Zuma urges UN reform on Palestinian problem
President Jacob Zuma, addressing the UN General Assembly at the opening of its 71st session in New York, touched on key tenets of South Africa’s foreign policy, including the need for UN reform to give Africa a stronger voice.
In his address, on September 20, he reiterated two causes that South Africa has long championed, namely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the political deadlock in Western Sahara (occupied by Morocco since the late 1970s).
Zuma echoed the Palestinian narrative in how he characterised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “The lack of progress in finding a durable solution to the Palestinian question and the Sahrawi Arab Republic’s struggle for self-determination remain a major concern for us. It is important that the UN should carry out its historic mission in ensuring that the two longest outstanding decolonisation and occupation issues are resolved once and for all.”
The South Africa delegation included eight ministers and a deputy minister. Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane met Israel’s Director-General of Foreign Affairs Dore Gold in New York, perhaps indicating improving relations between the two states, against the backdrop of recent Israeli efforts to strengthen political and economic ties with African countries.
Zuma began his UN address by recognising the anniversaries of the Women’s March to the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest the “dompas”, and the 1976 Soweto Uprising, as important milestones on South Africa’s journey to democracy.
He also stressed the importance of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, saying: “We committed ourselves to an ambitious and transformative global development programme that seeks to address the triple challenge of this century, which is poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
The SDGs must be prioritised for Africa’s development to overcome constraints including “inadequate infrastructure, the high dependency on primary products, high exposure to commodity price volatility, limited investment in research and development, science, innovation and technology, low private sector investment as well as the need to continue improving skills,” Zuma said.
He urged action to curb illicit financial flows from Africa, estimated at $50bn annually, which undermine infrastructure and service provision efforts.
Zuma also took aim at the developed world, saying: “Inclusive growth will… remain a distant dream if powerful nations continue to put their national interests ahead of the global collective interest.”
The president pushed strongly for UN reform. “The deadlock in the Security Council on the Syrian question exposes the inherent structural dysfunction of the 1945 post-Second World War consensus,” he said, and questioned whether the UN could tackle 21st century challenges. The Security Council, he said, “is supposed to act in our collective interest without being bogged down by domestic narrow interests of few states”, and said Africa’s “one billion people cannot continue to be denied a voice” by not having permanent Security Council seats.
He called for more support for African peace operations to resolve the conflicts in the Central African Republic, Libya and South Sudan, and better co-ordination with the African Union’s efforts by the UN. He also spoke of terrorism as a transnational threat.
Zuma complemented outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on his tenure, and welcomed the greater involvement of the General Assembly in choosing his successor for the first time, reiterating South Africa’s call for a single non-renewable seven-year term for the Secretary General, to allow him or her to focus without worrying about re-election.
Zuma participated in several meetings, including on migration, water, and the five-year anniversary of the Open Governance Partnership which South Africa currently chairs, as well as the US-Africa Business Forum hosted by President Barack Obama.