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‘The world is topsy-turvy’ — Ramaphosa denies SA’s foreign policy on human rights is unbalanced

‘The world is topsy-turvy’ — Ramaphosa denies SA’s foreign policy on human rights is unbalanced
Illustrative image | President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the Cape Town Press Club at Kelvin Grove Club, 15 February 2024; United Russia Party. (Photo: GCIS | Contributor / Getty Image)

The President says he is pursuing peace not only in Gaza but also in Ukraine, Sudan and elsewhere.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has dismissed criticism that his government is pursuing an inconsistent foreign policy on human rights, enthusiastically taking up the cause of Palestinians but neglecting the suffering of Ukrainians, Sudanese and Zimbabweans.

Addressing the Cape Town Press Club in Newlands on Thursday 15 February, Ramaphosa insisted that his government was engaged in peace processes to try to end Russia’s war against Ukraine and to stop the civil war in Sudan. On Zimbabwe, he was somewhat more vague, saying in essence that Pretoria had left the dispute over last year’s elections to “regional bodies” — a reference, it seemed, mainly to a critical report on the elections by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 

Regarding Russia and Ukraine, he was asked specifically to explain why the ANC was currently participating in a seminar in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party on Western “neocolonialism” when Russia itself was in the process of colonising Ukraine. 

“These are developing issues and where we seek to bring everyone into one tent, so relax,” he said to that specific question, rather obscurely.  “The world is topsy-turvy as it is now. There are so many moves and changes all over the world,” Ramaphosa told the mostly non-journalist audience.

He did not respond to the question on whether South Africa should condemn Putin’s recent justification of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, which he made in an interview with the US journalist Tucker Carlson.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Vladimir Putin justified Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland; South Africa must denounce him

Ramaphosa also responded to the deaths of two South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers and the wounding of three others, in a mortar bomb attack on their base in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday. 

They had only recently arrived in the country as part of the SADC Mission in DRC to help the DRC army fight armed rebel groups, mainly the M23 group which is backed by Rwanda.

The Democratic Alliance has criticised SA’s participation in the mission, saying South Africa has no national interests at stake in that country and that the SANDF has not properly equipped its soldiers to deal with the M23 in particular, a powerful force.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two SANDF troops killed, three injured in mortar explosion in eastern DRC

Ramaphosa insisted that the troops were adequately armed and added that South Africa had been duty-bound to respond to SADC’s request to come to the aid of a fellow SADC member, the DRC. He also presented the deployment as consistent with the African Union’s policy of Silencing the Guns in Africa. 

‘Behind the scenes’

In broader terms, Ramaphosa insisted that his government’s foreign policy on human rights remained consistent, across Palestine, Ukraine, Sudan and Zimbabwe. 

He said his government had intervened in Ukraine in pursuit of peace and had even led an African Peace Mission to Ukraine and Russia, to whom it had proposed a strong 10-point peace plan. 

One of the 10 elements which SA had said must be taken into account was respect for the territorial integrity of all countries as set out in the United Nations Charter. “This was very much in line with the human rights and foreign policy we have adopted,” he said.

Ramaphosa said he had spoken this week on the phone to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the continued participation of SA’s national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, in the Ukraine peace talks.

Read more in Daily Maverick: What is South Africa’s role in Ukraine’s peace talks?

He added that SA had also participated in confidence-building measures to advance the cause of peace. South Africa had interacted with Russia to try to secure the release of prisoners of war. 

“And all this is happening behind the scenes as both countries have respected the role that we have been playing in this whole conflict. And we will continue playing that role going forward and that’s why we’ve never closed the doors of engagement between the two countries. And we are highly respected for the neutral role we have continued to play despite being criticised. 

“When it comes to Sudan, we are equally involved in a peacemaking process. We have been talking to both sides of the warring parties.”

He noted that he had last month received in Pretoria the leader of one of the warring parties — Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemedti”, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces.

And then we are talking to the other one on a continuous basis through envoys,” Ramaphosa added, presumably referring to Hemedti’s enemy in the current civil war, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese Armed Forces.  

“We have continued to engage with our Zimbabwean neighbours on a continuous basis. The issue of the elections, we believe, was addressed and settled by regional bodies. And there wasn’t much we needed to be commenting on except to say that we recognise and accept the decision that was taken by the regional body.”

Ramaphosa added that SA had also participated in peacemaking efforts in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Mozambique and “many other countries. So I don’t see any inconsistency … because we are led by a very clear human rights posture or culture that we have sought to pursue. 

“We now sit on the Human Rights Council in Geneva playing an important role in advancing human rights in the world. We are a small country in terms of population and population size but we do punch way above our weight. South Africa is highly respected. Its voice is sought out over a number of issues.” 

Speaking out

Ramaphosa said some critics had accused South Africa of having a big mouth. 

“And yes, we have a big mouth when it comes to issues of human rights.  And we will not be silent. We will continue to use this big mouth that we have so long as we believe that the violation of human rights of people around the world should not be the order of the day.”

Ramaphosa denied the accusation of a member of the Jewish community that his government had called Hamas on 8 October, the day after it attacked Israel, to congratulate it on the attack. 

