Defend Truth


Pretoria says don’t poke the Russian bear as SA remains neutral in Ukraine crisis

Pretoria says don’t poke the Russian bear as SA remains neutral in Ukraine crisis
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

South Africa had abstained three times since March 2 from resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly on the Ukraine war, which were highly critical of Russia, because Pretoria believed that condemning Russia’s aggression would not advance the cause of peace – and could even provoke Russia to further “offences”, according to International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor.

South Africa’s non-aligned position on the war in Ukraine does not mean that it condones Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor insists.

“We believe that intervention is in violation of international law,” she told a media briefing on Friday.  

“South Africa has always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states and we don’t choose which member state. Any violation to us is an infringement of the UN Charter and its core tenets,” Pandor said.

“We have also decried the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from this military incursion and called for the urgent opening of humanitarian corridors and the provision of aid to the civilian population which, as usual, bears the brunt of the suffering when violent confrontation breaks out. 

“We have held these views on the core principles and values of the UN Charter and on humanitarian support [also] with respect to Palestine and many other countries where sovereignty is threatened. “

But she added that South Africa had abstained three times since March 2 from resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly on the Ukraine war, which were highly critical of Russia, because Pretoria believed that condemning Russia’s aggression would not advance the cause of peace- and could even provoke Russia to further “offences”.

“Constantly poking a bear that is injured merely serves to make that bear more angry and more reckless,” Pandor said, adding that “the aggressive discourse, the name-calling and the use of the General Assembly for the passing of resolutions that add further to criticism, doesn’t add to the resolution of the problem.” 

South Africa has so far abstained on a broad UN General Assembly resolution on March 2 condemning Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, and another resolution last week calling for humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian civilians and blaming Russia for causing the humanitarian crisis. South Africa proposed instead a resolution calling for humanitarian aid which did not mention Russia because Pretoria said this would only provoke Russia into not implementing the aid. The General Assembly voted to not even put Pretoria’s resolution to the vote. 

This week South Africa abstained again from a UN General Assembly resolution – which easily passed – suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in response to new accusations that Russian soldiers had deliberately killed civilians in Bucha, a town near the capital Kyiv, where bodies were found with their hands bound and gunshot wounds to the head, inflicted at close range. 

Pandor said at the briefing that she was particularly concerned about the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council. 

“Because I think that when a country that is party to such conflict and hostility is placed at the margins of international bodies, the level and opportunity for increased lack of accountability is just too open for us.

“So we are very concerned that the more marginal you become the worse the offences might be.”

Pandor was pressed by a journalist who asked if South Africa believed that Russia was violating international law and human rights, would it not make sense to express that view by voting with the resolution to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. But she repeated that South Africa had questioned whether these resolutions advanced peace. 

Pandor said she told foreign ministers who had called her to urge her to vote for the resolution that “I’m worried that if we place Russia outside of institutions of global governance, we’re almost giving a licence to say ‘do what you will, we’ve now given up. There’s nothing more’”.

She said siding with the “yes” camp would not bring peace as any settlement would have to include Russia and using “UN instruments as tools of war” would not help to draw the country towards peace.

Pandor also insisted that South Africa had “resisted becoming embroiled in the politics of confrontation and aggression that has been advocated by the powerful countries… we adopt an independent view as to how we vote. In no way can we be directed by anyone as to how we should vote”. 

This is in keeping with the approach of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), which was formed in 1961 by developing countries who wished to stay out of the Cold War. 

Pandor also accused the nations taking action against Russia of double standards. “When Israel launched sustained offensive military operations against the Gaza strip, killing hundreds, flattening homes, burying civilians under the rubble, and devastating the already dilapidated infrastructure in such a small and densely populated area, the world failed to respond in the same way as it has on Ukraine. 

“We don’t see Palestinians as different from Ukrainians. But the way the world is reacting suggests that Palestinian lives matter less than the lives of Ukrainians. This is something that concerns us. And we hope we will see the UN acting with as great vigour by the powerful member states, on Israel, on Morocco and others which infringe the sovereignty of nations,” she added, referring also to Morocco’s claim on the Western Sahara which Pretoria recognises as an independent state. 

