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WAR IN EUROPE

UN majority condemns Russia’s aggression on Ukraine; South Africa abstains

A UN police officer stands under a screen showing results from a vote on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the 11th emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

South Africa has abstained from a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine — which was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations.

South Africa stood with only 35 nations that abstained, while 141 voted for the resolution and five voted against it. Of South Africa’s BRICS partners, Russia of course voted against the resolution, India and China joined Pretoria in abstaining, but Brazil voted for it.

Pretoria refused to join the direct call in the resolution for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine and to cease its bombardment of Ukrainian cities, despite pressure from Western powers and South African civil society.

South African clerics, academics and civil society leaders circulated a petition which demanded that: “South Africa must call for the end to the Ukrainian war. We must call for the return of all Russian soldiers to their homeland. 

We must do so without ambivalence or double-speak. 

If Russia desires congenial relations with South Africa, it must cease the pursuance of a violent overthrow of its neighbour. 

“It matters not if the Soviet Union of old supported the ANC and the struggle movement during Apartheid. The injustice committed by one, in a different time, does not justify the injustice committed by another now. Magnanimity once practised, does not excuse a descent into degeneracy later.”

Among the signatories were former Black Sash President Mary Burton and former anti-apartheid activist Horst Kleinschmidt.

But equivocation is what South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, Mathu Joyini gave in her explanation of the vote on Wednesday. She said South Africa was deeply concerned about the escalation of the conflict and called for a peaceful resolution. But she said that the resolution — titled “Aggression Against Ukraine” — “does not create an environment conducive for diplomacy, dialogue, and mediation” and instead could drive a deeper wedge between Russia and Ukraine.

Joyini said the resolution should have welcomed the commencement of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, should have given more prominence to the role of the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General in trying to resolve the conflict and should have addressed the root causes of the conflict which were related to the security concerns of the two parties.

Members of the General Assembly vote on a resolution during a special session of the General Assembly at the UN headquarters on 2 March 2022 in New York City. The vote was held on a draft resolution to condemn Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.  (Photo: Michael M Santiago / Getty Images)

Officials explained that this last point referred to Russia’s security concerns about the possibility of Ukraine joining Nato, and more generally to Nato extending its membership eastwards up to Russia’s frontiers. These are believed to be the real reasons for the invasion though Moscow has couched it as a mission to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine from alleged persecution by the Ukraine government.

Though Joyini did not call for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and to respect the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in her statement in the General Assembly, officials told Daily Maverick that the government statement that Pretoria issued last Thursday, making those same demands, remained on the website of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and was still valid.

Media reports have suggested that International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor approved that statement, but that President Ramaphosa was “unhappy” with it because he felt it did not reflect South Africa’s true position.

But one senior official source insisted that Ramaphosa had also cleared the statement. “We could hardly do otherwise,” one official said. “Whatever Russia may think, what else could we call this but war?”

All this suggests that Ramaphosa is trying to maintain some sort of strategic ambiguity for South Africa, hoping to maintain the moral high ground on the one hand, but also trying to avoid offending Russia — a historic ally of the ANC in exile and a contemporary ally in the BRICS bloc. 

But whether that will be the message that most of the world receives, especially after the vote to abstain on Wednesday, seems unlikely. 

South Africa was also in a minority in Africa, where 28 countries voted for the resolution to condemn Russia, only Eritrea voted against and 17 abstained, while eight countries did not vote at all. 

The UN General Assembly took up the Ukraine issue because Russia had used its veto as a permanent member to block a similar resolution in the UN Security Council on Friday. The General Assembly resolution has no mandatory force, but its many sponsors believe that the overwhelming majority in favour of it will send a strong signal of global disapproval to Moscow. 

The resolution deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the[UN] Charter” and condemned particularly the reports of attacks on civilian facilities such as residences, schools and hospitals and of civilian casualties. 

It particularly condemned Russia’s decision to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces and expressed grave concern at the increasing number of displaced persons and refugees.

The resolution demanded that Russia “immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine” and to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.” 

It deplored Russia’s decision of 21 February 2022 to recognize the separatist pro-Russian authorities of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine which it said violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. DM

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  • An incredibly disappointing position adopted by South Africa on the resolution, which has certainly been noticed with dismay by many observers. South Africa has certainly dented its remaining standing and credibility, and has undermined positive relations with many other countries, especially the G20 and the EU. It will be seen what impacts this may have on investment and in other areas. South Africa has chosen to be part of an isolated group. Does South Africa want to be entirely dependent on Russia and China? That would be extremely risky and ill-advised.

