H.E Dr. Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, at the DIRCO-UN webinar UN Day commemoration: “The importance of Multilateralism in Building Back Better for a Post-COVID-19

Annually, DIRCO and United Nations host joint events to mark UN Day, unfortunately this year, due to the #COVID19 we only held a virtual webinar.

30 October 2020 Welcome remarks by Honourable Minister Naledi Pandor – UN Resident Coordinator Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas; Prof Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Pretoria; Ms Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs; Members of the Diplomatic Corps and the United Nations Country Team in South Africa; Distinguished Guests: I wish to warmly welcome you all to this joint DIRCO-UN webinar themed: “The importance of multilateralism in building back better for a post-COVID-19 world.”

Today’s webinar marks the diamond anniversary of the day that the UN Charter entered into force on 24 October 1945. 

At the recent commemorative high-level event of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations held on 21 September 2020, a Political Declaration was adopted reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism. 

The Declaration aptly concludes with these words: “We will work together with partners to strengthen coordination and global governance for the common future of present and coming generations.”

As we wish the United Nations well into the future, let us also recommit ourselves to the ideals of the Charter.

Annually, DIRCO and the United Nations Office in Pretoria host joint events to mark United Nations Day. Unfortunately, this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we could not meet physically since large gatherings are still prohibited. Thus we opted to host a joint webinar to commemorate UN Day. 

When we gathered last year to celebrate the formation of the UN, none of us imagined that the world would be engulfed by a common enemy— the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than a million lives around the globe, deepened poverty, widened the inequality gap, increased insecurity and revealed cracks in the system of global governance. The pandemic has awfully reminded us of the indispensable value of multilateralism. We have seen that, as with other contemporary challenges, no country acting alone can successfully deal with the pandemic. While commendable multilateral cooperation between States has been witnessed, the pandemic has also raised the question of how the world should be organised in its aftermath. 

We trust that today’s panel discussion will help suggest practical ways to build back better for a post COVID-19 world. A post COVID-19 world should be free of conflict. It should also be a world free of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment, a world of inclusive economic growth and shared prosperity and it should be a world where young people are able to grow and thrive and where women have equal rights and opportunities. I am therefore hopeful that this webinar will allow us ample time to delve into this theme in detail, with the intention of emerging with concrete guidelines than can provide succinct goals for South Africa’s multilateral engagements in this ever-changing world.

With those few remarks, welcome to you all and thank you!


Countries sought to re-imagine a world where nations choose cooperation over conflict, and where friendly relations would lead to social progress and development, human rights and a better life for all. These noble ideals found expression in the initial actions of the UN.

The UN’s role in dismantling apartheid

The UN’s fight against the system of Apartheid started as early as 1948. Member States such as India warned that “if the belief that there is to be one standard of treatment for the White races and another for the non-White continues to gain strength among the latter, the future for solidarity among the Members of the United Nations and, consequently, for world peace, will indeed be dark.” 

From 1950, the UN General Assembly adopted several resolutions against apartheid South Africa. 

In 1963, the UN established a Special Committee against Apartheid, which played an important role in mobilising international solidarity against South Africa and its eventual suspension from the UN in 1974. 

The story of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy illustrates humanity’s great capacity for justice, courage and hope, which are the values on which the UN was founded.

The UN continues to be a platform for other struggles against oppression, war and global injustice.

In this regard, we must strengthen our efforts to ensure complete global decolonization including the achievement of the right to self-determination of the people of Palestine and Western Sahara.

South Africa’s role in the UN since 1994

Since 1994, South Africa has eagerly pursued its new international role, and taken up its responsibilities as an active member of the UN. We have sought to participate in all aspects of the UN, including by serving in its principal organs. 

The principles that motivate our action derive from a firm belief in multilateralism – especially a global governance system that is fair, equitable and representative; the promotion of peace and security through global disarmament; the peaceful settlement of disputes and the promotion of good governance; the promotion of human rights; and the fight against poverty through the promotion of sustainable development.

Importance of multilateralism in building back better

The 75th anniversary comes at a crucial moment when multilateralism and the rules-based international order are challenged. 

The UN remains the foundation of a multilateral system of governance that, despite some flaws, has ensured that countries are able to convene to discuss and promote of international peace and security, human rights and development. The pandemic has proven that no country can be isolated and act alone to address these cross-cutting and cross-border challenges. The UN and its Member States should seek practical ways of building back better. A UN that is responsive, adaptable and able to deal with contemporary challenges is required to fulfil its mandate guided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, which is the cornerstone of international law.

The UN should not succumb to the political interests of a few, it is only by drawing strength of the collective, through multilateral cooperation, that complex challenges can be resolved.

We should also work at ensuring digital inclusion as our digital inequality has been exposed by the resort to virtual communication over the last few months. Our roadmap to recovery must include the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our roadmap for eradicating poverty and ensuring a better life for all of the world’s population and its implementation is a necessity for our survival. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls should also be at the centre of all our post-COVID recovery programmes. Women and girls must be full and equal participants in the workplace, in political life and decision-making, in the economy, in obtaining an education and in society as a whole. Africa’s coordinated response to coronavirus has been swift and effective, including establishing a COVID-19 Response Fund and launching a ground-breaking African Medical Supplies Platform to ensure all countries have access to the necessary equipment and supplies. Nonetheless, the pandemic will inevitably set back our developmental aspirations. As such, we wish to reiterate our call for the following, amongst others:

• A comprehensive economic stimulus package for Africa; • Suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external and public debt; and • Lifting of all economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and Sudan to allow them to adequately respond to the pandemic and save lives. 

As chair of the African Union South Africa has also taken on the challenging goal of silencing the guns in Africa. The Charter makes provision for closer cooperation between the UN and regional organisations. We must continue our efforts at strengthening cooperation and coordination with regional arrangements such as the African Union, to ensure that our efforts are complimentary and mutually reinforcing. 

Africa still has no permanent representation in the permanent category of the Security Council, and only three (3) non-permanent seats are allocated to Africa. The current composition of the Security Council does not reflect the world in which we live. The 75th anniversary of the United Nations presents us with a unique opportunity to embrace Africa’s recurrent call for long overdue reform of the Security Council. The Common African Position which is the ‘Ezulwini Consensus’ is clear on the demands of Africa with regard to Security Council reform, which amongst others call for a minimum of two seats in the permanent category to be given to Africa, and further calls for Africa to occupy five seats in the non-permanent category. 

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of this irreplaceable organisation, South Africa reaffirms its commitment to the ideals and spirit of the UN Charter in pursuit of a more just and equitable world, founded on multilateralism and international cooperation. The United Nations remains the most effective means to meet our collective goal and to broaden the frontiers of human endeavour.

Speech by
Dr Naledi Pandor
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office