Pandor said she did not believe the Nato leaders who were trying to mediate in the conflict were the right ones for a task which required neutral mediators. “We cannot understand for example why the secretary general of the UN [António Guterres] is invisible in this huge international crisis.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa called Russian President Vladimir Putin early in the war to get his perspective and said that he had been asked to mediate in the conflict – without saying who had asked. Some time after that, South Africa asked Ukraine if Ramaphosa could also call President Volodymyr Zelensky but received no reply. The Ukrainian government was apparently offended that it took Ramaphosa so long after speaking to Putin to request a conversation with Zelensky. 

Nevertheless, Pandor said a possible call by Ramaphosa to Zelensky was still on the agenda and South Africa remained ready to help mediate, if requested. She said South Africa had the experience, the expertise and the people to do that.  

“To some degree Ukraine and the civilian people of Ukraine are the victims of a huge breach of trust and a concern about security on the part of Russia,” Pandor said.

“We need negotiations that help resolve that level of insecurity among the parties. It has to be addressed. It cannot be neglected. It’s a long-standing historical problem that must be confronted in real terms,” she said, apparently referring to Putin’s complaint about Nato expanding its membership up to the frontiers of Russia. 

At the briefing South Africa’s ambassador to Ukraine Andre Groenewald who has had to flee to Hungary revealed that five South African families were still in Ukraine. One of these families comprised 10 people. All of them felt safe and said they didn’t want to leave, though he said he had urged them all to draw up evacuation plans in case their situations changed. 

One of the families was in Kherson, the southern Ukrainian city which was now occupied by Russian forces. But they were also safe, he said. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lorinda Winter says:


  • anton kleinschmidt says:

    “So we are very concerned that the more marginal you become the worse the offences might be.” This about a series of rolling crimes taking place in the full glare of global television cameras. Every day a new crime.

    So there we have it. A stark example of the philosophy (for want of a better word) of the party that claims to govern South Africa. A dark and twisted soul laid bare for all to see.

    Consider just a few juxtapositions:
    1) We have not prosecuted the perpetrators of the July 2021 insurrection because – “… we are very concerned that the more marginal you become the worse the offences might be.”
    2) We have not prosecuted the various criminals identified by Zondo because – “… we are very concerned that the more marginal you become the worse the offences might be.”
    3) We have not prosecuted the criminals who stole the savings of the poor at VBS Bank because- “… we are very concerned that the more marginal you become the worse the offences might be.”
    4) We seldom fire senior criminals in our party because – “… we are very concerned that the more marginal you become the worse the offences might be.”

    At least have the courage and honesty to admit that the party supports Putin

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    How many times did the UN support the ANC over the years?

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    The little respect that I had left go Cyril has vanished completely. I had respect for Naledi and her first instinct was to tell Russia to withdraw their army. She was then brought into line by Cyril and to our eternal shame. We are on the wrong side by keeping quiet and not condemning the murderous and evil Putin regime. In reality we are condoning it. We have this false disposition that we respect the sovereignty of every country and base our foreign policy on human rights. Yeah right!! We are obviously very selective on applying it and we are nothing but a bunch of crass hypocrites with no backbone or principles. Another miserable failure by this awful, inept and fickle anc. Time to consign this useless mob ton the dustbin!

  • Joe Trainor Trainor says:

    Minister, that is pathetic. And full of contradictions. In one breath you’re saying Russia’s actions are in violation of international law. And in the next breath you’re saying lets not do anything about that. What use are you?

  • John Duncan says:

    Would SA have abstained from UN resolutions against the previous SA regime, based on Pandor’s “poke the bear” diplomacy?

  • Corrie Andre Weavind says:


  • Brian Cotter says:

    Has South Africa been set up by Russia as a get out of jail card. Military invasion of Ukraine vs retaliation in Palestine. Who started what?

  • Andrew McWalter says:

    Still clinging tightly to mommy Russia’s skirts and despite its own remarkable provenance, the ANC government remains infantile in terms of competence, maturity or insight. Retarded and below the general level of intelligence required to participate in the global classroom, SA’s leaders require a special corner of the room, a ward, if you like, where they can mouth and act out their mindless games with all the other ghoulish madmen they so plainly seem to worship.

