Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu has warned about the possibility of nuclear confrontation between the world's major powers.
Addressing the National Assembly on her department's budget, she said the growing tensions between the US and China, NATO and Russia and around Iran, the escalating war in Syria and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could all lead to a nuclear confrontation between major powers.
"These tensions threaten the very existence of humanity as we know it."
She said it was against this ever-changing background that South Africa needed to formulate its foreign policy, which must be based on human rights, peace, equality, freedom from oppression and racism and freedom from poverty.
"We continue to fight against injustice because we have to. We, who have suffered so much, can ill-afford suffering in any part of the world."
Sisulu said South Africa had opted to stand for the non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), through which it hoped to collaborate with all countries committed to the objective of peace and security.
'Re-emergence of rabid unilateralism'
"There is still a lot of lobbying to do and we require the assistance of Parliament, the diplomats that are here and the whole country to lobby for this position in the UNSC."
Earlier, at a press briefing before the budget debate, Sisulu welcomed the peace process between North Korea and South Korea, but expressed her dissatisfaction with the US' withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
"From a worst case scenario it would be interpreted as the menacing re-emergence of rabid unilateralism that will rock the very foundations of international diplomacy," she said.
"Unilateralism is a relapse of progress and is self-seeking, with little regard for the common good of humanity."
"The action by the US President to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal that was sanctioned by the United Nations amounts to taking the world back by many decades to the brink of conflict and tensions."
She said South Africa viewed Iran as a strategic partner within the Middle East and the central Asian region.
"Within the bilateral sphere, South Africa and Iran share a long historical relationship. At the same time it gives us an opportunity to sensitise Iran when its actions negatively impact on it," she said.
Israeli violence condemned
Asked about this relationship, given South Africa's commitment to human rights and Iran's violations of them, Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers reiterated that South Africa had a long, historical bond with Iran, and said South Africa did raise matters of human rights.
"We are equally close to Iran's mortal enemy, Saudi Arabia," Landers said. He said South Africa played a crucial role in relations between the countries.
In his speech during the budget debate, Landers said South Africa would continue to advocate for adherence to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in order to guarantee the right to life and people's well-being in the world.
"As such, nuclear-weapon states must honour their undertaking to eliminate nuclear weapons rather than creating justifications for exploring further options in this regard," he said.
All the participants in the debate expressed their concern about the deadly violence suffered by Palestinian civilians on Monday at the hands of Israeli forces.