The African Union, a pan-African body that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi helped build and heavily funded, on Tuesday recognized the rebel National Transitional Council as Libya's de facto government.
The AU has been criticized for failing to react quickly to major crises in African states. On the Libya issue, the AU until recently pushed its "roadmap" to peace, which would have seen Gaddafi officials involved in a new government.
"The African Union stands ready to support the Libyan people as they rebuild their country towards a united, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Libya," said Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who holds the AU's rotating chair, the BBC reports
South African President Jacob Zuma led two AU missions to Tripoli to try and broker an "inclusive" peace deal between the rebels and Gaddafi, with whom South Africa has had a longstanding relationship, Reuters says. During apartheid times, Libya backed the now-ruling African National Congress party, and allowed members to train on Libyan soil.
In recent months, Zuma has strongly criticized NATO for using force to bring about regime change in Libya
But now even South Africa has said it recognizes the NTC.
"The South African government hereby announces that it recognizes the NTC as the representative of the Libyan people as they form an all-inclusive transitional government that will occupy the Libyan seat at the African Union," the South African international relations and co-operation department said in a statement on Tuesday.
South Africa lagged behind other nations including Nigeria and China, which have already recognized the NTC as Libya's ruling authority, Reuters says.
News of the AU's recognition of the rebels as Libya's interim leaders came as U.S. President Barack Obama announced that his ambassador was en route to Tripoli to re-open the country's embassy, following a meeting with NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil in New York, the BBC reports.