United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has commended South Africa for its role in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa – and has asked President Kgalema Motlanthe to do more.
Speaking after a meeting
with President Kgalema Motlanthe at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria yesterday, Ban said South Africa had an important role to play continentally as an economic powerhouse.
Ban said he hoped the UN could count on South Africa’s continued support in peacekeeping operations.
“South Africa holds a particular place in the United Nations family because of our own long engagement against apartheid, in support of the struggle of the South African people,” he said.
“That particular place has sustained the test of time, as South Africa is today an important partner for the United Nations, because of the major role South Africa plays in international and regional peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building efforts.
“It is facilitating the peace process in Burundi and mediating in Zimbabwe. It is contributing more than two thousand troops to United Nations operations from the Congo and Sudan to Nepal, and it has paid a heavy price for that commitment,” Ban added in reference to SA peacekeepers killed while on UN duty.
Senior leader at the Joint Operations Division of the SA National Defence Force last week poured cold water on the suggestion SA had more to give.
Department of Defence Head of Communications Simphiwe Dlamini said “we we act on government policy and strategy, but all is only possible with what is available in terms of resources. The country has other serious gaps, especially on the socio-economic side of things.
“Our participation in peacekeeping is driven by the mandate… Our constitution is very clear on the mandate of the SANDF. External missions are done in accordance with the availability of resources.
“Once the appreciation is done, we advise our political principals as to whether we can contribute to a specific mission and if we can, by how much. We do not go there without going any appreciation that tells us the capabilities that we need for those initiatives. Deployment follows a thorough investigation and appreciation. The political principal then makes the decision based on our advise,” he said.
SANDF chief director of operations Rear admiral Philip Schoultz added that the SANDF is currently over-stretched.
“Let`s talk a bit about UN requests. It`s like a shotgun. They ask everybody for everything and see what response they get. We‘ve had requests from the UN for Sudan, for Congo, for otrher countries.
“If we acceded to all those requests, we would probably need another defence force, let me make that clear. They`ve asked us for 18 helicopters for the DRC and 18 for Sudan. You know how many we`ve got. We`ve got soccer and elections. We`ve got fires; we have a responsibility to this country first,” Schoultz said. (The SAAF has a fleet of about 39 Denel M1 Oryx MkI and MkII, eight Eurocopter BK117 light utility helicopters (LUH), 30 AgustaWestland A109 LUH, 11 Denel CSH1A Rooivalk attack helicopters and four AgustaWestland SuperLynx 300 maritime helicopters.)
“Why do they keep asking us? “I`ve just gotten back from a meeting with the UN special representative in the DRC (Alan Doss) and he stated very categorically that ‘your people go where we tell them to go, they do the job many others are not willing to do, therefore we value your contribution.` It is the old adage of a tall tree snaps the wind.
“We must be very careful we don`t overstretch ourselves in that process. Our people are doing an amazing job. Overstretch is not just a matter of troops. Yes, I have the troops, but do I have the stores, the vehicles and the aircraft to send him there? Remember if I deploy one battalion I need at least another two battlions back at home to relieve in line.
“If you look at the British in Afghanistan, the Americans in Iraq, the French in Chad, they work in a cycle in one-in-six. They have five rotations at home then they go back. We are working one-in-three. We are putting our people on line far more regularly. They too have wives, husbands, children,” Schoultz underscored.
“Is the army overstretched? We are all over stretched.
But we did a thorough appreciation, we saw what components we could provide and we have given the results to our minister who will advise foreign affairs accordingly: What can we do, what cant we do, when we can do it. We await instructions.
“But we must be very clear: we must not lose the high ground. We can put troops on the ground but they are not effective if we cannot sustain them. We must rather have one battalion doing excellent work than two that is not mobile. That would be counterproductive. That is something we considered in our appreciation – the level we can effectively operate at.”
The official Bua News agency
said Motlanthe had told the UN leader SA was honoured to host the secretary-general on his first official visit to the country as part of his five country tour to Africa.
Items that were expected to be discussed between the two included flashpoints in Africa, humanitarian and peace keeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the newly formed unity government in Zimbabwe, Sudan and developments in Burundi.
The secretary-general said the UN welcomed the inauguration of the new unity government in Zimbabwe, but remained concerned about the arrest and detention of Movement for Democratic Movement (MDC) members.
President Motlanthe said he had spoken to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who had given the assurance that all political detainees would be granted bail.
Ban said the UN would be increasing support to Zimbabwe in order to deal with the cholera outbreak which has infected 83 000 people and killed about 3 000 people according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report.
Senior Advisor for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg is currently in Zimbabwe. She met with President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday to discuss how the UN can mobilise more humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe.
South Africa has also been an effective advocate for climate change as well, said Ban.
He announced that the UN, as part of initiatives to combat climate change, would be donating $11 million to South Africa’s public transport infrastructure to ensure it utilises green technology.
The UN secretary-general is visiting South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania and Egypt as part of his Africa tour.