On Saturday (17 June), President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in St Petersburg, Russia, pleading for the end of the war in Ukraine as it is having disastrous effects on the African continent as a whole and that it “cannot go on forever.”
Ramaphosa, alongside seven other African countries, including Senegal, Zambia and the Congo, has formed a delegation to embark on a peace mission in Ukraine. The group had previously been in discussions with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, on 16 June.
According to the presidency, the peace mission seeks a ‘road to peace’ for the 16-month-long conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which has caused devastating economic impact, loss of life and global instability.
On 24 February 2022, Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine and occupied large portions of Eastern territory. Since then, the war between the two has had severe knock-on effects on the global economy and increased geopolitical tensions to a fever point – especially between South Africa and Western counterparts such as the United States for being perceived as having a cosy relationship with Russia, despite arguing neutrality.
“We are here to communicate a very clear message that we would like this war to be ended. This war is having a negative impact on the African continent and indeed many other countries around the world,” said Ramaphosa.
During the countries meeting with Putin, Ramaphosa said that African countries are reeling from the war as constraints due to the war, specifically that of grain, fertiliser and oil, has led to commodity prices increasing dramatically.
“For this reason, we are also here, that it is in our collective interest that the war should end.”
In response to Ramaphosa, Putin said Russia had consistently promoted traditional friendly relations with African countries. The leader added that cooperation with Africa had developed this year in particular.
Putin said he welcomes the ‘balanced view of the African continent in the Ukraine crisis.’
Regarding African countries being negotiating middle man, Putin said: “I know that you have ideas and proposals in this regard with the president of the South African republic. We talked about this many times, and I am grateful to him for raising this topic once again. I want to underscore that we are open to constructive dialogue with everyone who wants to see peace based on the principle of justice and consideration for the party’s legitimate interests.”
According to the Sunday Times, Ramaphosa was expected to have a one-on-one behind-closed-doors meeting with Putin this weekend to discuss the BRICS summit dilemma privately. Ramaphosa was expected to give the option to Putin to skip the trip to South Africa for the summit planned for August.
However, this did not occur, and insiders said that the two would meet before the summit in St Petersburg again next month, reported the publication.
Being a vocal member of the BRICS alliance has put South Africa into a challenging predicament due to the ongoing war. Although it is set to host a significant meeting of BRICS heads of state in August, its membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) puts it in a bind.
According to the ICC’s issued arrest warrant for Putin, South Africa would be obligated to carry out the arrest if he attended the meeting. In response, Pretoria is now contemplating a potential solution by relocating the gathering to China, as China is not a member of the ICC.
Perceived cosy ties with Russia have already threatened South Africa’s economy as US congressmen argue that South Africa be punished for its deepening ties with the Putin-led country despite it formally taking a neutral stance on the war.
Lawmakers in the United States have expressed serious concerns about South Africa hosting the 2023 AGOA Forum.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is an agreement that provides duty-free treatment to goods from specific sub-Saharan African countries, including South Africa. It serves as a means to facilitate trade by granting duty-free access to the United States market for a wide range of goods.
In a letter to top officials, US congressmen highlighted South Africa’s alleged support for Russia’s invasion and potential violation of US sanctions laws. Recent accusations of South Africa supplying arms to Russia and its participation in joint military exercises with Russia and China were cited as evidence. This has led to South Africa’s eligibility as a trade partner come into question.
On 13 June, Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said that South Africa enjoys the support of the US government and no decision on the status of AGOA has been formally made.
He said that relations between South Africa and the US are “mutually beneficial…even in the context of AGOA.”