South Africa will not take sides in contest between global powers, says President Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 15, 2023


President Cyril Ramaphosa has been under immense pressure to make his loyalties known in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, South Africa has always declared neutrality in the war.

Following even more serious allegations that South Africa provided arms to Russia - allegations that even had the White House National Security Council speak out about - Ramaphosa used his weekly newsletter again to make known South Africa’s neutrality.

The President said that since the advent of democracy nearly 30 years, South Africa has pursued an independent foreign policy.

“With the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, however, there has been extraordinary pressure on the country to abandon its non-aligned position and take sides in what is, in effect, a contest between Russia and the West,” Ramaphosa said.

“Other countries on the African continent and elsewhere have been put under similar pressure.”

One of the most impressive features of the international anti-apartheid movement, according to Ramaphosa, was 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, with South African leaders working hard to gain the support of governments, lawmakers and citizens across the divisions of the Cold War.

That experience of reaching out across political divides and building relations with very different countries has helped to shape South Africa’s foreign policy.

“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,” he said.

“This explains South Africa’s membership of the Non-Aligned Movement, a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. South Africa 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 said that throughout, the country has been firm on this point: “South Africa has not been, and will not be, drawn into a contest between global powers.”

But, he clarified.

Ramaphosa 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, South Africa’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,” Ramaphosa said.

He said that it needed to support “meaningful dialogue towards a lasting peace”, which would ensure the security and stability of all nations.

“As a country, we are committed to the articles of the United Nations Charter, including the principle that all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means. 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,” Ramaphosa said.

“Our position seeks to contribute to the creation of conditions that make the achievement of a durable resolution of the conflict possible. The reality is that the Russia-Ukraine conflict – and the tensions that underlie it – will not be resolved through military means. It needs to be resolved politically.”

He further said he does not accept that our non-aligned position favours Russia above other countries. Nor does he accept that it should imperil our relations with other countries.

On his foreign visits last year, where he travelled to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden and to London to meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Ramaphosa reiterated that in his talks with both leaders, he restated our non-aligned position and explained that South Africa believes that this conflict should be resolved through dialogue.

In August, Ramaphosa will be hosting the leaders of Brazil, India, China and Russia for the summit of the BRICS countries. South Africa has strong and enduring relations with all these countries.

In all his interactions with these countries, Ramaphosa said the United Nations remained the only viable mechanism through which the global community could strive for peace and common development.

“Yet, the conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the weaknesses in the structure and practices of the United Nations. 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,” he said.

Following the allegations that South Africa loaded weapons onto a Russian vessel last year, Ramaphosa is establishing an independent inquiry headed by a retired judge to establish the facts.

“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,” he concluded in his newsletter.

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