The South African government consulted with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and BRICS before a mutual agreement was reached with Russian President Vladimir that he would not attend the group’s summit in Johannesburg next month.
Putin is expected to attend the summit virtually and the Presidency said on Wednesday that the Russian Federation would be represented in person by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Professor Anil Sooklal, the ambassador at large: Asia and BRICS, at the Department of International Relations, said South Africa would fulfil its international obligations fully and respect its international obligations, in terms of the treaties that the country had signed.
The ICC, of which South Africa is a full member, issued a warrant of arrest for Putin and urged 123 countries who are signatories to the Rome Statute to arrest him.
This is for alleged war crimes related to the abduction of children from Ukraine.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s affidavit made public on Tuesday stated that he would risk war with Russia if Putin was arrested at the summit.
However, the lengthy deliberations on whether Putin would attend the summit has raised questions about the country’s decisiveness relating to its foreign policy.
Unisa Professor Emeritus of International Law, Andre Thomashausen, said that international media had portrayed the news that Putin would not visit the country as South Africa being the weak link in the BRICS alliance.
“That is because it easily vacillates between possible economic ties and interests.”
Thomashausen said South African trade with the West was 60%, 30% with China and the rest was between India, Europe and other Asian countries.
“The foreign policy is not clear because of the political divide in the country. Apartheid South Africa worked with the West and this old allegiance continues with the DA as they defend Western interests.
“This clashes with the majority of South Africans at the wrong end of those policies.
“The country is undergoing a yo-yo effect between the West and the new world and BRICS is very much the new world.”
International relations expert Dr Noluthando Phungula from the University of KwaZulu-Natal said there was an evident shift in global power dynamics and the country appeared to be acting in preserving and protecting its south-south and BRICS co-operation.
“South Africa’s voting pattern in these instances should be read in the context of its foreign policy under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, which seems to be geared towards economic diplomacy.”
She said the country’s stance had caused a headache for the US, in light of the global power dynamics.
“I doubt that BRICS allies would take unkindly to SA’s stance. In politics there are no permanent friends, nor permanent enemies.
Foreign policy is similarly going to shift and change depending on the global power dynamics.”
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola meanwhile said the government was looking at amending the Implementation Act to address the way South Africa’s membership of the ICC was domesticated.
He was responding to EFF MP Vuyani Pambo, on whether he was intending to introduce a bill with the aim of withdrawing South Africa’s participation in and membership of the ICC. Lamola said there was currently no intention to introduce such a bill.
“We will look at amending the implementation act to address the manner in which it is domesticated,” he said.
Director at the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, Professor Zwelinzima Ndevu, said the events leading up to the confirmation that Putin would not be attending the summit have been characterised by confusion, misunderstanding and different interpretation of the SA-ICC membership responsibility.
“This must have embarrassed the government, especially if an important member of the BRICS is discouraged from attending due to what could be termed Western influence.
“This requires the government to reflect on its current policy position.
“Once the hype about Putin dies down, there will be no need for the government to worry about reviewing its membership of ICC.”
Political analyst Sipho Seepe said: “This has been a painful lesson for South Africa.
“The current factional leadership was obsessed with its intense dislike for the Zuma administration. Instead of learning from the Al-Bashir saga, it preferred to play to the gallery.
Little did it know that history repeats itself.
“It now found itself facing the same challenge. Minister Lamola is accordingly asked to review South Africa’s position with a view of avoiding a similar situation where the ANC government could find itself in an embarrassing position.”