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Why is the Brenthurst Foundation obsessed with Ukraine — what about Palestine, Yemen, Libya, Western Sahara?


Clayson Monyela is the Head of Public Diplomacy at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa.

Like some in the Western world, Greg Mills and Ray Hartley have prioritised the conflict in Ukraine above every other conflict and gross violation of human rights occurring elsewhere on the globe. One wonders whether the lives that are being lost in conflicts such as in Palestine or Yemen don’t matter?

When the South African government released the National Interest Framework document recently, the reaction of the Brenthurst Foundation could only be described as an emotional venting exercise that did not even begin to address the issues in the document. I was very tempted to respond but I held back.

It can only be deeply etched in the consciousness of one born into privilege not to grasp the urgency and imperative of addressing inequality for a country ranked the most unequal globally, at number one out of 164 countries (according to a report released by the World Bank earlier this year).

The World Bank further lifts “race” as “a key driver of high inequality in South Africa”. How poverty eradication, job creation and addressing inequality in democratic South Africa can be dismissed as minor in the framing of our national interest to guide our endeavours abroad as South African diplomats is mind-boggling.

It is the foundation’s latest attack on our country’s foreign policy and diplomats that provoked me, while at the same time resurrecting my irritation with their national interest response. I’ll deal with both issues.

Greg Mills and Ray Hartley took exception to the country statement at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly asserting that the global community should “treat all conflicts across the globe with equal indignation, no matter what the colour or creed of the people affected”. 

Like some in the Western world, Mills and Hartley have prioritised the conflict in Ukraine above every other conflict and gross violation of human rights occurring elsewhere on the globe. One wonders whether the lives that are being lost in conflicts such as in Palestine or Yemen don’t matter.

John Steenhuisen (Member of Parliament and DA leader) confirmed that the Brenthurst Foundation funded his trip to Ukraine in May this year. One looks forward to seeing another fact-finding mission in Palestine, Yemen, Libya, or Western Sahara funded by the same foundation.

In South Africa we live in a democracy and pride ourselves on our diversity of political views which are aired freely, encouraging vociferous debate. But attacks like those of Mills and Hartley on our foreign policy cannot go unanswered.

Our non-aligned position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict mirrors that of the global South and developing countries (most states that comprise the Non-Aligned Movement, (NAM)). South Africa pursues an independent foreign policy, as do the members of the NAM, and as a collective, we refuse to be bullied into taking sides in battles of geopolitical contestation, as it is not in our national interests to do so.

The problem with the perspective elucidated by Mills and Hartley is that their approach is itself steeped in double standards. When it comes to a Western state, they accept Ukraine’s right of self-defence, but this same right is not recognised when it comes to the Palestinians vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation in line with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. UN General Assembly Resolution 3236/1974 also gives the Palestinians the right to restore their rights by all legitimate means.

It is for this reason that South Africa relentlessly advocates for a rules-based system predicated on international law and adherence to the charter of the United Nations. There cannot be one standard for people of Northern nations, whereby their right to resist attack or occupation is defended, but when it comes to the oppressed in Palestine or elsewhere, their rights are ignored.

The UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet recently expressed alarm at the high number of Palestinians, including children, killed, and injured in the occupied Palestinian territories this year. Bachelet said the widespread use of live ammunition by Israeli forces in law enforcement operations across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has led to an alarming increase in Palestinian fatalities. Bachelet said in many incidents Israeli forces used lethal force in a manner that appeared to be in violation of international human rights law. Rights group Euro-Med Monitor has made similar observations.

Mills and Hartley expose their ignorance of documented history when they ridicule South Africa’s support for Palestine and Western Sahara, saying that “South Africa has no role in Western Sahara, and no voice on Palestine”.

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Also, have they forgotten that countries who supported the anti-apartheid struggle did not do so because they had a role to play, but because it was the right thing to do? We remain committed to being on the right side of history, and to defend the rights of those fighting for liberation against colonialism and oppression.

