South Africa


German Chancellor Scholz to ask Ramaphosa how he can remain non-aligned on Ukraine

German Chancellor Scholz to ask Ramaphosa how he can remain non-aligned on Ukraine
From left: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jens Krick / Pool | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS)

Yet Olaf Scholz will also invite President Cyril Ramaphosa to attend the G7 summit which he will host in Berlin in July — a sign that their differences on Ukraine will not ‘profoundly’ damage South African-German relations.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will question President Cyril Ramaphosa about his “non-aligned” position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when the two leaders meet at the Union Buildings, Pretoria, on Tuesday. 

Yet Scholz will also invite Ramaphosa to attend the G7 summit which he will host in Berlin in July — a sign that their differences on Ukraine will not “profoundly” damage South African-German relations.

Scholz, who has been in office for six months, will arrive in South Africa on Tuesday morning on the last leg of his first visit to Africa, which has also taken him to Senegal and Niger.

The German chancellor will tell Ramaphosa that countries like South Africa, which value a rules-based international order, should be working with countries like Germany to help maintain that order — “rather than setting up new boundaries between the aligned and non-aligned worlds”, Christopher Schmidt, the spokesperson for the German embassy in Pretoria, told Daily Maverick.

Germany did not see the war in Ukraine as an occasion for the renewal of the Non-Aligned Movement, but rather as one for expressing solidarity on common values, he said. 

Nevertheless, Scholz would listen to Ramaphosa and try to understand where South Africa’s stance on the war was coming from, he said. This was all the more crucial because South Africa was an important partner of Germany — one of the most important, if not the most important, in Africa. 

“At the same time, we want to explain how we see things, how Russia’s aggression is a threat to the global order,” he said.

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He noted how last week, Scholz’s national security and foreign policy adviser, Jens Plötner, had visited South Africa and had said Germany and South Africa as middle powers both had an interest in preserving a stable global order, “where the rule of law prevails and not the rule of the strongest”.

“This is our common interest,” Plötner said. “We are on a quest to build a coalition of countries who are democratic and who believe in the rule of law and who want a stable international order. So I find we are natural allies in this and I would encourage everybody not to fall back into the patterns of the 20th century and speak of non-aligned.

“How can you be non-aligned in a multipolar world where you have the US, you have Russia, you have China, you have India?” Plötner asked.

“We want an order where countries like South Africa and Germany can together work for stability in the international arena.”

Schmidt nevertheless noted that Scholz would invite Ramaphosa to this year’s G7 summit of the world’s major Western economies. He said global issues of the moment, like the war in Ukraine, would top the agenda at the summit, so that would be an occasion for further discussion with Ramaphosa on these. 

This would include discussions about how to address the huge negative impact the war has had on food prices and food security. 

Climate change would also be an issue both in Scholz’s meeting with Ramaphosa on Tuesday and at the G7 summit, Schmidt said.

That would include the large financial and other support that Germany and other Western countries are providing to South Africa to help it make a “just transition” from its large dependence on coal toward renewable energy sources.

Ramaphosa and Scholz would also discuss further cooperation in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Germany and other Western countries are also helping South Africa to develop vaccines against other diseases. 

Melanie Müller, a senior associate and researcher at Berlin’s German Institute for International and Security Affairs, with a focus on South Africa, told Daily Maverick that South Africa was one of Germany’s most important partners in Africa. 

“The focus of the trip is on deepening economic and trade relations, and the continuation of research cooperation between the two countries is also to be discussed. For Germany, the implementation of the Just Energy Transition Partnership plays an important role.

“In the UN, South Africa was one of the few democratic countries that did not clearly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In Germany and the EU, where the Russian invasion is seen in particular as a conflict between democratic and authoritarian norms, the restrained reaction of the South African government has led to astonishment, sometimes disappointment — not only on the part of the government but, in particular, among the population. 

“I am sure that Chancellor Scholz will discuss the South African position on Ukraine. At the same time, I do not think that a different position has the potential to damage the relationship profoundly in the long term. 

