Ramaphosa helps 'little brother' in South Sudan

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Mike Goldwater)

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Mike Goldwater)

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa will be relying on the strong ties between the ANC and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in his attempts to make peace in war-torn South Sudan.

He left on a mission to it and neighbouring countries on Wednesday after being appointed as President Jacob Zuma's special envoy to the country.

Insiders say that Ramaphosa will be able to talk to both sides in a conflict that has left an estimated 10 000 people dead, because the SPLM leaders respect the ANC as an "older brother" liberation movement. Ramaphosa's charisma and his reputation for having negotiated South Africa's transition two decades ago are seen as counting in his favour.

But the situation on the ground remains extremely volatile, despite the signing of a ceasefire in January this year. Violence again broke out at an army barracks in the capital Juba this week in which at least five soldiers died.
Negotiations between the government and rebels in Addis Ababa were postponed on Tuesday until March 20.

Some critics in the region doubt whether Ramaphosa can have any real impact and fear that his deployment will simply add another mediator to the many role players already involved in the crisis. Some also say it is simply an attempt to build his own political profile in Africa.

Civil war broke out in mid-December when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting to overthrow him. The war has distinct ethnic overtones and much of the fighting is between Kiir's Dinka and Machar's Nuer tribes.

Party-to-party discussion
According to a statement by the department of international relations and co-operation, both Kiir and Machar asked Zuma to "assist in resolving the current challenges facing South Sudan".

A former high-ranking ANC official with knowledge of the mission says it would be a party-to-party discussion because the problem is "essentially within the SPLM".

The ANC and the SPLM signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009, which was renewed in October last year when Ramaphosa led an ANC-delegation to Juba for meetings with the SPLM leadership. Although the SPLM was formally created as a political movement only in 1983, the South Sudanese had waged a bitter war against Sudan for decades and the SPLM (formerly the Sudan's People's Liberation Army) considers itself superior to other liberation parties on the continent when it comes to military achievement.

Ramaphosa's mission is seen not so much as a mediation but as an attempt to talk to the leaders of the SPLM, which has been plagued by internal divisions and problems even before it became a government with the independence of South Sudan in July 2011.

These divisions were set aside temporarily in the struggle against the regime in Khartoum.

Zuma attended the hoisting of the flag of Africa's youngest nation on July 9 2011 and Kiir has visited South Africa several times. Peter Bior Alier Biar, political officer in the South Sudanese embassy in Pretoria, says this shows the close relations between the two countries. He says that the ANC and the SPLM can "talk to each other directly as comrades".

Lauren Hutton, a senior fellow of the Netherlands Institute for International Relations, says she believes the international community will welcome Ramaphosa's mission.

"There is a line of thinking that says the problem in South Sudan is an internal party problem and that an organisation like the ANC could help to solve it," she says. "Who else is going to talk to the SPLM as one liberation movement turned government to another?"

Kiir earlier announced that Machar has been expelled from the SPLM, and Machar now calls his movement the "SPLM in opposition". Analysts believe that internal reform in the party could go a long way towards easing tensions.

Hutton says Ramaphosa could be seen as more trustworthy and legitimate than some of the other players in the region who have been dealing with the matter. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has also sent troops to help Kiir's forces, which has irked some of their neighbours and international observers.

Ramaphosa's mission will also be much preferred to intervention by the United States, the European Union or other non-Africans, Hutton says.

Veteran negotiator Roelf Meyer, and Rama­phosa's former partner in the 1990-1994 political negotiations in South Africa, also says he believes Ramaphosa can make a positive contribution.

Meyer, who is involved in advising governments on how to deal with conflict, says, although "the SPLM models itself on the ANC", the issue is now much broader than that.

"It was clear to everyone that, when all the senior leaders returned to Juba with independence, all the various armed groups would constitute a major problem," Meyer, who visited the country at that time, says.

Although every conflict has its own complexities, countries can learn from one another's experiences, he says.

"There are some basic similarities and, if you point out to the various parties what they can do to the situation, there is always potential for a solution."

Ramaphosa has also been appointed mediator in Sri Lanka, a country in which South Africa has been involved for several years.

But some analysts in the South Sudan region fear that South Africa is too far removed from the issue and that it will just add to the confusion, duplicating efforts already being made by the official mediators, the six-country Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

"Cyril Ramaphosa will not add any value to the mediation process or the efforts to find a lasting solution to the crisis," says a Kenyan political observer who did not want to be named.

Some commentators have also asked whether it is Zuma's intention to spite former president Thabo Mbeki, who is also a mediator for the crisis between Sudan and South Sudan, mandated by the African Union.

But presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj denies this and says the two are completely different missions.

Shortly after the independence of South Sudan, its relations with Sudan broke down and Mbeki has been lauded for his role in avoiding a return to war between the two countries.

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