At the end of September 2017, South Africa concluded its one-year term at the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. South Africa’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Tebogo Seokolo, was elected to serve as Chair of the Board for the period October 2016 to the end of September 2017. South Africa is one of the founding members of the IAEA.
The Board of Governors is the major policy-making organ of the IAEA between its annual general conferences. It is made up of 35 Member States, with South Africa serving as one of its designated members. The IAEA is a multilateral body with the responsibility to promote the safe and secure use of nuclear science and technology for peace, security and development.
South Africa presided over the IAEA Board of Governors at a time when the global peace and security environment has been characterized by heightened tensions and uncertainties. Although the conclusion of the historic nuclear agreement in 2015 between the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5 +1) promised to de-escalate tensions between western countries and Iran over its nuclear programme, the unequivocal commitment of all signatories to its effective implementation has become all the more important. This is especially necessary given that the IAEA has verified over the past year that Iran has continued to implement its obligations under the agreement.
Similarly, the instability on the Korean Peninsula and concerns with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear programme has continued to be one of the key topics on the agenda of the IAEA Board of Governors during South Africa’s tenure. In this regard, South Africa joined the international community in expressing concern at DPRK’s nuclear weapons programme. Further, South Africa urged the DPRK and all parties involved to refrain from any actions that would further escalate tensions and exacerbate the volatile situation in the region.
Other important achievements by the Board under South Africa’s leadership included the appointment of the Director General of the IAEA; the Medium Term Strategic Framework, which is a five-year planning and guidance document for the work of the IAEA; the Programme and Budget and Technical Cooperation Fund Target, which will enable the IAEA to support Member States, especially developing countries, in utilising nuclear science and technology to meet their developmental needs; and the 5 year Nuclear Security Plan, which guides the IAEA’s role in coordinating international cooperation and supporting Member States to strengthen their respective nuclear security regimes.
In discharging its mandate as Chairperson of the Board of Governors, South Africa always sought to ensure that the decisions taken by the Board were adopted by consensus in order to create an opportunity for all IAEA Member States, from across all regions of the world, to participate on an equal footing when deliberating on matters of global significance. This principled approach resonates with South Africa’s call for the transformation and reform of the global system of governance and is at the core of South Africa’s identity as a Nation.
During its tenure, South Africa is also pleased that the IAEA Board of Governors emphasised the developmental role of the IAEA through its activities related to nuclear science, technology and applications. As part of this process, the IAEA provides support among others to countries on the African Continent to meet their national and regional developmental needs and priorities. Of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the IAEA through nuclear science and technology directly contributes to the attainment of 9 of these goals. For example, the IAEA contributes to the promotion of food security and sustainable agricultural development; improvement of nutrition and the diagnosis and the treatment of diseases; provision of clean water to be made available to more people; environmental protection and awareness; and provision of knowledge and expertise for science and industry.
South Africa has also benefitted immensely from the IAEA’s scientific and technological support. Cooperation in this regard includes the eradication of moths – which negatively affected the citrus industry in the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces – resulting in the significant increase of citrus production without using chemicals. The IAEA also assisted in strengthening the clinical management of oncological, neurological and cardiovascular diseases; supported South Africa in the development of the Sterile Insect Technique to help control malaria; and supported South African laboratories (iThemba labs) in strengthening and expanding their capacities in accelerator-based sciences in order to provide training and analytical services for water resource management and climate change studies.
South Africa is highly regarded by the IAEA due to the development of its peaceful nuclear programme. Through the power plant in Koeberg, the country generates 5% of total electricity supply from nuclear. South Africa is the second largest producer of medical isotopes, which are used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Through its research reactor, SAFARI-1, which has for over 50 years operated safely, securely and reliably, South Africa exports this life-saving treatment to over 60 countries world-wide.
Having successfully concluded its term as Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors, South Africa remains convinced now more than ever, that the IAEA has an important role to play in global efforts to promote international peace, security and development. It is in this context that South Africa used its leadership of the Board to promote a balanced approach in implementing the IAEA’s legal mandate in line with its motto “Atoms for Peace and Development”.
The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has expressed South Africa’s appreciation to the IAEA Member States and the African Continent in particular for entrusting the country to lead the IAEA Board of Governors during the past year. This, according to the Minister, “is yet another demonstration of South Africa’s commitment to strengthening multilateralism, which is at the core of our foreign policy and the basis for building a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better World”.
The Minister has congratulated Ambassador Seokolo and the team in Vienna for their extraordinary work and achievements during South Africa’s Chairship of the Board and conveyed that they have made South Africa proud.
Source: Republic of South Africa: Department of International Relations and Cooperation.