South Africa’s six key priorities of the African Union (AU) have had to take a backseat due to COVID-19, with President Cyril Ramaphosa leading the continent’s response to the pandemic and ensuring collaboration in this important battle.
While 2020 has been an unprecedented year, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, believes that the COVID-19 initiatives have led to a unified Africa.
Pandor said one of the outcomes of this collaboration was the inception of the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), established by President Ramaphosa in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy.
"This was an [initiative to make]… vaccines… a global public good... Ramaphosa and the AU are working hard to secure vaccines for Africa," the Minister said.
In his capacity as the AU Chair, Ramaphosa has reported to a special meeting of the AU Bureau of the Assembly that the organisation has secured a provisional 270 million vaccine doses for African countries, with at least 50 million said to be available for the crucial period of April to June 2021.
"These efforts complement the COVAX facility, a World Health Organisation and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative to help low- and middle-income countries secure access to vaccines on a fair and equitable basis," said Pandor.
The Minister was reflecting on South Africa’s two-year non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the country’s chairship of the AU during a virtual programme hosted by the London Chatham House on Wednesday.
"Ramaphosa’s focus remains premised on the principle that no country should be left behind," said Pandor.
Peace and security:
She told delegates that government was dedicated in its UNSC term to the legacy of President Nelson Mandela, whose values and commitment to peace were commemorated on the centenary of his birth in 2018.
"South Africa believes peace is critical to development and progress in Africa. We hoped that our election would support the African objective of silencing the guns in Africa."
Pandor said the country also used its term to promote the peaceful settlement of conflicts through preventive diplomacy, inclusive dialogue and post-conflict reconstruction and development.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these challenges and has necessitated us to work together as a collective with all countries across the globe to combat the virus, and ensure that we are able to rebuild a safer world, where the development needs of all its people are fulfilled."
South Africa has advocated for strengthened partnership and closer cooperation between the UN Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council.
"However, a challenge in this relationship has to do with the financing of the AU peacekeeping missions authorised by the Security Council," Pandor said, noting that the African members of the Council are continuing with efforts to secure commitments for consistent and sustainable financing of these AU Missions.
"Through our cooperation, we also stressed the need to address the root causes and drivers of conflict in Africa, including focusing on the challenges of development and governance."
Pandor said the country continued to consistently express solidarity with the peoples of Palestine and Western Sahara in their quest to achieve self-determination, fundamental freedom, equality, justice and dignity.
"We further advanced the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security and the Youth, Peace and Security agendas."
Following the end of term on the Security Council, South Africa will continue its dedication to multilateralism and work with other bodies of the United Nations to pursue these goals.
"We remain committed to a rules-based order, characterised by inclusion and equity. There is a lot of ground lost in multilateralism in the past four years and we need to rebuild trust and co-operation," Pandor said.
She reminded delegates that South Africa took over the chairship of the AU under the them: ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’.
"We emphasised an existing AU goal through the adoption of this theme. Of course, all our careful planning was altered by COVID-19," she stressed.
On peace and security, Pandor said many Africans still face instability, violence and conflict. She cited Libya, the Sahel, Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, South Sudan, and the east of the DRC.
"We are also concerned by the recent developments relating to the situation in Western Sahara. Greater attention to peace in these countries is critical, as well as support for the solution from the AU and the UN," she added.