“South Africa is not for sale,” declared International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor last week. She said this in response to increased rumblings from the US that South Africa might have to suffer the consequences of its close relationship with Russia by losing its preferential access to US markets via the Agoa agreement.
Pandor’s seemingly valiant statement is ironic. One of the reasons South Africa remains tied to Russia is that Russia has helped provide a financial lifeline to the ANC. Earlier this year, it was reported that the ANC had received R15-million from a company tied to a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
Following the trail of Russian money in South Africa remains difficult and dangerous, but there is sufficient evidence of a money trail between Pretoria and Moscow to suspect that South Africa’s loyalty has partly been bought. Pandor is losing sight of the fact that human rights compliance has long been one of the conditions for benefitting from trade agreements and other international partnerships.
The South African government cannot continue to be blind to the illegality and inhumanity of Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. It cannot continue to be blind to the pre-2022 human rights violations committed during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
If the ANC continues to not honour the human rights commitments on which our constitutional democracy is built, it will lead to economic and reputational ruin. By continuing to support Russia, Pandor and others in the government are committing “kamikaze diplomacy”. This means they are willing to destroy South Africa’s reputation for the sake of supporting Russia.
South Africa’s post-1994 acceptance by the international community and the goodwill we enjoyed in those first decades of democracy were largely built on a foundation of a shared understanding of human rights. The ANC has seemingly forgotten this.
The ANC is also forgetting that the Constitution is a pact between the government and the people. The Constitution contains a series of socioeconomic rights and an undertaking to improve the quality of life of all who live in this country. By alienating us from our major Western trade partners the ANC is failing this central commitment.
Stanlib Asset Management has estimated that South Africa stands to lose $32-billion should some of its main trading partners, mainly from the West, retaliate against its stance on Russia.
South Africa is not only losing investor confidence but is losing the confidence of those members of the international community who care for international law and peace. Ramaphosa’s “peace” visit to Russia and Ukraine will do little to undo the damage done by routinely abstaining in the UN General Assembly on motions condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine, and by granting immunity to Russian President Vladimir Putin should he visit our shores in August.
Regardless of whether the US and/or EU impose sanctions or secondary sanctions on South Africa, the loss of reputation will be difficult to recover from. Our exclusion from international forums, such as the G7 earlier this year, could become more common.
When it comes to the most serious international crimes, there is no such thing as neutrality. South Africa’s membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) demands that it prosecutes those who commit the worst international crimes, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.
Credible evidence exists that Russia has committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity since February 2022. In April this year, Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said it had registered 80,000 potential war crimes since February 2022.
From early in the war it was clear that Russia was attacking civilian targets including schools, hospitals and apartment buildings. It is increasingly being argued that Russia’s forcible transfer and Russification of Ukranian children to Russia amounts to genocide. Russia has also committed the crime of aggression by illegally invading Ukraine.
South Africa’s ties to Russia appear to be not only ideological, but also material. Yet our government wants to convince us that it is not about the money. (In the run-up to next year’s election the ANC knows it needs all the financial help it can get.)
Members of the government are not only deaf to the sound of missiles in Kyiv, but they are also tone deaf to the demands of a world order which foregrounds humanitarian concerns and human rights.
In pursuing kamikaze diplomacy at the expense of the South African people, the ANC is every bit as (self) destructive as Putin. DM