    Will the G20 even want to retain South Africa as a member when South Africa has so strongly sides with Russia? What will be the impacts on tourism when the sector is so dependent on European and American tourists?

    This misstep may have significant negative impacts for South Africa for many years to come.

  • I feel ashamed to be a South African today. There is no doubt that history will judge our despicable politicians for the spineless cowards that they are.

  • Unbelievable. These a**holes called the ANC do not represent this country and its people. If they are so intent on being friends with Russia why don’t the ANC officials fly off to Moscow and go to help Putin. I’m sure they will f-up his administration, army, navy and airforce and stop his assault . They will do far more damage than sanctions… They’ve already destroyed this country. Useless , incompetent , thieving , cheats, liars and cowards. The four riders of the apocalypse – NDZ , Mantashe , Brown and JZ.

  • apart from the ANC’s lack of spine and courage, notice that no other political party, except the DA (no friend of mine incidently) has said a word against Russia’s invasion. not even mighty mouth malema.
    that says it all. agree with comments – a sad day for South Africa and Genuine South Africans.

  • I disagree: our vote would make no difference anyway. The moral high ground? The corruption and xenophobia means we are already on the moral low ground. As for the UN: is Saudi Arabia a pariah for bombing civilians in Yemen? Israel is allowed to justify bombing civilians. No sanctions there. Think Yugoslavia and NATO – they let that happen, and let’s remember how quick EU countries were to welcome the ethnic declarations of independence. Ethiopia voted against? As they attack civilians. I totally disagree with Putin attacking Ukraine – but the morality and usefulness of the UN and it’s resolutions is the point here. War crimes committed? Probably – charge countries and people for war crimes: start with the war crimes in Iraq committed by NATO members, then Bashar El Assad, Yemen and finally get to the Ukraine. Bombing civilians and attacking countries has become quite acceptable because when NATO did it, it was justified and explained away. So the disaster now, has been decades in the making, and is a total failure of western diplomatic policy which seems to have been, Expand NATO at any cost. This is the cost. Ideology and profits triumph again and ordinary Ukranians and Russians be damned.

    • Virginia – other people’s sins do not exonerate one’s own. You want justice for all past events before you tackle this one – noble but impractical. And size does matter – the conflict in Yemen is disgraceful, but not on the Ukranian scale. Likewise Israel/Palestine and Ethiopia/Eritrea.
      If you want a moral compass pointer on this one, ask yourself “what would the Arch Tutu have said?”

      • My point is that I don’t look to the UN as moral arbiter. Also Yemen and Syria are worse than Ukraine, but that’s not the point either.

    • And on the point “our vote would make no difference anyway”, do you exercise your vote in SA? Even though it is only 1 in 23 or so million?

    • Virginia, You may not think our vote makes any difference, but speaking for myself, and I believe the others who have commented here, it makes ALL the difference. I am deeply embarrassed that my country is incapable of standing up to defend Ukraine in the face of this unjustified, criminal act of war against them. Whataboutism not withstanding.

    • You are quite correct that Western diplomacy is shamefully selective, but I fear that South Africa’s position is much less about principle than it is about retaining its corrupt relationship with Russia and its tyrannical leader.

  • Wow! I suppose I should not be surprised, given the ANC’s amazingly consistent record of reliably making the wrong choice. But in this case, with the evidence so crystal clear; with a million women and children forced to flee their homes in the face of Putin’s unjustified, naked aggression, I thought even the ANC would be able to discern the contours of right and wrong. But NO, their record is intact. Unbelievable.

  • It is incredible that an ANC which for years has railed against colonialism refuses to vote against the attempted take-over of Ukraine by an unapologetic, reborn Russian imperialist.
    Just how much has Russia paid the ANC oligarchs for this abstention?
    Disgusting!!

  • Please remind me – what did ORT say after the SA Airforce used Canberra bombers to hit ANC camps in Zambia!! Was it, please let’s meet and discuss this OR was it outright condemnation via the UN.

    Naledi, you did the right thing and the SA President failed dismally

    • I am not a fan of Naledi Pandor but in this instance? I am proud of her statement – in this instance, she manifested integrity and her statement was spot on. Go Naledi. The mealie-mouthed ANC nonsense statement is embarrassing and shameful! I hang my head in shame as a South African!

  • After all this country has been through… The ANC has proven that it’s happy to use its “struggle” credentials only when it suits a means to an end, but not when it comes to doing the right thing! What a crooked bunch of cowards!