When Ramaphosa asked this person who in his government had congratulated Hamas, she said it was International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, who had posted the acclaim on social media.

Ramaphosa said that was not true and that his government had consistently criticised Hamas for its “abhorrent and inhuman” attack on Israel. But he insisted South Africa would continue to criticise Israel for what he called its disproportionate retaliation against Hamas in Gaza in which some 27,000 Palestinians had been killed. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    President Zelensky of Ukraine has confirmed that talks are at an advanced stage in the mediation on his peace plan with South Africa playing a huge role.
    Dirco with the president’s office are handling foreign affairs fairly and inline with our policies.
    A lot of these actions are diplomatic in nature and won’t be splashed in media headlines.
    It’s fair to recognize what is right and condemn what is wrong.
    2 SADF member lost their lives in one of these African interventions may their soul rest in peace.
    The narrative that our foreign relations is biased is unfounded and cannot be true or supported with true facts.
    Joe Biden was the first person to know Russia will invade Ukraine and he took a decision to intervene in a way that will benefit arms producing countries within NATO.
    Joe Biden was quick to take a decision that Israel an occupying State has a right to defend it’s self against the people it occupies and it’s no accident that his support of weapons to Israel directly benefits America’s arms producers.
    85 billion is the exact amount set for that.
    The response to Ukraine and Palestine is a stark contrast but one thing is common, the supply of weapons directly benefits American companies and the tax goes back to American treasury.
    The losers here are those supposedly being supported, although eventually the solution will be the same dialogue that president Ramaphosa is calling for.
    It cannot happen now as shylock Biden is still taking his pound of flesh, blood is flowing

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      Fact checking Fakude:

      “President Zelensky of Ukraine has confirmed that talks are at an advanced stage in the mediation on his peace plan with South Africa playing a huge role” – Zilensky never said this. Fail.

      “The narrative that our foreign relations is biased is unfounded and cannot be true or supported with true facts.” – Pandor is clearly and unequivocally biased. And are there “true facts” as opposed to “untrue facts”? Fail.

      “Joe Biden was the first person to know Russia will invade Ukraine” – Fail. The first person to know was Putin.

      “Joe Biden … support of weapons to Israel directly benefits America’s arms producers. 85 billion is the exact amount set for that.” Fail.

  • ST ST says:

    The thing about losing your moral compass is that you really can no longer determine what is moral because you’ve lost the very compass that would help you locate it in amongst the rubble of mistruths that you continually fill your head with to justify the unjustifiable. Ag shame!

  • ST ST says:

    The thing about losing your moral compass is that you really can no longer determine what is moral because you’ve lost the very compass that would help you locate it in amongst the rubble of mistruths that you continually fill your head with to justify the unjustifiable.

  • dexter m says:

    I do not agree with some of his comments ,but i will give him credit for taking and answering questions from press and detractors . Which is not the case for most leaders , the most we get are prepared statements or interviews with tame media.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    I had certainly read of Pandor’s antics in relation to both Hamas and Iran back in October….and then the dressing up by various ANC and Ministers in support of Hamas and by implication, against Israel

  • Allen Masomere says:

    What did SADC decide to do about the Zimbabwe elections Mr President? Nothing.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    What a buffoon! Too foolish and arrogant to realise that he contradicts himself all the time and that he and his party are nothing but hyper hypocrites, liars and fraudsters. If you are non-aligned or preach that your foreign policy is based on human rights, you CAN’T, Cyril, select what suits you to condemn or turn a blind eye to, which is exactly what you and your odious party are all about and do all the time. There is no honesty, decency, morals, ethics or integrity in this individual posing as president and that is why he and his party have sunk this country to a virtual failed state. If it wasn’t for the tenacity, versatility and toughness of South Africans in general and the private sector, this country would be no better than a Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba etc. – miserable and total failures!

  • Rae Earl says:

    The downright awful Naledi Pandor should follow in the footsteps of the equally awful Dlamini-Zuma. Leave the stage!

  • Rodgers Pillay says:

    Sort out your own backyard of murderers hijackers rapists and gbv in the country. Stop telling others what to do.

  • Peter Hilditch says:

    Why is the ANC participating in a seminar in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party on Western “neocolonialism” when Russia itself is in the process of neo-colonising Ukraine and the Sahel while imprisoning and murdering their own citizens including most recently the “Nelson Mandela” of Russia Alexei Navalni – the ANCs behavior makes my mind boggle. By their words and actions they are condoning the Putin regimes behavior. Moral compass? What’s that?

  • Christoph Schönenberger says:

    … but this government of ours is so ideologically damaged that they see nothing wrong in supporting a ruthless regime that has no respect for human rights and global agreements and kills anybody opposed to their corrupt leadership. In fact they fall for ridiculous lies such as ‘working together to counter Western neocolonialism’ – coined by a regime that infiltrates and destroys half of Africa among other nations in the world with their support for corrupt leaders on the African continent. Alexei Navalny – rest in peace! May your death awaken a nation that has been mislead and oppressed. And may our own country grow up and stand for justice and peace for all, without ideology and favour.

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