When Mills and Hartley criticise our solidarity with the people of Cuba, they turn a blind eye to the egregious injustice of the US economic embargo imposed against that island nation, which has now gone on for over six decades. They show their limited understanding of the situation when arguing that it is the Cuban state that impedes the right to development of its people, when in fact it is the US embargo that has impeded the right to development of the Cuban people since 1961. It is the embargo which has prevented Cuba from having normal trading relations with the world and has prevented it from acquiring necessities, denying Cubans the right to essential medicines and consumer goods.

As for South Africa and SADC’s call for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, here’s a point to ponder on. Have the sanctions been effective in terms of improving good governance in Zimbabwe? What the sanctions have done is to worsen the economic situation in that country, deterring foreign investment, and hastening economic collapse.

It is the southern African region that has to bear the consequences of this (most particularly South Africa). When Zimbabweans have no jobs and cannot feed their families, it is mainly to South Africa that they come to find means to survive. Ultimately, economic sanctions on Zimbabwe are indirectly a threat to our national interest.

Perhaps the height of hypocrisy by the Western world and even the Brenthurst Foundation is its failure to expose the suffering of the people of Yemen, and the collusion of the West in the bombing campaign. In Yemen, 19,200 civilians were killed or maimed by air strikes, including 2,300 children since March 2015. For seven years civilians in Yemen have suffered from recurrent war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conflict has displaced at least four million and created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with 23.4 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance.

Where is the outrage of the Brenthurst Foundation at such crimes against humanity? The situation in Yemen has been described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with at least 15.6 million people living in extreme poverty. A UNDP report projects that the number of those killed as a result of Yemen’s war could reach 2.3 million by 2030, and that 70% of those killed would be children under the age of five. The report also projects that extreme poverty could disappear in Yemen within a generation if the conflict were to end immediately.

Yes, the people of Ukraine are suffering immensely and that’s why we continue to call for a cessation of hostilities and negotiations. South Africa has always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, in keeping with the UN Charter.

It should be equally the case, for the people of Yemen and Palestine. It is time to recognise that the lives of brown people are no less valuable than others, and it is time to call out the big powers for their violations of international law and human rights, as well as their double standards.

Let me return to the national interest debate.

In their critique of the national interest framework document, Hartley and Mills waxed lyrical about democracy. How many Western countries fail on key aspects of it? The fight against racism must be central to a democracy test.

We forget that our late icon and first President of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was incarcerated for 27 years for challenging the racism that was at the heart of the apartheid regime. Hector Pieterson was killed for fighting for the right to an education free of racism. Data on Covid-19 deaths from a rich Western country shows that race was critical to the chances of surviving it, with people of African descent comprising a huge proportion of those who lost their lives.

One minute the extrajudicial killing of a journalist is condemned with all the sanctimonious piousness in the world, the next minute the national interests of these very same countries trumps human rights. Most recently, a former senior diplomat of a country shared how he had been involved in the planning of coups in other countries.

Overall, it’s not clear whether the two authors are venting on behalf of the Brenthurst Foundation, with Greg Mills as its director and Ray Hartley its research director. One hopes that the views of Mills are not influenced by his past association with Nato regarding what is unfolding in Ukraine.

Greg Mills provided services to Nato in Afghanistan for four months in 2006. On the request of General David Richards (Commander of Nato forces), Mills helped establish and run a civilian think-tank, the Prism Group. This however shouldn’t oblige or bind South Africa to adopt the interests of Nato as its national interest.

Democratic South Africa must, among other factors, consider the constitutional imperatives on socioeconomic rights in the Bill of Rights. The indivisibility and interdependence of socioeconomic rights, civil and political rights as anchors of our democracy, is what informs and inspires our diplomats in their work. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Juergen Rose says:

    Spot on. I am also concerned at the Daily Maverick’s uncritical support for Ukraine, and its ridicule of anyone who questions that.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      What must be critical support look like? Are we not guided by the UN Charter and international law. This fellow with tavern diplomacy does not say what constitutes the West, the East and the non – aligned and just throws words without attaching meaning to them. He adds Libya when South Africa supported its bombardment and murder of Gaddafi by NATO and now comes out lying in this article and the clown was there! Who does he fool? EFF was on Zuma who was tongue tied together with ANC check collectors when he was confronted in parliament. Sarkozy is being charged for Libyan money and may be the fellow can explain where is the R400 million of Libyan money?