“So far, the ‘for us or against us’ attitude has not prevailed in Germany. Chancellor Scholz has also faced criticism in Germany because he has not visited Ukraine himself so far and has long been seen as too hesitant in condemning Russia, even though this has changed. 

“Therefore, I rather believe that the focus will be on strengthening a common democratic narrative instead of building an alliance against Russia.”

Müller said one of Scholz’s reasons for visiting Senegal on Sunday was because the country’s president, Macky Sall, was currently chairperson of the African Union and as such would also be invited to the G7 summit in Germany. 

“A central focus of the G7 summit will be on strengthening the cohesion of democratic states worldwide,” she said. “It is therefore not surprising that Senegal and South Africa, two democratically oriented states, were selected for the trip in order to deepen common perspectives. 

“In Germany, the short and long-term effects of the war in Ukraine on food security worldwide are in the focus. Certainly, this will also be discussed during the talks with the three African countries, since this affects the African continent.”

She also noted that Germany had further expanded its cooperation with Senegal since 2019 after the two countries concluded a reform partnership as part of Germany’s Compact with Africa initiative. 

“The partnership has a focus on economic cooperation and vocational training, but also energy cooperation,” which would have been discussed in the visit. 

Müller said security issues had also been prominent in Scholz’s visits to Senegal and Niger as both countries were affected by the deteriorating security situation in nearby Mali. 

In Senegal on Sunday, Scholz said Berlin would actively work to restart grain exports to Africa from Ukraine, which have been halted by the war. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on Russia to lift its blockade on Ukrainian ports to allow grain exports. 

Scholz heard from Sall that the message he was likely to hear from Ramaphosa about the Ukraine war was that, “We do not want to be aligned on this conflict; very clearly, we want peace,” Deutsche Welle reported. 

Müller noted that Germany’s Parliament had just decided to extend the country’s participation in two missions — the UN peacekeeping mission Minusma and the European Union Training Mission ( EUTM) — in the Sahel until 31 May 2023.

“Minusma will remain in Mali. German participation will even be increased in this mission. Instead of 1,100 soldiers, Germany could send 1,400 soldiers in the future. But the EU Training Mission will actually shift its focus from Mali to Niger; the training of soldiers in Mali will largely be terminated. Germany will send 300 instead of 600 soldiers to EUTM, 230 of them will be stationed in Niger.”

The shift of the EUTM from Mali to Niger has been prompted by the friction between the Malian military junta which seized power in a coup in 2020 and European powers — mainly France — involved in helping the country fight Islamic militants. DM


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  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    Germany had its problems dealing with the Russian invasion and finally decided to supply offensive weapons. They have some understanding when faced with responding adequately to the crisis.

    I wonder just how long our international goodwill will survive the actions of the ANC – not just with regards to Ukraine. I understand the non-aligned stance put forward and it could be considered reasonable in the first two weeks of the war. Seeing the wanton destruction by Russia (not the Soviet Union, our old buddies) of Ukrainian assets and civilians, non-aligned is no longer an appropriate response.

    For citizens, it is time to say ‘NOT IN MY NAME’.

    For the ANC it is time to have a tough discussion with Russia, as a friend and tell them they have exceeded the boundary of friendship.

  • Peter Brink says:

    It is most disappointing that President Ramaphosa is unwilling to condemn Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine. Many of us in other countries have looked to RSA as a world leader with a keen sense of justice and values subsequent to the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s. Why is President Ramaphosa unwilling to condemn this hugely destructive invasion of an independent, democratic nation?
    Peter Brink, Vermont, USA

    • Pet Bug says:

      The Economist has an article on twitter analysis of comments supporting Russia – these do interesting things, bots or real. African comments decried the West, for their colonial history and tendencies.
      The ANC government simply has a straight-line mental wiring, fixed for ever, no rhyme or reason.
      Whatever the East (Russia, China) gets up to won’t be condemned; the West will always attacked and pilloried.
      Blinded ideology with complete lack of common sense.

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