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International relations minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: SAMISSIONNY VIA TWITTER
International relations minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: SAMISSIONNY VIA TWITTER

All those who are suffering through war should be given equal attention when world leaders gather to address global problems, says international relations minister Naledi Pandor.

In her scripted speech to the UN general assembly late on Wednesday night, Pandor only once referred to the “war in Eastern Europe”, together with the Covid-19 pandemic, as factors that “shape our attitudes today”.

She said in the light of the two events, “for SA the real inflection point will be the world attending fully to the needs of the marginalised and forgotten”.

In an interview after her address, Pandor told TimesLIVE: “I always hold the view that when we are on the international stage, it is important SA ensures Africa is not forgotten”.

There are several conflicts on the African continent where lives are being lost, she said, including the conflict in the Sahel region and in northern Mozambique and the “deep, deep crisis” in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“These are all matters that concern us. It was primarily, I think, leaders of the West who referred to Ukraine and Russia, while the many African leaders who spoke made reference to the terrible conflict on the African continent,” she said.

In her speech, Pandor made specific reference to the conflict in Palestine, saying: “While we work to address contemporary conflicts, we should not ignore long-standing ones such as Palestine that has been on the UN agenda throughout the seven decades of the existence of this organisation.”

She also mentioned the “decades-long struggle for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”.

“We must treat all conflicts across the globe with equal indignation, no matter what the colour or creed of the people affected.”

In SA’s perennial call for the reform of the UN, where the five nations on the UN security council “wield disproportionate decision-making power”, Pandor again made a sideways reference to Israel when she said the UN could not be credible “if persistent transgressors of the charter are not held accountable”.

Russia also transgressed the UN charter in February by invading Ukraine and has faced sanctions as a consequence.

The session also saw the virtual participation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after a special resolution was passed to enable the virtual presence of a president. He called for a special tribunal to tend to Russian war crimes.

SA abstained from voting for the resolution. International relations director-general Zane Dangor said though SA had no objection to Zelensky delivering a virtual address, “the nature of the debate” on the resolution “led to further polarisation of the international community at a time when we should be working together to end conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere”.

Another conflict in Africa under the spotlight this week is the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has been running for almost two years.

The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer told journalists on the sidelines of the UN general assembly that the US had traced the movement of Eritrean troops across the Ethiopian border in recent weeks.

“They are extremely concerning and we condemn it,” he said, adding that Ethiopia’s territorial integrity should be respected.

Pandor stood in for President Cyril Ramaphosa at the UN general assembly after he decided to return to SA to address the worsening power cuts, which were ramped up to stage 6 after his departure for a working visit to Washington DC last week.

Pandor said the SA delegation was able to fulfil all its duties in Ramaphosa’s absence from the first in-person UN general assembly since 2019.

“We were able to have representation in all high-level meetings the president would have attended,” she said.

Ministers travelled to New York to support Ramaphosa in the sectoral high-level meetings, Pandor said, so the appropriate ministers were there to represent SA’s views on each subject.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga, health minister Joe Phaahla and minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele constituted the delegation, together with Pandor.

Gungubele attended meetings on security, countering terrorism and assessing progress with respect to the UN’s sustainable development goals.


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