South Africa this past Tuesday was one of five countries elected to the United Nations Security Council for two-year terms, beginning Jan. 1, 2011.
South Africa has won a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) after intense diplomatic canvassing.The country got 182 votes in the 192-member UN General Assembly, which met on Tuesday 12 October. The 182 votes are four votes less than what South Africa got in the 2007/2008 period.
“If elected to the UNSC, South Africa will be guided by its commitment to multilateralism, advancement of the African agenda and the peaceful resolution of conflicts,” said the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
The UN General Assembly also elected Germany, India, and Colombia to two-year seats on the council, while Canada and Portugal went to a second round of voting.
Each non-permanent country stays on the council for two years, alongside the permanent powers; Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, who have the right to veto any council resolution.
South Africa surprised many in its first tenure, and outraged some, after it joined Russia and China in allowing the Security Council to consider a relatively mild resolution on human rights issues in Myanmar, whose government is widely seen as one of the most repressive.
In an interview with the SABC, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane acknowledged that they should have communicated better during that experience. She says the country has now gained international experience.
South Africa has been canvassing for votes for the UNSC seat; with countries in the African Union, India, United States, Russia and China, supporting it following recent visits by President Jacob Zuma to these countries to promote trade and diplomatic relations.
The elected members take their spots on 1 January 2011 and will serve for two years.
The question that is commonly being asked is whether South Africa will take and have a meaningful role despite past positions and actions.
The first time it served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, in 2007-08, South Africa did much to squander its reputation as a beacon of human rights. It repeatedly sided with Russia and China, both former backers of the now ruling African National Congress (ANC) in its struggle against apartheid, to block Western-backed resolutions condemning miscreants such as Myanmar, Iran and Zimbabwe. After its election this week to a second two-year term on the Security Council, South Africa has a chance, under a new president, to do better. But will it?
When Jacob Zuma came to power 17 months ago, he was widely expected to concentrate more on domestic matters than his philosophising, globe-trotting predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. Foreign policy barely featured in Mr Zuma’s election campaign. Yet if anything Mr Zuma has been even more active than Mr Mbeki on the foreign front, chalking up two dozen trips abroad in the past 12 months, including visits to all the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the giants of the emerging world, as well as to Britain, France, the United States and a slew of African countries.
Mr Zuma says his foreign-policy priorities are the same as those of previous ANC governments: to boost African solidarity and unity; to strengthen ties between countries in the southern hemisphere; to keep good relations with strategic trading partners in the West; to reform the UN and Bretton Woods institutions to give the poor world a stronger voice; and to promote democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Mr Zuma sounds a bit less ideological and a bit keener to boost South Africa’s trade and commerce. He invariably has an entourage of businessmen; 370 went on his trip in August to China, South Africa’s biggest trading partner.
But has Mr Zuma honoured Nelson Mandela’s pledge that “human rights will be the light that guides our foreign affairs”, any more than Mr Mbeki did? Civil-liberties groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch were encouraged at first by Mr Zuma’s apparently tougher stance on Zimbabwe. He protested against Myanmar’s detention last year of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. He condemned the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of the Tamil Tiger rebels. He criticised Israel’s attack on a Turkish ship bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza. And he warned Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes and genocide by the International Criminal Court (ICC), that South Africa, as a member of the court, would arrest him if he set foot on South African soil.
Even so, a deeper change of heart has yet to be seen. On Zimbabwe, Mr Zuma has been barely more robust than Mr Mbeki. Almost a year ago the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 15-member regional club, appointed Mr Zuma to replace Mr Mbeki as official “facilitator” in power-sharing between Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, and its prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads the former opposition; and he was supposed to have persuaded the pair to settle their differences by December 2009. Since then, deadlines have come and gone amid little progress. Mr Tsvangirai’s people continue to be beaten up and jailed, white-owned farms seized, journalists arrested and senior officials unilaterally appointed by Mr Mugabe in violation of the constitution, with neither Mr Zuma nor the SADC uttering a word. Western diplomats say that he is beavering away behind the scenes, but the results have been thin.
On Sudan, Mr Zuma’s refusal to receive Mr Bashir may at first blush seem a laudable move to bolster international justice. But Mr Zuma has made clear that he roundly disapproves of the ICC’s prosecution of Sudan’s president—or any other African leader suspected of atrocities. The imperative of peace should precede notions of justice, he argues. On the Security Council, South Africa is likely to pursue the African Union’s avowed aim to get the UN to suspend Mr Bashir’s indictment.
Indeed, Mr Zuma seems as happy to hobnob with dictators as Mr Mbeki was. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Swaziland’s King Mswati III and Mr Mugabe all merrily attended his inauguration. On his trips abroad Mr Zuma has never brought up human rights, at least not in public. He has been characteristically silent over the Nobel peace prize just awarded to a Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.
At home and abroad Mr Zuma is a supreme pragmatist, anxious to please everyone and offend no one. Though less viscerally anti-Western than Mr Mbeki, he sees power flowing to the east and south and hopes to catch the wave. Hence his wooing of the BRICs. Mr Zuma wants that elite club to include his own country, as Africa’s indisputable heavyweight, despite its smaller population and land mass and its slower-growing economy. Back from China, both sides aglow with friendship, he said he expected the group to reach a “favourable decision” soon. As a new member of the Security Council, where all four BRICs will now have a seat, South Africa will bend over backwards to please its potential new partners.
Jacob Zuma can only do what the ANC deems fit. The organization does not allow for individuals to hold views or pursue agendas other than those set by the organization throughout its “structures” or “councils”.
Thabo Mbeki attempted to step out of this realm and he lost his place in the party for it.
The National General Council showed us that populism is an endemic characteristic of the ANC and with its continued presence we will continue to have a ‘leader less’ nation.
Jacob Zuma cannot be tough on Zimbabwe even if he wanted to be. The country supported the ANC during the struggle and there is simply no way that they will go back on this and now turn around, as the legitimate government that was once “illegitimate”, and tell the Zimbabwean government that it is “illegitimate”.
If South Africa wants more respect around the world, especially by fellow democracies, it needs to start leading on major issues in Africa and acting in a competent manner, rather than constantly resorting to a colonial mindset by playing victim. Those that don’t lead, follow. If South Africa wants to lead, it must lead.