    • Dave Martin says:

      It’s revealing that Monyela bemoans the Eurocentric focus of the Brenthurst Foundation and then, when listing the conflicts that should have equal attention, he fails to mention the world’s most brutal conflict occuring literally in our own region (SADC). Somehow Palestine, Yemen and Western Sahara (!) are more important than the horror happening in the Eastern DRC. And, nogal, there are thousands of South African troops fighting there!

      Shame on both Brenthurst and Monyela.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    He wants to compare the conflicts he refers to with Russia’s aggression and have them treated equally, but he misses the point that they are demonstrably not equal or even comparable. Does he not see the difference between regional disputes and the one that threatens a continent wide war, international food shortages and even nuclear weapons. His boss not only compared the Russian invasion and mass murder with the Israel dispute but Israel came out unfavorably in her estimation. Like the mother who thought her cadet son was the only one marching in step, the arrogant harmful ANC thinks its lost causes are right and everybody else is wrong

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      He fails to mention that Zuma and the ANC supported the invasion and the dismemberment of Libya by NATO. He also fails to mention that Zuma was in the pockets of Americans and the French. He first visited Bush on his way out and Americans do no host a person who is a party President unless he is a head of state. They host such people if they are American assets.

  • allan j whitehead says:

    Clayson, I would suggest that you look inwards and fix that decrepit department that you work for before slagging off others, your masters have and still are destroying this country.
    Your time should be best spent, not reading newspapers, rather fix that Ministry you work for..

  • Charles Young says:

    The gross violation of human rights occurring elsewhere is, of course, horrific, but one rather obvious reason to be particularly concerned about the conflict in Ukraine is the potential for a catastrophic escalation that will affect us all.

  • Alan Paterson says:

    While I support freedom of expression I can only hope DM does not pay this ANC apparatchik for the drivel he spouts.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    Charity begins at home, my friend. Look no further than your own hood.
    We are not world players, and nobody cares about our opinion on the state of affairs or human rights in Yemen, Ukraine, Palestine or anywhere else. We are a failed, corrupt and bankrupt state where women and children are raped and killed every moment of the day on the street, in their homes, at school and in the work place. Children go hungry, jobless people live in shacks with no running water. Children die in pit latrines.

    Do you honestly believe anybody cares about your or our opinion concerning human rights or anything else for that matter?

    • Julian Burke says:

      Failed states have a way of attributing their failure to racism. South Africa is no exception. They will stay in that murky place until their leaders can raise their heads and their consciousness.

      True democracies fight for each other to maintain democratic values and Ukraine is one, albeit recent, member of that alignment.

      South Africa had its chance with world backing and take a look at how its leadership squandered that chance and disillusioned its backers by the internal subversion of its own state.

      SA’s poor will continue to weep. Winner takes all is not democratic rule. Look in the mirror Sir and stop envying the likes of Ukraine whose democratic state and Will to succeed you should rather try to emulate.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Oh wow. This piece is so steeped in disinformation/ BS that I know Brenthurst will respond. But please, Guys, a measured response. DM does not need to justify facts against the new rich establishment’s fiction. Grayson apparently has a personal agenda and those who read DM will know that without making it any more obvious. Please respond to the challenge, not Grayson.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    For the West and EU countries to involve themselves in African affairs could be mistaken for colonial interference. Perhaps members of the skew red beret society would be the best to comment on this.

  • talfrynharris says:

    Its true that a double standard exists regarding the invasion of Palestinian land and the wars in Yemen, Eritrea, Western Sahara etc. To the West, white lives clearly matter more. Nevertheless we shouldn’t engage in whataboutism regarding Ukraine. The stakes are higher because of the potential escalation into WW3. The Ukraine invasion is also distressing because it is fueled by stupidity and delusional thinking. No objective observer sees a justification for the invasion. Why does the largest country in the world need to take more territory by force of arms? South Africa is currently on the wrong side of history.