  • Francis Hardiman says:

    Thought this lady had more sense that the tripe she is spouting.

  • Alan Wassung says:

    I have always believed Naledi Pandor spoke with a degree of common sense and in the interests of deserving citizens in the past. However this latest article appears she is under strict orders to follow the absurd line from the ANC leadership that glosses over the most glaringly obvious offence by the Russian government. Russian marched into a sovereign country with a massive military force aiming to replace the democratically elected Ukraine government with a pro Russian government. In fact for years Russia has continually antagonized Ukraine by supporting a small vociferous minority of Russian speaking citizens in the southeast border region. Ukraine has never initiated any military action against the Russian federation in the past. Unlike the Palestinians who would resort to firing rockets into Israeli territory for whatever reasons and who in turn were responded to by the Israeli military. So Naledi Pandor should not draw a comparison between the Palestinians and the Ukrainian refugees. Ms. Pandor should also appreciate that her opinion with respect to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not what the vast majority of South Africans believe or accept. She is a lone voice parroting the misguided looses of the failed ANC.

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    SA geriatric government thinks Russia will respect them for their stand. Nonsense , Vlad feels feathers for any non Russians.

  • Marc Caldwell says:

    How might Pretoria have voted if Israel had done to the Palestinians what Russia is doing in Ukraine?

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Naledi Pandor is right – no one can tell a country how to vote at the UN. But an abstention is not a vote at all – an abstention simply means you do not have the courage of your convictions, whatever those convictions are. It means you’re a flip-flop fence sitter at best, a slimy appeaser at worst.

  • Andrew Macdonell says:

    Spineless moral cowardice of the highest order. How can the SA Government possibly justify abstention on such a matter. They would abstain in a vote to censure the devil – if given the option!

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “We believe that intervention is in violation of international law”

    What does that even mean?

    Ms Pandor – for a decent human being there can be no defense for fence-sitting while innocent civilians are being slaughtered like cattle during unprovoked aggression by Putin (I won’t even include Russia).

    To put it in a South African context: what you are supporting it is exactly what black people won’t forgive white people for doing during apartheid.

    So why would you do it?

    …are there possibly dodgy dealings with Russia the ANC don’t want to expose?

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Reminds me of the “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil”! Fine when applied in principle but almost always flawed in practice?

  • anton Du Biel says:

    Why should someone subscribe to the old bullshit of “if you’re not for us you’re against us? The war in the ukraine is a lamentable tragedy, but there are certainly nefarious interests on both sides who won’t be able to resist seeing the financial oppurtunities, and those who decide to wait and see have a point, and can regret the tragedy without any silly virtue signalling to the big interests more interested in exploiting the tragedy than ending it. Bluster and splutter as divinely called mr ex president Bush and his heavenly advocates may, when there are swine on both sides, its perhaps best to refrain from pork.

  • Joel Marock says:

    The Bible enjoins us to speak up when evil/wrong is done. Not to do so puts one on the side of the wrongdoer. For Naledi Pandor to admit that a resolution against Russia would provoke it to “FURTHER OFFENCES” says it all. The Government is in violation of its constitutional duties.
    One thought that the ANC had descended to the ultimate depths but no, they have plumbed even further depths.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    The South African government’s failure to condemn the clear evidence of Russian war crimes makes us an accessory by association. What does Putin have over our cabinet ministers that they dance to his tune?

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    I might also add the following:

    1. Naledi Pandor’a statement about “not poking the Russian bear” is idiotic. What does that mean? That Russia must be left alone to do what ever it pleases? That the world must turn a blind eye just because it is Russia and just because it has nuclear weapons? What absolute nonsense!!! Stop kowtowing and being servile to a murderous evil regime!

    2. Is our FM so out of touch with reality or just plain dumb? NATO is a defensive organization and not expanding through its own machinations – it is expanding because of nations, who were under Russia’s inhuman subjugation by the barrel of a gun and who want to be free!!! They don’t want to be under Russia’s cruel control once again. Is it so difficult For her to understand???
    What did the the anc fight for? FREEDOM. At least be true and consistent and afford the Ukrainians the same rights!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options