SA President Cyril Ramaphosa with Minister in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Lindiwe Sisulu at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. PHOTO: DIRCO

JOHANNESBURG - President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged global leaders to forge a more representative, equal and fair United Nations in order to better grapple with poverty, joblessness and inequality.

Ramaphosa, who is attending the UN General Assembly for the first time, invoked the words of global icon Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and once told the annual summit that “The millions across our globe who stand expectant at the gates of hope look to this organisation to bring them peace, to bring them life, to bring them a life worth living".

Mandela, who would have turned 100 this year, died in 2013.

"As we mark the centenary of the birth of this great global leader, we are bound to ask whether the United Nations has met the needs and the expectations of the millions who stand at the gates of hope," Ramaphosa said in a speech delivered on Tuesday.

"We are bound to ask what contribution the United Nations has made to a more peaceful, more prosperous and more equal world. The UN must become what billions of people across the world want it to be – a representative and truly democratic global parliament of the people."

"It is within our hands, as the leaders assembled here today, to forge a more representative, equal and fair United Nations that is empowered and equipped to lead the struggle to end poverty, unemployment and inequality in the world," Ramaphosa added.

He noted that South Africa had, with the support of the UN, been able to end racially divisive apartheid rule in 1994, and had "embarked on a journey of transformation, and work is in progress to deal with the ugly legacy of apartheid".

He divided the country's renewed efforts to redistribute land as part of economic reforms to redress imbalances created by apartheid to the benefit of whites.

"Even as our country is going through difficult economic challenges we have made progress," Ramaphosa said. "We are reforming our economy and creating an environment that is conducive to investment, and have embarked on an investment drive to attract $100 billion dollars in the next five years."

He urged global leaders to put the interests of young people at the centre of their efforts, and to empower the youth and women to be more prominent in directing the course of world affairs.

"We are a young world, where more than half the global population is under the age of 30 years," Ramaphosa said.

"It is young people who are fighting the wars that we started. It is women who are bearing the brunt and hardships of the wars that continue to destroy their families and lives. As we speak, young lives are being lost and futures are being destroyed."

"Not only must we stop the death, destruction and human suffering that is visited daily on millions of people, but we must act with purpose to prevent the loss of another entire generation to its aftermath."

Ramaphosa also called for urgency to resolve some of the world’s most protracted and intractable disputes, singling out the Palestine/Israel conflict and the quest of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and full sovereignty.

Ramaphosa said the African continent, one of the world's poorest, continued to pursue its African Union Agenda 2063 to eradicate underdevelopment, poverty and conflict and to improve democratic governance, the rule of law and the promotion of human rights.

"We are working to silence the guns in Africa by 2020, to bring an end to conflicts that have cost the lives of millions of our people, displaced many more and stunted economic growth and human development," he said.

"With effective investment in education, improved healthcare, good governance, and greater economic integration, Africa has the potential to develop its productive capacity on a scale and at a rate that will lift tens of millions out of poverty."

- African News Agency (ANA)