FOR too long my own country South Africa has been trading off bloodshed — the 69 deaths at Sharpville, the apartheid-era massacres of Boipatong (45), and earlier loss of life at Bulhoek (163) and Leliesfontein (35) which occurred under the colonial authorities. As a consequence, of our hard-won transition to democracy and peaceful end to apartheid, we have taken it upon ourselves to lecture all and sundry on human rights. No longer.
The introduction of an alternative UN resolution on the war in Ukraine — a resolution which did not mention Russia at all — was resoundingly rejected by the General Assembly, ‘leaving South Africa’s facade of neutrality in the conflict in tatters’. It literally went down like a concrete Dolossus chucked into Table Bay.
The Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN likened the South African motion to ‘knowingly giving a dying child a placebo instead of medicine’ and slapping ‘fresh paint on the moldy rotten structure of the assembly’ and ‘criticised South Africa for neither condemning Russia nor consulting with Ukraine on the matter.’
As the events surrounding the massacre and atrocities at Bucha play out, absolutely nothing to do with a ‘natural disaster’, as the SA rhetoric might suggest, one can only hold one’s head in shame, apologise to the world community while calling for restraints on ANC top brass — sanctions that could include restrictions on members’ international travel, and even the removal of South Africa from international organisations such as the UN Human Rights Council if necessary.
The ANC has been scrambling to reframe South Africa’s position on the humanitarian crisis, with Naledi Pandor issuing statements to the press on Friday saying the country “always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states and we don’t choose which member state”, whilst she also opposed Western intervention in the crisis, and insisted that Russia was the real victim, ‘an injured bear being constantly poked with a stick.’
Ramaphosa telephoned Joe Biden late Friday evening in a diplomatic effort around his thus far unsuccessful mediation efforts, and in an attempt to rescue trade relations.
For nearly a decade, South Africa “unquestionably represented Russia’s biggest foreign policy success story on the continent. As relations soared during the ill-starred presidency og f Jacob Zumaer (2009–2018), the Kremlin sought to wrest a geopolitically significant state out of the West’s orbit and to create a partnership that could serve as a springboard for expanded influence elsewhere in Africa,” writes Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Moscow’s strategy was multifaceted,” he says, capitalizing on well-established close ties with Zuma, a former African National Congress senior intelligence official with extensive Soviet bloc connections. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials pursued a series of initiatives, such as the inclusion of South Africa in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) grouping and the launch of ambitious forms of cooperation between state-backed energy interests primarily in the nuclear sector.”
To its credit, the so-called BRICS bank has placed a temporary halt on new Russian loans. The same cannot be said of the Ramaphosa administration which has been reluctant to sanction the Russian regime. Pandor hypocritically favours sanctions when it comes to the Palestine issue, but non-alignment and no sanctions when it comes to Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether or not the temporary suspension by the BRICS bank will hold, especially when alternatives to the SWIFT embargo are proposed from the far-left in South Africa.
The second largest opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters, (EFF) openly supports Russian aggression, while the official opposition Democratic Alliance is more supportive of Ukrainian independence from Putin.
Russian-South Africa nuclear projects keep on reappearing in various forms, though currently halted by the country’s robust environmental movement — the latest plans touted by Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe suggest Russia still has a role to play in South African energy policy and despite the presence of international sanctions.
Deputy President David Mabuza for instance, defended South Africa’s decision to buy gas from Russia some days ago.
Mabuza is reported to claim there was nothing “sinister” about his close ties to Russia and the country’s gas deals in the wake of the war in Ukraine. He said that ‘his visits to Russia for medical reasons should not be viewed with suspicion as the country tries to access more natural gas.’
Gazprombank, owned by Russia’s state-owned gas supplier, confirms it is considering a bid for what is potentially a multibillion-rand contract. The country is considered an essential part of Putin’s geopolitical grand strategy and is part of a minority of African states which refused to condemn Russia.
Though South Africa’s constitution is pacifist — a democratic instrument which has translated into a multiparty democracy, with a semblance of an independent executive and judiciary — the revelations of the Zondo Commission of inquiry into corruption under the Zuma administration paint a picture of a state which in many ways, is eerily similar to Putin’s Russia.
ANC ties reach back to the days of the struggle when the old Soviet Union was a major sponsor of the party.
It is no coincidence that the ANC has modelled itself after the oligopolistic, post-Communist Putin regime in which many parts of the economy are beholden to the Kremlin. South Africa’s 700+ State-owned Enterprises have acted to hobble our nation’s energy, transport, and telecommunications infrastructure, in the process breeding corruption and graft, a situation which has only begun to be corrected under Ramaphosa.
Given South Africa’s failed UN resolution, some would say the would-be reformist President is surely past his prime and unfit to govern? It is perhaps apt, that in Greek mythology, Dolos, (also a South African invention) is the spirit of trickery.
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this article had 64 deaths at Sharpville taken from the SAhistory.org.za site.
A version of this piece was published by Daily Maverick 9 April 2022