SA has criticised "the possibility of a military intervention" in Syria by the West, calling on all sides to negotiate a better solution.
The government on Thursday hit out at what it called "dangerous rhetoric", pointing to Western military action in Syria. The G20 member said it "is alarmed at the latest escalation" in the Syria conflict and condemned "the use of chemical weapons".
"South Africa is concerned by the dangerous rhetoric pointing to the possibility of a military intervention," the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
The statement came as the US and its allies press for military action against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's regime, despite stern warnings against intervention from key Damascus supporters Russia and Iran. And Britain has pushed for a resolution to pave the way for military strikes.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said London is presenting a resolution "condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad" to a meeting of the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members, which got under way in New York on Wednesday morning.
South Africa, the continent's largest economy, has largely opposed non-UN Western military intervention since becoming a fully democratic state in 1994.
Pretoria said it did "not believe that bombing the already suffering people and crumbling infrastructure of Syria, will contribute to a sustainable solution".
"The outcome of such an action is unpredictable and will only worsen the conflict ... It will ultimately be the people of Syria who pay the price, whilst those participating in the military intervention will return to safety far away from the crisis."
South Africa has long sought a seat on the UN Security Council, but has irked western powers with its stance on Zimbabwe and Libya – where it backed authoritarian rulers' bids to remain in power.
In recent years South Africa has moved to deepen ties with China and Russia, long-time supporters of the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle.
Meanwhile, UN inspectors – in Syria to determine whether forces have used chemical weapons in the civil war – will continue their investigations until Friday and plans to leave by Saturday morning, the UN chief said.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Vienna, said he had spoken to US President Barack Obama on Wednesday about the situation in Syria, discussing how "we can expedite the process of investigation".
"I have also expressed [my] sincere wish that this investigation team should be allowed to continue their work as mandated by the member states," Ban told reporters on Thursday.
"I told him that we will ... share information and our analysis of samples and evidence with members of the Security Council and United Nations members in general," he said.
UN chemical weapons experts began a third day of investigations into an apparent poison gas attack last week which killed hundreds of civilians, visiting rebel-held territory outside Damascus.
"They [the inspection team] will continue investigation activities until tomorrow, Friday, and will come out of Syria by Saturday morning and will report to me," Ban said. – AFP; Reuters