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SA’s stance on Russia-Ukraine saga controversial, but necessary

US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety. Picture: File

US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety. Picture: File

Published May 17, 2023


Fuzile Prince Jwara

Pretoria - During the course of the previous week, there was breaking news pertaining to South Africa’s relationship with Russia.

It was reported that the South African government had allegedly traded arms to Russia. Naturally, when the news broke, there was a buzz around what that could mean for South Africa. In context, the government has always claimed a stance of neutrality and non-interventionist action in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This is viewed as a dubious position from opponents of the ANC-led government, mainly the opposition party, the DA.

The mere thought of the government covertly supporting Russia with arms sparked controversy over the future of South Africa-US relations. The US has publicly given military aid to Ukraine.

But now we have more questions than answers as the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has reportedly apologised and backtracked on the allegations. How truthful were the initial allegations?

Answering that question may be complex. However, we can apply a historical analysis of similar events to grapple with the matter effectively. In 2003, the US launched an invasion into Iraq, based on claims that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Since then, the claims have been scrutinised and many researchers and journalists unanimously agree that the US government, under the leadership of George W Bush manufactured the claims to justify the invasion of Iraq as part of the “War on Terror”.

Bringing this back home to South Africa, knowing what we know, why would the story break without any plausible evidence to support the allegations? Is this just dirty geopolitics to cause a rift between South Africa and Russia? Perhaps we are too gullible in our criticism of the ANC government, and are overcome by our bias and fall into the trap of dirty geopolitics.

Importantly, South Africa and Russia are members of BRICS, a trade bloc that seeks to break US hegemony on world trade and global politics. This places South Africa in a precarious position as a trade partner of the US, but also a strategic partner of the Russian Federation. In the sphere of geopolitics, the allegations may not have been accidental at all.

Worryingly, political opponents of the ANC government have used this as a fervent talking point. This

indicates that adversaries of the ANC are inept at understanding the functions and mechanisms of geopolitics as they were easily convinced of unproven claims.

Even more ironic is the official opposition party’s attempt to hold the moral high ground over the ANC when it openly supports the state of Israel, which has been found to be committing crimes against humanity to the Palestinian people, akin to apartheid South Africa. It appears oppression only matters within a certain geographical context as the leader of the opposition has even travelled to Ukraine.

The main issue is not that the opponents of the ANC are vocal, rather it is the selective outrage and fake advocacy for human rights. The obsession with besting the ANC has led the opposition to demonstrate that it lacks the political acumen to finesse global political challenges.

Admittedly, I am also critical of the government in its stance as it is ambiguous and may even be covertly leaning towards Russia in the conflict. However, it cannot be denied that global politics consists of many grey areas.

Africa is all too familiar with Western “wolf diplomacy” tactics, considering the numerous invasions and western-backed military coups, for example in DR Congo and Burkina Faso. More recently, the invasion of Libya by Nato forces illustrates the point about dirty geopolitics.

The attempt to push South Africa towards a heavily Western-centric approach is devoid of a historical understanding of Western hegemony and the contradictions by Western nations in their own application of international law, as stated by Internationa Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor. Isolating ourselves from the former Eastern Bloc may have future repercussions, as South Africa is a strategic partner, especially as a regional power in the SADC.

Therefore, we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed into a conflict that only distracts from domestic troubles within South Africa, or to portray an image of irony and contradictions when it comes to advocacy for international human rights, which even the US government has ignored on numerous occasions, especially in Africa, the Americas and the Middle East through its support for coups and Western-leaning dictatorships.

In this sense, the South African position is frustratingly controversial, but necessary. It is essential to our democratic sovereignty as a country. South Africa cannot afford to be embroiled in international conflict that undermines our overall integrity as a nation.

This speaks to the hypocrisy of the opposition parties and the US itself over human rights issues.

* Jwara is a MA in sociology candidate at the University of Johannesburg. The views expressed are not necessarily the views of Independent Media.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.