Johannesburg: During apartheid rule in South Africa, the country’s liberation movement used the UN as a key battleground to win support for its struggle for democracy and human rights.
But these days, S.Africa’s UN diplomats find the issues are rarely so clear cut. Post-apartheid S.Africa has found itself in the firing line after a string of UN votes in which critics say it supported dictatorship and repression in countries ranging from Zimbabwe to Myanmar.
It has also raised Western hackles by wanting to drop sanctions against Iran in the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme, fuelling accusations that Pretoria puts its Third World credentials ahead of its broader responsibilities.
South Africa, which joined the UN Security Council in January as a non-permanent member, says it is fighting against manipulation of the world body by powers such as the United States trying to preserve the voice of smaller nations in an international system weighted against them.
Critics, at home and abroad, say the government risks losing the uncompromising moral compass clearly set by Nelson Mandela.
“Do we defend the oppressed in other countries; do we fight for the protection of human rights across the globe?” opposition Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon asked recently.
“Looking at our current foreign policy, the answer to this question is regrettably too often in the negative.”
This week, South Africa joined China, Russia and others arguing against a British-led effort to bring climate change issues into the purview of the Security Council.