South Africa

Nuclear-weapon free state

Has signed the TPNW

Has ratified the TPNW

South Africa has signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Jacob Zuma, the then-president of South Africa, signed the treaty when it opened for signature on 20 September 2017. Jerry Matthews Matjila, the permanent representative of South Africa to the United Nations,deposited the country’s instrument of ratification with the UN secretary-general on 25 February 2019.

South Africa participated in the negotiation of the treaty at the United Nations in New York in 2017 and voted in favour of its adoption.

South Africa formerly possessed an arsenal of six nuclear weapons. It dismantled them prior to acceding to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991, recognizing that its security was best achieved through disarmament.

In an address to the United Nations on the day of the signing ceremony in September 2017, Zuma said: “The only viable solution to the problems of nuclear weapons is their total elimination as expressed in the recently UN-adopted treaty banning nuclear weapons.”

He added: “We are making a clarion call to all member states of the UN to sign and ratify the ban treaty in order to rid the world and humanity of these lethal weapons of mass destruction.”

The National Assembly of South Africa, which is the lower house of the parliament, approved ratification of the treaty in November 2018.

South Africa has promoted universal adherence to the treaty, including by co-sponsoring a UN General Assembly resolution in 2019 that calls upon all states to sign, ratify, or accede to the treaty “at the earliest possible date”.

In a statement to the United Nations in September 2019, South Africa hailed the treaty as “a bold and positive step towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons” and urged all states that have not yet done so to ratify it.

In August 2018, South Africa hosted in Pretoria a regional conference to encourage African states to become parties to the treaty. Delegations representing 20 states from the region participated and “pledged to work with policymakers in capitals to effect the policy processes necessary to ensure signature and ratification of the [treaty]”.

In its opening statement to the negotiating conference, South Africa hailed the treaty-making process as “a major milestone in the history of nuclear disarmament” and argued that a “higher norm on nuclear weapons can only strengthen international security”.

It rejected as “illogical” and “morally unethical” the argument “that nuclear weapons are indispensable for the security of some states, but not for others”.

South Africa, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and Nigeria comprised a “core group” of states that played a leading role in bringing the negotiations about and ensuring their ultimate success. 

In 2016, South Africa was a co-sponsor of the UN General Assembly resolution that established the formal mandate for states to commence the negotiations in 2017 on “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

South Africa was among 127 states that endorsed a “humanitarian pledge” in 2015–16 to cooperate “in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons”. The pledge was instrumental in building momentum and support for convening the negotiations.

South Africa is also a state party to the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba, which established Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone.