A general view of a United Nations Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York. File picture: Li Muzi: Xinhua
Johannesburg - For the third time in a decade, South Africa is set to be voted onto the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member tomorrow. South Africa is the only African country standing, and its candidature to represent the East and Southern African group was already endorsed by Southern Africa last year and the African Union in January.

While the vote on Friday is by secret ballot, South Africa is considered to “have it in the bag,” and is predicted to get well over the two-thirds required to secure a seat.

The vote is largely considered a popularity contest on how nations are perceived in terms of their ability to contribute to international peace and security.

“It is significant that South Africa is going to be voted onto the UN Security Council for the next two years as it is the only organ whose decisions are binding and which can authorise the use of force to maintain international peace and security,” Dr Sithembile Mbete of the University of Pretoria told Independent Media. 

“Given the beating our international reputation has taken over the past few years, particularly our the endorsing of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which led to the attack on Libya, this is an opportune time to rehabilitate our international reputation and reassert our leadership,” Mbete says.

Mohamed Dangoor who was the South African Ambassador to Libya at the time had advised against voting in favour of Resolution 1973. “South Africa was influenced by the general feeling that an attack on Benghazi was going to take place, which was based on misrepresentations provided by the US,” Dangoor told Independent Media yesterday. The lesson to be learnt for South Africa is that future decisions such as this should be based on evidence provided from South African diplomats on the ground, not on western and other media narratives, or advocacy from lobby groups.  

“South Africa’s third entry into the UNSC is a positive move in light of the major setbacks under former President Jacob Zuma. South Africa should use this golden opportunity to revive the African agenda, ensuring focus on forgotten conflicts in the DRC, Burundi, and Central Africa, as well as the never-ending Palestinian question,” Dr David Monyae, Co-Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Johannesburg has said.

South Africa used its seat on the UNSC in 2007/8 and in 2011/12 to elevate the African agenda on peace and security, and for 2019/20 the vision is to prioritise diplomacy, mediation, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

“We need to reclaim our role in conflict resolution on the continent,” Mbete says, “In terms of the deteriorating security and human rights situation in Burundi, South Africa needs to exert pressure in our bilateral relationship, and on the UNSC we must support efforts to mediate in Burundi.”

South Africa will re-enter the Security Council at a time of heightened divisions between the five permanent Council members, not only in terms of the west versus the east but even among the western members themselves. US foreign policy under President Donald Trump which has centred on unilateralism has not gone down well with its European partners, particularly on the issue of Iran.

The UNSC has endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, and sanctions against Iran have been lifted despite the withdrawal of the US from the agreement. This is an issue which will continue to raise tensions on the Council. South Africa will have an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the debate in support of Iran and other pressing global security issues of international importance such as the need for the peaceful settlement of the situation in Palestine, Syria, and on the Korean peninsula. 

There are five vacancies to fill on the UNSC, and while Africa has put forward South Africa, Latin America has put forward the Dominican Republic, Europe has put forward Belgium and Germany, and in the case of Asia, there is a choice between Indonesia and the Maldives.