  • What are African governments thinking? It is my understanding that with the exception of Botswana and Liberia… the whole bloody continent abstained. Well, next time famine strikes, islamic zealots seize a school or two, or the east cost is flattened by a cyclone, I figure the World will remember, for many years to come, Africa’s shocking disdain for the horrific plight of people of Ukraine.

    • Ah…but they are convinced Russia will rush to their aid! Russia is only out for the interests of Putin – and no-one else, so forget it African states (including SA) – you’re more on your own than ever after supporting Russia!

  • Dear mr President, do you and your ANC really believe that Putin’s Russia is a friend? He doesn’t care mr President. Not about you or anybody else. You are such a sad person. What made you do this? Because you are as morally bankrupt as Putin or just too weak a person to stand up and be counted ? You have embarrassed us once again with your blunders.
    Please find an advisor to support you when you need to think about important things.

  • I can’t say I’m surprised at SA abstaining from a pointless vote. What will this vote accomplish? Nothing of consequence I reckon because the UN is hamstrung by its own internal machinery, i.e. the right of veto.

    As much as I’d like to think so, I doubt any of this has anything to do with ‘doing the right thing’ and has everything to do with bilateral trade agreements. I believe this is why the common man, who occasionally feels the need to voice his moral objections to a thing, will always be surprised and offended when international politics doesn’t match up to his moral rectitude. It’s always about the bottom line so anything resembling ‘doing the right thing’ (as subjective as that is) happens by mere coincidence and not by design.

    • Spot on Stephen…moral fibre and compasses be damned when it comes to politics and pointless diplomacy. Posturing and preening, positioning and jostling, it all comes across as a finely-coreographed charade. The millions of voices of protest and condemnation from common people generally don’t mean a thing when the politicians have decided. COVID is such a recent reminder but we seem to have forgotten already.

  • Tragically this will be our legacy. Mandela’s legacy is tainted. OR Thambo’s legacy is tainted. We can no longer call ourselves a liberated people when we back those who kill civilians and attack independent nations. Silence, abstention, is complicit. How can we afford this? This silence will be a stain our nation.

  • As a US citizen and resident who with my wife spends time in RSA most years, I thank all who posted their outrage at RSA’s decision to abstain on this major UN resolution condemning Russia’s unjustified and brutal invasion of Ukraine. I was most disappointed that President Ramaphosa, whom I admire, did not rise above the sorry political calculations of the ANC’s other leaders and do the right thing here.

    • Yup. My tolerance of CR was shaken by his back-tracking on fundamental reforms, and now evaporated with contradicting Pandor. His is calculating, furiously, but the sums will not add up.
      Another shot in his, and our foot.
      May the good lord just free us from this shyte!! Ffs

  • What would the anc do if the West decided to implement sanctions against BRICS and all countries who voted with Russia or abstained? Shout racism of course!

  • Some insight from Plato is relevant from his dialogue Laws – “In like manner, no one would ever become a true statesman by focusing exclusively upon external warfare, as a means of ensuring the happiness of the city and of the individual. Nor would he ever be a lawgiver in the strict sense of the word, unless he instituted laws relating to warfare, for the sake of peace, rather than instituting laws relating to peace, 628E for the sake of warfare”. Not that that motley bunch in Government would understand. SA needs to stop siding with failed states like Cuba, Zimbabwe if they want SA to become a leader in Africa. Supporting these deadbeat megalomaniacs does nothing for our credibility.

  • The mistreatment of African students at Ukrainian border posts should never distract Africans from condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

  • I am a South African. I am ashamed.

    I stand with Ukraine. I applaud their bravery. I applaud their leader’s principled stance in the face of Russia’s invasion.

    Bravo, the Russian people who stand by Ukraine, probably in bewilderment at what their paranoid leader has unleashed on their neighbours – and on their own country.

  • Can’t help but see the bitter twisted irony. In abstaining from the vote, countries like China (no human rights), India (dubious rights? ) and South Africa (corrupt to the bone) have actually had the most honest moment in history – conceded to the fact that they are perhaps committing atrocities themselves and can’t call Russia out?

    • As for Cameron Dugmore’s appallingly contrived monologue to the cameras in Cape Town…really and truly positions the ANC for the world to see. What a disgrace.

  • Does anyone know when last Cyril R had a press conference, where journalists where able to ask off the cuff questions on issues of the day…?

  • In an article in Foreign Affairs of November / December 1993, Nelson Mandela stated: “Human rights will be the light that guides our foreign policy”.
    How far we have fallen since those more hopeful days. I am ashamed to be a South African.
    Mr President, this abstention was NOT IN MY NAME!

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