    No mention of China here… That South Africa refuses entry to the Dalai Lama at the behest of China is evidence that South Africa does NOT follow an “independent” foreign policy. It is the South African government’s complicit support for ZANU-PF’s dictatorship which has sustained that regime and forced millions of Zimbabweans to take refuge in South Africa. In other words, the SA government is largely responsible for the influx of the Zimbabweans. The ANC-SACP alliance’s unswerving support for a red-fascist regime in Cuba is evidence of the government’s support for one-party states which have no concept of democracy. Surely employment should be the main focus of the government’s policies. But nationalisation of mineral rights in 2002 has chased out most foreign mining investment and destroyed employment in the mining industry. In the person of ex-president Zuma, we had an anti-patriotic traitor to the well-being of South Africans – just look at the growth rate, less than 1% p.a. Perhaps the ANC-SACP government need to seek a vision for the employment of ALL South Africans rather than the narrow, selfish interests of the ideologically-driven elite.

  • John Smythe says:

    Oh please. So many holes in this piece. Another typical one-sided ANC opinion from a communist pawn. Your government has murdered the prospects of this country with BEE, cadre deployment (in the guise of AA – you weren’t fooling anybody), and its NDR ideology. And you can say all you like about the horrors of the West on the Palestinians, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Yemen. They’re definitely terrible. No doubt. But no mention of the current brutality in Syria by your bosses in Moscow, I see. And China’s Mao on millions? And Russia’s Stalin on millions? And Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe on the 20 000 Mathebele deaths at the hand of ZANU-PF – that very democratic party that has dubiously stayed in power for 42 years (the same party as Emmerson Mnangagwa). The ANC conveniently glosses over those atrocities when it takes a “non-aligned position”. Stop patting yourself on the shoulder for your failures. You’ve had thirty years to create an amazing democratic country that has had so many opportunities to succeed. How many South Africans have died or been slung into the pit of poverty by the hand of the ANC during that period – not by the gun, but by your party’s incompetence and core corruption. Instead of waxing lyrical about the atrocities elsewhere, take your blinkers off, go look outside, see what’s happening around you and fix it! The sad thing is the ANC doesn’t have the competence or capacity to do that and Malema will be soon leading you around by your noses. Well done!

    • Libby De Villiers says:

      Hear hear. And please can we go beyond the colour of our skins? It is really not the reason for everything that is wrong in the world.

  • Douglas Ian Scott says:

    This article gives an interesting insight into how DIRCO justifies South Africa’s officially non-aligned (yet unofficial defacto support for Russia) position on regarding the invasion of Ukraine by targeting one of the most vocal domestic critics of South Africa’s position on the war, the Brenthurst Foundation. It however makes a weak argument that contains a number of glaring hypocrisies.
    The strongest criticism this article makes against the Foundation is the alleged double standards of focusing on the war in Ukraine whilst ignoring conflicts such as Israel/Palestine and Yemen. Yet this is done whilst studiously ignoring both the scale of the Russian invasion (the largest war fought in the world since World War 2), its outsized economic and politician impact on the world, and the fact that this war could conceivably result in a nuclear war.

    The author makes the astonishingly hypocritical, and cynical, comment that they “remain committed to being on the right side of history, and to defend the rights of those fighting for liberation against colonialism and oppression;” whilst ignoring the fact that Ukraine is fighting against Russian colonialism and oppression. It also does this whilst overtly ignoring the bad things other countries are doing such as China’s oppressive colonial projects in Tibet and Xinjiang.

    This really highlights the moral bankruptcy of South Africa’s foreign policy position that seems to be based on an anti-Western bias rather than anything moral.

