Pretoria – The government will consult widely, including with the International Criminal Court (ICC) itself, before making a final decision on whether or not to pull out of the ICC, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Thursday.
She was asked what would be the next step after President Jacob Zuma told the African Union summit in Addis Ababa at the weekend that South Africa could not continue its membership of the ICC in present circumstances and would make an announcement soon.
“It will depend on the way we are treated, not only as a country, but also as a continent,” Nkoana-Mashabane said on Thursday.
“There was no voice of dissent among the 54 states of the African Union (at the summit) that Africans feel very disappointed with the way business is conducted in the ICC.
“Thirty four of the 54 are members of the Rome Statute (of the ICC) and we thought this was to show that Africans do not believe in impunity. But what we are observing, is more and more of this is like what the late Prime Minister Meles (Zenawi Asres of Ethiopia) said is an African Criminal Court.
“We are still consulting with the ICC. The ruling party, the African National Congress, has made it very clear that if we not derive joy out of this, we will pull out. But we will pull out in a responsible manner.
“We will ensure that we consult with all the important agencies and make a conclusion at the end. So when I was at The Hague to attend the Assembly of State Parties (I said) that it would be a sad day if were made to choose between the African Union and the ICC.”
The South African government has been severely rebuked by its own High Court and faces a further reprimand from the ICC, for disregarding a request from the ICC to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a fugitive from the ICC, when he was in South Africa last June for an AU summit.
The minister was also asked if reports were true that South Africa, along with Tanzania and Gambia, had been the countries most strongly supporting the AU summit’s controversial decision not to send a 5000-strong peacekeeping force called Maprobu to quell the political violence in Burundi.
The AU Peace and Security Council decided in December to deploy the force but this decision was not endorsed by the summit in Addis Ababa. Instead it decided to send a high-level panel to Burundi to discuss what the AU could do to calm the violence and enable peace talks to proceed.
The minister was also asked to update on her statement of a fortnight ago that Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and the East African Community (EAC) had sent special envoys to Zuma to ask him to participate in the EAC attempts to broker a peace deal between Nkurunziza’s government and his political opponents.
She said the EAC had made an undertaking that South Africa would receive a formal invitation to participate in the mediation by the next EAC meeting.
On Maprobu, she said the idea of sending troops came from the AU Commission, and it had not been about sending in a force with a Chapter 7 UN mandate (which would give it greater authority to use force).
The idea had always been to protect Burundi’s citizens so they could go on with their lives while the political negotiations continued.
She said the AU had decided to send an enlarged advance team to Burundi to assess the situation and advise the AU what to do next.
“The Burundians themselves were saying that they would not necessarily think it wise that they are sent with a contingent of troops that would be more or less the same size, if not more, than their national defence corps.”
Nkoana-Mashabane also praised the “passionate” speech delivered by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – the outgoing chairperson of the AU – at the summit, demanding that Africa be given two permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
He asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was in the AU hall, to deliver the message to the five present permanent UN Security Council members.
“I don’t think we could have ever asked for more. I think that was best ever statement sent by an elderly statesman to the UN,” the minister said.
“As President Mugabe said, it’s not asking for too much for 54 countries to ask for two seats. If we were greedy, we would have asked for more.”
She also noted, though, that there had been some progress in the negotiations at the UN to reform its institutions, including the Security Council.
In 2014, ambassadors to the UN in New York had “moved forward to actually come out with a negotiating draft; something that hasn’t happened in the past 20 years.”
“Unfortunately these negotiations had not moved forward last year because of the focus of the annual UN General Assembly session on adopting the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years. But the Assembly had at least given the ambassadors a further mandate to continue with their negotiations.
“We haven’t given up,” she added.