our intolerance, disrespect and veritable violence we inflict on the planet which we all depend on.
This organisation, however, is a manifestation of the rejection of intolerance. It was created in the aftermath of a devastating world war as a global forum where nations of the world can address differences and work together for the common good of all people. Our annual gathering here in this assembly hall should provide us an opportunity to recommit to these values.
I firmly believe that we are all here because we are committed to the ideal of multilateral solutions to the world’s problems, which draws on strength through diversity - diversity of perspective born from differences in upbringing and culture. By being here, we recognise that we need each other and we need to work together.
We must thus use this opportunity to rally against intolerance of any kind so that nations can live in peace and respect each other irrespective of nationality, religion, ethnic or social origin, gender or any other status. Through our differences we should find strength and not division.
Our country South Africa has not been immune from evidence of intolerance and division in some parts of our nation, the incidents of violence and looting that erupted in parts of our provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were regrettable and shameful for a nation with such a proud history of struggle and international solidarity support. The Government of South Africa strongly condemned these tragic actions and is working hard at ensuring we address the security lapses and intolerance that led to this violence. We are working tirelessly to tackle crime and lawlessness and to ensure that the arrested criminals face the full might of the law. We are also committed to addressing the inadequacy of our immigration administration in order to curb illegal migration and to make sure everyone who comes to South Africa is documented and safe. We plan to work with all countries of the continent to ensure that we implement our development strategies and use them to create increased economic opportunities for all our people so that we diminish feelings of resentment and antipathy. Working with civil society we will build bridges that allow all who live in South Africa to reach out to each other to build bonds of friendship and Pan Africanism.
I am pleased that I can honestly confirm to this important global body that South Africa has an unwavering commitment to our continent Africa. We have made dedicated efforts to contribute positively in support of peace and development and we will continue these activities even as we work to address the inadequacies I have referred to. Our country, South Africa, has enjoyed democracy for twenty-five years, and in that time the leaders and the people of South Africa have consistently acknowledged the immeasurable contribution the people of Africa rendered in support of the struggle against apartheid. Our neighbouring states in particular and the rest of the countries in Africa made great sacrifices in support of the liberation movements and the oppressed citizens of South Africa.
We wish to reiterate that South Africa does not condone any forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances. In fact, South Africa has embraced millions of migrants and refugees from all over the continent of Africa, and the majority of our people have warmly embraced their brothers and sisters from Africa. We are determined to ensure it becomes a national embrace and not one limited to some communities.
It is an honour for us to address the General Assembly in the first year of the Nelson Mandela Decade for Peace, which this Assembly last year agreed to would be from 2019 to 2028. This is a decade in which we have been called upon to intensify our efforts to pursue international peace and security, development and human rights. South Africa thus commits to use the Nelson Mandela Decade for Peace to promote the strengthening of multilateralism and diplomacy as effective tools for addressing the challenges facing the world today.
We cannot decisively deal with the threats of poverty, unless we transform the current structure of the global economy, which continues to perpetuate divisions between the global North and global South. Whilst a few enjoy the benefits of globalisation, the majority of the people of the world have not reaped its benefits. It is necessary for us all to work together and spare no effort in addressing the challenges brought by the impact of globalisation and by the untransformed structure of global economy.
The issues of global peace and security continue to be one of our foremost priorities within the United Nations. In that regard, we welcome the United Nation’s efforts to address the plethora of challenges to peace and security that continue to be a major obstacle to the development and prosperity of our Continent.
South Africa is currently serving as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council. The theme for our term is “Continuing the Legacy: Working for a Just and Peaceful World”. This is the embodiment of the legacy of Nelson Mandela and furthers the objective of silencing the guns on the African Continent by 2020. South Africa is using its tenure on the Security Council to promote the maintenance of international peace and security by advocating for the peaceful settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue. We continue to encourage closer cooperation between the Security Council and other regional and sub-regional organisations, particularly the African Union.
We further emphasise the role of women in the resolution of conflict. In this regard, South Africa argues for a gender perspective to be mainstreamed into all Security Council resolutions in line with Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security, which was adopted at the initiative of our neighbour Namibia. Despite the commitments in Resolution 1325, women remain excluded within peace processes, including in the drafting of peace agreements, and their involvement in United Nations peacekeeping is limited. In addition, the contribution of women and girls to peacebuilding processes remains undervalued and under-resourced. Women and girls also continue to be severely affected by conflict situations, especially with regard to sexual abuse and violence.
In October, we will preside over the Security Council’s debate on this subject. The emphasis of the debate should be to ensure implementation of the commitments we have made to fully implement the Women Peace and Security agenda.