  • talfrynharris says:

    Of course it’s likely that for many in the West the loss of white lives in Ukraine evokes more concern than the slaughter of black and brown people in African and Middle Eastern wars. Although one could turn this around and say are you as an African less concerned about white people killing each other in Ukraine? It’s hard to defend against such accusations. The difference with Ukraine though, besides the greater impact on the global economy and food security, and the potential escalation into WW3/nuclear warfare, is that the Russian invasion is clearly part of an imperial project. Putin has stated his ambitions to expand the Russian Empire by conquering and subjugating surrounding nations quite clearly, and often. As a member of a supposed liberation organization that should concern you. It’s clear that misplaced loyalty from the struggle era is clouding our government’s thinking on the invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s Russia and the USSR are not even the same entity, we owe them nothing. Russia is going down, and SA should sever those ties so as not to get dragged (further) down with it.

  • John Stephens says:

    This article demonstrates the falsity and hypocrisy od SA’s so -called non-aligned strategy. What-aboutism does not render valid an argument in favour of or against any particular policy. Every situation must be evaluated in its own context. That goes from Palestinians, Yeminis, Syrians, Somalis and whoever else you like to mention. But whatever your policy in respect of any one of those problems it should be consistently morally defensible.
    As far as the Russian Ukrainian conflict is concerned, there is a clear and unambiguous moral judgement: Russia is the aggressor and Ukraine is the victim. If you can’t see that you are morally blind, probably corrupt.
    South Africa is not non-aligned – it is misaligned. By all means, bring your policies together under one moral umbrella, but don’t pretend that neutrality is non-aligned – neutrality in a moral dilemma is plain cowardice. There is no neutrality between right and wrong. What-aboutism is totally irrelevant. There is no excuse for not expressing outrage at immoral conduct, from wherever it comes.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    It’s no wonder that our foreign affairs is so wayward, hypocritical, morally and ethically bankrupt, and utterly idiotic with such moronic cadres at the helm. We close ranks with and support the most vile, murderous and brutal human rights abusers/regimes, which is completely contrary to our constitution and values of this country. BUT this escapes this halfwit individual. What is our foreign affairs department doing about Yemen etc besides the bile and hot air that spews forth from such vacuous nothing-niks?

  • Christopher John Wiseman says:

    I found this article by Clayson Monyela to be extremely interesting and informative. I have previously blindly followed institutions like the Brenthurst Foundation’s views without really questioning. This article really left me questioning my previous positions. Many thanks Clayton.
    Chris Wiseman

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The person who has written this article it is unfortunate that he is the head of public diplomacy at the useless and clueless department. He would find it difficult to define non – aligned in the current global international geopolitical configuration as he does not understand the differences with regard to the conflicts he refers to. I do not think that the writers are ignorant of these issues but he has to understand what is referred to as current affairs. The different conflicts he refers to, have different origins and have a different impact on global peace. He is ignorant of the UN Charter, its mandate and international law that he claims South Africa is non -aligned to. This begs the question of being a member of a multilateral organisation that you claim neutrality to its Charter and international law that the thug in Russia is violating. He requires a basic course on international relations and diplomacy. As a remnant of the Zuma stooges in that department, it is not surprising that he writes as a captured stooge of the Russians. Every geopolitical conflict has a different impact on the global peace, economy and humanitarian crisis. The Russian aggression condemned as such by the UN Secretary – General who called on Putin to pull his troops out of Ukraine it was because it violated the UN Charter, mandate and international law. What makes one happy is the decision to impose sanctions on countries, entities and individuals who support the Putin thuggery.

  • mark leach says:

    Just one small truck to drive through one of the many gaping holes in this truly awful piece of writing – does the author know how many people have died, in total, in all the fighting in and around Israel since 1920? Roughly 25,000 Jews and 91,000 Arabs. That’s all the wars, intifadas etc. In 8 months the fatalities in the Russian colonial invasion of Ukraine have exceeded that number. 8 months vs 100 years. Both are terrible, but the two are vastly disproportionate.

  • Karel Vlok says:

    Not that I know much, but to me it seems this pesky Eurocentric thing called democracy is the real problem. Mr Monyela, to my limited insight, seems to champion those where the elite do not need or want “our people” to have a say in things. It is also only fair that the Brenthurst Foundation spend their after tax money where they see fit.

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