A massive drive to recruit South Africans to serve in key positions at the UN is under way to ensure that Africa remains on the world body's peacekeeping agenda.

The drive was announced by Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota in Bloemfontein on Tuesday when he welcomed home a battalion of South African infantry soldiers from peacekeeping duties in Burundi.

The nearly 600 troops, who are members of 5SA Infantry Battalion based in Ladysmith, worked under the auspices of the UN before the peacekeeping mission was handed over to the African Union.

The troops were deployed to Burundi last year. A small contingent of troops is still in Burundi to oversee the return of the former combatants after rebel forces agreed to cease hostilities.

Lekota took the salute before watching a flypast of four Augusta helicopters and an Oryx helicopter decked out in UN peacekeeping markings. The parade was the first full military parade held to welcome back SA troops deployed overseas on peacekeeping missions.

Lekota said that South Africa's role in peacekeeping missions on the continent was vital to peace in Africa. "It is through your work and the work of others before you that peaceful elections were held in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and the Comoros, and that the final ceasefire came about in Burundi on Monday."

The importance of the defence force's contributions politically, socially and economically in Burundi should not be underestimated, he said. "In this the SANDF's role was the single most crucial factor in ensuring that a looming disaster was reversed," he said. Burundi has proved that Africa should be the leader in solving African problems.

The contributions that the South African troops had made to peace in Africa had to be continued through staffing the UN's various departments with South Africans.

Lekota said because South Africa had a non-permanent seat on the UN's security council there had to be enough South Africans working at the world body to ensure that Africa was not forgotten.

"South Africa has little representation in the world body's various forums, including the peacekeeping section. Because South Africa has a profound understanding of Africa and because of our large contribution to the UN it is important that we participate in the planning of operations, especially peacekeeping operations in Africa."

They were embarking on a massive recruitment drive to attract South Africans to the UN and its structures so that Africa's problems, "which only Africans have a real understanding of", continue to be on the world body's agenda.

Acting SANDF chief Lieutenant-General Rinus Janse van Rensburg said they were looking for South Africans from all walks of life to join the country's first military attaché Colonel Bassie Blamek, who is the defence adviser of the SA ambassador to the UN. They would be recruiting soldiers, Foreign Affairs staff as well as members of the public to join.