As we have consistently stated, South Africa is supportive of the UN and a rules based multi-lateral system. However, the UN remains hamstrung by the fact that the organisation remains undemocratic and anachronistic. We remain gravely concerned that 74 years after the founding of the UN, key decisions on peace and security are de-facto the domain of only five countries. Twenty years of discussions on reform of the Security Council have yielded no movement towards a more representative and inclusive Security Council. We believe that the time has come for the broader membership to heed the overwhelming call for Africa to obtain at least two permanent seats, with all the prerogatives of permanent membership, as well as five non-permanent seats, as embodied in the Common African Position as espoused in the Ezulwini Consensus on the comprehensive reform of the Council. In this regard, we must invigorate the negotiations on reform at the Intergovernmental Negotiations, including by initiating text-based negotiations.
Furthermore, we believe that the ongoing work being undertaken on the revitalisation of the UN General Assembly is key to strengthening its role and authority as the most representative and democratic political organ of the UN, while ensuring its effectiveness.
Africa has reached an important milestone with the adoption and launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA). The agreement entered into force on 30 May 2019, and we are confident that it will unleash Africa’s economic potential and consolidate its position as a new frontier of economic growth and development. As a flagship programme of the AU’s Agenda 2063, the trade opportunities brought by this Agreement will contribute to peace, stability development and prosperity on the Continent.
We are ready to engage as the African Continent on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The African Union Commission is currently developing a comprehensive Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa that will provide a common, coordinated response to realise the digitisation of the continent. This will lay the basis for the development of infrastructure and the institutions we need to maximise our opportunities. It will also unleash the African spirit of enterprise and creativity and will generate more home-grown digital solutions and content.
We wish to stress that Africa’s development goals cannot be achieved without addressing the issue of illicit financial flows. This poses a serious challenge to the development trajectory and economic stability of the continent, as it has a debilitating effect on our efforts of domestic resource mobilisation. We propose, that we work together as the international community to establish an inter-governmental framework that will have a universal political mandate, which will, inter alia, serve as a basis to address these illicit flows, including speeding up the return of assets.
Together with all the nations of the world, we are confronted by the most devastating changes in global climate in human history.
We recognise that those living under conditions of poverty and vulnerability will be hardest hit by drought, floods and extreme temperatures. These people will also have the least capacity to adapt to climate change. As part of our commitment to the ratification of the 2015 Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change we have championed the low carbon transition to tackle poverty, unemployment and to increase economic efficiencies across the value-chain.
Our natural assets are under unprecedented threat from climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of our biodiversity. We require a coordinated and integrated response to climate change for the effective management of the inevitable impact of climate change. We must all make a fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations so that economic and social development can proceed in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Building strategic cooperative global partnerships, in view of current challenges, will assist our countries, regions and the world in making advancements in the mobilisation of both human and financial resources. Developing countries have fully embraced the primary responsibility for their development - but this does not absolve developed countries from their responsibility to complement these efforts.
Developed countries must continue to honour their historic obligations and responsibilities, as part of the commitments made in the context of the global partnership for development. We urge the developed countries to deliver on their official development assistance (ODA) commitments of 0.7 per cent of their gross national income. The means of implementation is fundamental to the success of countries meeting their developmental needs, and achieving the SDGs, yet it is the one area that has received neither the appropriate attention, nor the requisite priority.
The international community is at a unique crossroads, where the shifting international order has the ability to shape international peace and security for decades to come. It is thus a great disappointment that we witnessed the demise of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in August. Furthermore, in the prevailing international climate, successes in the field of disarmament – particularly nuclear disarmament - are few and far between. The threats posed by these weapons are too great for the international community to ignore. We believe that only the complete, transparent, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of such weapons and their means of delivery can prevent their use in an escalating conflict.
For over 70 years, the people of Palestine have lived under occupation. In the last year, this occupation has worsened with continued illegal settlement activity and further insecurity for the peoples of Palestine and Israel. As the international community, we must continue to urge for a negotiated settlement to this long-standing conflict.
Mr President, the United Nations must remain seized with this issue of Western Sahara, for the benefit of her people and African aspirations of an integrated continent living in peaceful co-existence.
We also reiterate our steadfast solidarity with the Government and People of Cuba and Zimbabwe while condemning the continuation of unilateral sanctions against these countries.
I wish to conclude by affirming that South Africa stands ready to work with all Member States to promote the United Nations and its objectives of promoting international peace and security, development and human rights so that all our people can live together in the larger freedom the founders sought.
I thank you.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION