Johannesburg - Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has vowed to protect Russian President Vladimir Putin against a recent warrant of arrest issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which intends to force South Africa to arrest him should he step into the country.
This past week, the ICC, which South Africa is a signatory to, issued a warrant of arrest for Putin for allegedly committing war crimes in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
With South Africa set to host the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, and China at the 15th BRICS Summit from August 22 to 24, speculation has been rife as to the country’s response to the possibility of being forced to enforce this warrant of arrest should he travel to the country for this summit.
South Africa was caught up in a similar situation in 2015 when it did not arrest former president of Sudan Omar al-Bashir while he was attending the African Union summit in Johannesburg.
Political parties went to court to challenge the government for not arresting Al-Bashir, who was later toppled in his country.
However, Malema, who addressed the media on its national shutdown at the party’s headquarters in Johannesburg, said he will escort Putin himself to ensure that he does not get arrested in the country. He said that many Western leaders committed war crimes but were never arrested or detained for them, calling this Western hypocrisy at its worst.
"To the ICC, we say Putin is welcome here. No one is going to arrest Putin. If need be, we will go and fetch Putin from the airport to his meeting. He will address and finish all his meetings, and we will take him back to the airport. We are not going to be told by these hypocrites of the ICC who know the real violators of human rights and know the murderers of this world," he said.
The BRICS group brings together some 3.2 billion people. After the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, BRICS is among the largest bloc of countries by total population.
According to Timeslive, Minister Naledi Pandor of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation has criticised the ICC for this warrant of arrest.
"We had hoped that other forms of warrants would be issued by the ICC because there are many countries and leaders who have practised very serious abuses in situations of conflict but they remain unscathed in terms of the ICC," Pandor told Timeslive after a meeting with her Sri Lankan counterpart in Pretoria on Wednesday.
Speaking to The Star on Thursday, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations, Clayson Monyela, said it is presumptuous and immature for people to speculate on whether Putin will make an appearance in South Africa for the upcoming BRICS summit.
Monyela said the Kremlin has not communicated who will be coming to the country for the summit or whether it will be virtual or held in person, adding that even the ICC has not written to South Africa in its bid to try to enforce the warrant of arrest.
"First things first. South Africa has not received any communication from the ICC to arrest Putin. It is therefore presumptuous and immature for the media to speculate on whether Putin will visit South Africa for the BRICS Summit.
"For all we know, the summit could be hybrid, which means it can be both in person and virtually. As such, he may just decide to only appear virtually or not come at all because, as you might know, heads of state do not just travel. They announce their travel schedule ahead of time. For us to be asked to comment on this matter is a bit too presumptuous to say the least," Monyela said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, said while they noted the warrant issued by the ICC, the country maintained that the conflict in Ukraine can be resolved through peaceful means.
Magwenya said between now and the summit, it would be in touch with all key stakeholders.
"With respect to the ICC, we note the report on the warrant of arrest that the ICC has issued against President Putin. It remains South Africa’s commitment and a very strong desire that the conflict in the Ukraine be resolved peacefully through negotiations.
"We as a government are cognisant of our legal obligation. However, between now and the summit, we will remain engaged with relevant stakeholders with respect to the summit and other related issues," said Magwenya.