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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GULSHAN KHAN/Getty Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GULSHAN KHAN/Getty Images

President Cyril Ramaphosa says following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there has been extraordinary pressure on SA to abandon its non-aligned position and take sides in what is, in effect, a contest between Russia and the West.

The president maintained that since the advent of democracy nearly 30 years ago, SA has pursued an independent foreign policy and would not be pressured otherwise.

In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa hailed one of the most impressive features of the international anti-apartheid movement, citing that it drew support from countries and citizens from across continental and ideological divides.

“The struggle to end apartheid was taken up in capitals from Africa to Europe, from the Americas to Asia. Our leaders worked hard to gain the support of governments, lawmakers and citizens across the divisions of the Cold War,” he said.

His comments came after US allegations last week that weapons were loaded onto the Russian ship Lady R from a naval base in Cape Town late in 2022, which sparked a diplomatic row.

Government officials swiftly rejected claims made by US ambassador to SA Reuben Brigety, who also said senior US officials had “profound concerns” about SA’s professed policy of non-alignment and neutrality over Russia's war in Ukraine.

SA would continue to honour international agreements and treaties it is a signatory to, and its approach to US allegations of arms shipment would abide by those agreements, Ramaphosa said.

Resolution of conflict through dialogue

The experience of reaching out across political divides and building relations with very different countries has helped to shape SA's foreign policy, he said. This has been coupled with a firm belief in the value of an inclusive multilateral world order and the peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue.

“This explains SA’s membership of the non-aligned movement, a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. SA has also used its membership of other international forums like the G20 and Brics group to advance the views and interests of countries in Africa and the rest of the global south.”

Ramaphosa reiterated that other countries in Africa and elsewhere had been put under similar pressure, but that SA remained firm on that point. SA has not been, and will not be, drawn into a contest between global powers, he said.

“That does not mean that we do not have a position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Consistent with our stance on conflicts in other parts of the world, SA’s view is that the international community needs to work together to urgently achieve a cessation of hostilities and to prevent further loss of life and displacement of civilians in Ukraine.

“It needs to support meaningful dialogue towards a lasting peace, which ensures the security and stability of all nations,” he said.

As a country, SA is committed to the articles of the UN Charter, including the principle that all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means, he said.

“We support the principle that members should refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of other states. Our position seeks to contribute to the creation of conditions that make the achievement of a durable resolution of the conflict possible.”

The Russia-Ukraine conflict and the tension that underlies it will not be resolved through military means, and needs to be resolved politically, he said.

“We do not accept that our non-aligned position favours Russia above other countries nor do we accept that it should imperil our relations with other countries.”

Ramaphosa recalled his travels in 2022 to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden and to London to meet UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, citing that in his talks with both leaders he restated SA’s non-aligned position and explained that SA believes that this conflict should be resolved through dialogue.

Ramaphosa will be hosting the leaders of Brazil, India, China and Russia for the summit of the Brics countries in August.

“SA has strong and enduring relations with all these countries. In all our interactions with these countries, we restate our belief that the UN remains the only viable mechanism through which the global community can strive for peace and common development.”

However, he said, the conflict in Ukraine had highlighted weaknesses in the structure and practices of the UN.

“The composition of the UN Security Council, in particular, does not reflect the realities of the current global landscape. It needs to be overhauled so that there is equitable representation and a more inclusive mechanism for resolving international disputes.”

As a sovereign state governed by a democratic constitution and committed to the consistent application of international law, SA would continue to fulfil its obligations in terms of the various international agreements and treaties to which it is a signatory, said Ramaphosa.

“These are among the principles that inform our approach to allegations that arms were loaded onto a Russian vessel that docked in Simon’s Town late [in 2022]. Since we do not have concrete evidence to support these allegations, we are establishing an independent inquiry headed by a retired judge to establish the facts.”

SA’s position on the issue was well explained by his envoy, Sydney Mufamadi, and his delegation that recently travelled to Washington for discussions with representatives of the US government, he added.

“We are determined, in both word and action, to maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict. Guided by the lessons of our history, we will continue to resist calls, from whatever quarter, to abandon our independent and non-aligned foreign policy.”

SA, which has abstained from voting on UN resolutions on Russia's war in Ukraine, says it is impartial but Western countries consider it to be one of Moscow's closest allies on the continent.

With Reuters


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