President Zuma signs UN treaty banning nuclear weapons

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The President of South Africa Jacob Zuma attends the signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 20, 2017, at the United Nations in New York.

The President of South Africa Jacob Zuma attends the signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 20, 2017, at the United Nations in New York.

WEB_PHOTO_Zuma_210917

The President of South Africa Jacob Zuma attends the signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 20, 2017, at the United Nations in New York.

The President of South Africa Jacob Zuma attends the signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 20, 2017, at the United Nations in New York.

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa has joined a United Nations alliance of over 40 countries banning the use of nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday President Jacob put a pen to paper on the UN’s treaty banning nuclear weapons. The move comes amid rising tensions between North Korea and the United States as the east Asian country continues its missile tests.

South African Nuclear Energy Corporation Chairman Dr Kelvin Kemm hailed the move citing that countries that have nuclear weapons are not going to unilaterally get rid of them rather they’ll do it one for one.

Sarah Swart of Red Cross’s Regional Legal Advisor also echoed Kemm’s sentiments saying South Africa is a shining example of nuclear disownment.

READ: 'Allowing nuclear in Japan could defuse N Korean threat': policy makers

"SA remains the one and only country that has ever voluntarily disbanded its nuclear weapons programme which the government did towards the end of apartheid.”

“That already gives South Africa moral authority to speak on this issue. Then in 1996 we see Africa coming together as a continent to negotiate the Pelindaba Treaty, which creates the continent as a nuclear weapons free zone. Again an outstanding achievement,” Swart said.

All the while, US President Donald Trump is talking tough, saying the US won't hesitate to totally destroy North Korea. Swart believes this escalation in tensions ironically helps the cause.

"A number of people are saying that the threat of use that we have been seeing at an international level is a sign that we'll never achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Personally and I believe this is the view of the ICRC too, it couldn't have come at a better time to remind us how important this treaty is," Swart said. 

While he welcomes the treaty, nuclear physicist, Dr Kelvin Kem, says he labours under no illusion about the difficulty that lies ahead.

READ: Britain calls for new sanctions on North Korea

“What the new one now says is countries that have nuclear weapons can still sign now and then they have some period of grace during which they must get rid of their weapons. But I can’t imagine the one country will do it unless the others keep pace. So that to my mind is the problem.”

About 122 countries voted to adopt the treaty on the 7th of July. A large majority of the world's countries have been calling for this treaty since at least 1945 but it only marks the beginning of a long road to convincing nuclear weapons possessing states to give it all up.